The Observer (Kampala)

10 January 2013

Uganda: Anti-Gay Bill Hurting Economy - Govt Official

Photo: Capital FM/File
Homosexual rights demonstrators in Uganda.

A senior government official has offered the clearest hint yet that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which has stirred an unprecedented international uproar, is seriously hurting the country's economy.

Keith Muhakanizi, the deputy secretary to the Treasury, told MPs at Parliament: "I have never seen a country like this where politicians hurt the economy instead of building it."

Debate on the bill resumes in the next session of Parliament. Lawmakers officially return from recess on February 4 and lined up for debate, among other issues, is the controversial bill that has drawn more international uproar than any other bill in this country. West Budama North MP, Fox Odoi, has written a minority report against the bill promoted by his colleague David Bahati of Ndorwa West.

So at a time when the University of Buckingham in the UK has reportedly severed ties with Victoria University over the bill, which the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, promised to pass last year as a "Christmas gift", a rare debate happened at the steps of the august House. The MPs who were part of this debate included James Kakooza (Kabula), Fox Odoi (West Budama North) and Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo).

This reporter was also part of the debate that sucked in Keith Muhakanizi. While Kakooza suggested the bill would protect the morals of the country, Fox Odoi, a member of Parliament's committee on Legal Affairs that scrutinised it, argued that it is illogical to legislate on morality. Odoi, who has written a minority report bashing the bill, added that if lawmakers ignore his report and pass the bill, they will have set a wrong precedent--that government can enter or legislate what happens in your bedroom.

Ekanya, the shadow Finance minister, however expressed worry about the economy, arguing that the aid cuts have happened not because of corruption but largely because of this bill. Ekanya added that the bill is the best ammunition President Museveni has right now--because he uses it to scare donors.

"He must be saying that if you don't give us the money, I am going to tell MPs to pass this bill," Ekanya said.

But Muhakanizi dismissed this and accused MPs of not being sensitive about the economy. He said by bringing up such a bill, the MPs are hurting the economy because they have failed to look at the far-reaching financial consequences of passing it.

"I have never seen a country like this where politicians hurt the economy instead of building it," he said.

The bill has been on-and-off. Museveni urged MPs in 2010 to "go slow" on the matter following a long telephone conversation with the outgoing US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in which she told Museveni to stop harassing the gay community in Uganda. However, last year Speaker Rebecca Kadaga reignited the debate when she declared upon her return from Canada that Parliament would pass the bill.

Kadaga, who was in Canada to attend the 127th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly, was involved in a bitter exchange with the Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird, who accused Uganda of violating the rights of gay people. Kadaga hit back that this was an internal matter that Uganda has a right to legislate on.

She said: "As a Speaker of Parliament, it is my responsibility to protect the rights of Members of Parliament, hence I cannot deny them the right to move private members' bills. The debate on homosexuality is not a settled matter."

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