Kampala — PARLIAMENT last year ended on a high note. A number of highly anticipated bills were passed while some still remain hanging because of controversy.
Land Amendment Bill passed
Prominent on the list was the Land Amendment Bill 2007, which was finally passed on November 25 after a five-day debate that divided the House along party lines.
The Bill, aiming to punish those who take part in illegal evictions of lawful tenants, also gives the tenants the first option of buying the piece of land in question when the land owner opts to sell it. Similarly, a tenant must give the land owner the first option of buying back the plot when they want to sell.
Buganda opposition MPs led by Hussein Kyanjo walked out on the Speaker, Edward Ssekandi, who refused to grant their request that the debate on the Bill be deferred for a couple of weeks to allow Muslim MPs to organise for the imminent Idd celebrations. This, the NRM MPs claimed, was just another tactic to delay the Bill further.
Although it faced stiff resistance from the opposition and Buganda MPs, it finally sailed through with minor amendments. The debate was characterised by heated exchanges with the Speaker interjecting to warn the legislators against blackmailing each other.
New Land Policy tabled
The Government also tabled a new national land policy in which it proposed to levy a tax on owners of idle, undeveloped land. The tax is meant to compel land owners who cannot develop their land to release it to those who can develop it.
The land policy aims at encouraging land utilisation and deter speculative accumulation of land. 'There is no traditionally known land tax on idle or undeveloped land for both rural and urban land, except for property rates and service rates in local governments for urban areas,' the policy notes. The land tax will be administered by the local governments, while land eligible for taxation will be determined through an audit and inventory.
Women MPs push FGM and Domestic Violence Bill
The Legislators also made a strong statement when they passed the Bill prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM). The Bill criminalises the practice, provides for prosecution of offenders and protection of victims.
This was yet another score for the women movement in Parliament, after they earlier secured the passing of the Marriage and domestic Violence Bill, in a bid to reduce the rampant cases of domestic violence.
Women MPs also obtained support from the Muslim community over the Marriage and Divorce Bill. The Muslims wanted the bill to also consider the their religion that allows a man to have as many as four wives.
More new districts created
The craze for new districts continued as Parliament approved the creation of seven new districts. They are Zombo, Amudat, Otuke, Lamwo, Kyegegwa, Buikwe and Buyende.
Zombo was created out of Nebbi district, while Amudat was cut out of Nakapiripirit. Otuke was carved out of Lira, Lamwo was previously part of Kitgum, Kyegegwa from Kyenjojo, Buikwe out of Mukono and Buyende from Kamuli.
The sitting, however, ended prematurely after the MPs disagreed over the proposed Maracha district, a county in Arua. There were objections from the opposition MPs after Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi asked the House to defer the decision on Maracha pending further consultation.
Maracha was originally supposed to be one district with Terego. But local leaders disagreed on the location of the headquarters. They then agreed to create a separate district for Maracha. Terego is represented in Parliament by Opposition Chief Whip Kassiano Wadri who put up a spirited defence for it, while Maracha is represented by Alex Onzima (FDC). Wadri demanded an explanation why the decision on Maracha was being put on hold. Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga ignored Wadri's objection and instead told the MPs to vote over the creation of Namayingo district, previously part of Bugiri. A heated argument among the MPs erupted and subsequently, Kadaga adjourned the House without announcing the results on Namayingo.
Electoral amendment bills discussed
As if to appease the opposition that has persistently been calling for electoral reforms, four Bills seeking to introduce changes in the laws governing the presidential and parliamentary elections were also tabled and debated. They include the Presidential Elections Amendment Bill, the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill, the Electoral Commission Amendment and the Political Parties and Organisations Amendment Bill 2009.
The Presidential amendment Bill seeks to prohibit candidates and their agents from contributing to fundraising and donating items to prospective voters during campaigns. Justice and Constitutional affairs minister Khiddu Makubuya said the bill would ensure that elections were clean.
Candidates or their agents in breach of the law, would be fined sh960,000 or two years imprisonment or both. The Bill further provides for the returning officer to compile and submit to the Electoral Commission a detailed report of the election within seven days.
Under the Bill, The Electoral commission will be required to declare a candidate elected unopposed in a situation where his sole rival withdraws or is disqualified for election.
Under the Electoral Commission Amendment Bill, it is proposed for the secretary of the commission to serve a five-year term. This, Makubuya said, would promote accountability and independence of the commission. The Bill also reduces the time for public display of voters' roll before a general election from 21 days to 15 days.
The Bill further proposes that a duplicate voter's card should only be issued at least 90 days before polling day. The Parliamentary amendment Bill has similar provisions like the Presidential elections Bill on declaration of results and fundraising.
Officials investigated over CHOGM money
Officials, who misappropriated money meant for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2007, were also grilled in Parliament. The legislators set up investigations that netted many bigwigs.
The Public Accounts Committee headed by the uncompromising Budadiri west MP, Nandala Mafabi, discovered that Globecast, the company that was contracted to provide media services during the summit at $4.5m (about sh8.4b), used the facilities of the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) since it had no outside broadcasting van of its own. Appearing before the committee, UBC chairman Edward Musinguzi Mugasa said Globecast asked to use the UBC van at $2,000 (about sh3m) per day, yet Globecast had been paid alot more money to fly in their own van.
"They depended on us for arrivals, the opening ceremony and all outside broadcasting since we refused to hire out our van," Mugasa told the bewildered MPs.
The legislators also queried a sh3.8b deal in which Terp Consult, a company belonging to Odrek Rwabwogo, partnered with Saatchi and Saatchi to publicise the summit. The committee was concerned that sh400m was paid for the deal even before the contract was signed.
Another concern was that Rwabwogo, Moses Zikusooka and Patrick Quarcoo countersigned on each others' CVs as referees, prompting the committee to question why they could not get independent referees besides themselves.
Also in the dock was former permanent secretary in the Prime Minister's office, Martin Odwedo, over a sh2.4b contract for publicising the summit. Odwedo and the procurement officer, Christopher Okware, were led to the Criminal Investigations Directorate after failing to give a satisfactory explanation on how the contract was awarded to Saatchi and Saatchi. They were later released on Police bond and Odwedo was asked to keep reporting to the CID for further interrogation.
Former director of information Kagole Kivumbi and other officials involved in the contract negotiations also recorded statements at CID. MPs questioned how the contract was revised from the original sh1.8b to sh2.4b.
CID officer David Ngobi said they had written to the Bank of Uganda to confirm the payment.
Responding to the queries, Odwedo accepted responsibility for the mistakes. He admitted that the payment was an anomaly.
Also in question was the controversial deal to supply CHOGM cars, which cost almost sh10b. Appearing before the public accounts committee, officials from the works ministry, led by permanent secretary Charles Muganzi, were quizzed about the botched procurement process of the cars. Documents before the committee showed that on September 16, 2007, three Government representatives traveled to the BMW factory in Germany to inspect the vehicles.
However, upon arrival, they were told that the vehicles were already en route to Uganda. The Government had thus wasted sh14.6m on air tickets and allowances. The legislaters wondered how the supplier made invitations, hotel bookings and a itinerary well knowing that the vehicles were already on their way.
Muganzi said when the team came back and wrote a report, he rejected it because they had not seen the cars. In his submission, the chief mechanical engineer, George Okurut who headed the trip admitted that they were only shown a car similar to the ones they had ordered but were not given the production details, and were only told that the information would be contained in the airway bills. "That surprised us because we travelled with two officials from the supplier. They should have told us this before we left," Okurut said.
When they asked to be taken to the place where the cars were being loaded, the suppliers refused, saying since the cars were to be used by VIPs exposing them would pose a security threat.