24 January 2013

Uganda: Museveni Wanted Powers to Sack Parliament - Former Lawmaker

When former member of the Constitutional Commission, Miria Matembe, looks back at the constitution-making process almost 25 years ago, she remembers two critical wishes of President Museveni that were not granted.

"Museveni wanted a provision in the Constitution which was saying that the Movement is the only viable political system in Uganda," Matembe, also a former Mbarara district Woman MP, said in an exclusive interview with The Observer. "I argued against his order up to about 3am in the morning."

"Finally, he [Museveni] said that what does [Jotham] Tumwesigye, who was the legal advisor, say? But because we were all sober, he [Tumwesigye] said that what Matembe is saying is right because we can't include that provision in the Constitution and then Museveni said ok," she recalled, adding that if the commission had granted that wish, the country would not have embraced multi-party politics.

The 22-member Constitutional Commission was established in 1988. Chaired by Justice Benjamin Odoki, it was charged with gathering information from people on the form of governance they would like to have, analysing the views so gathered and preparing a draft constitution as a basis for the final preparation of a constitution for Uganda. A Constituent Assembly was elected to discuss and adopt the draft constitution.

Matembe, who also served as a Constituent Assembly delegate, told The Observer: "Museveni wanted us to give him constitutional powers to dissolve Parliament but we refused that because we knew its repercussions and I remember we discussed this issue extensively. We asked ourselves that what if there is a standoff between Parliament and the Executive like now, what do we do?"

Parliament and Museveni have been locked in a dispute over a petition to recall Parliament to discuss the Executive's perceived affront on the independence of the legislature following the controversial death of Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda.

The president pointedly said a recall could only happen over his dead body. The petition was later rejected by the speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga. The president is clearly irritated by inability to rein in Parliament. The recent statements by the president, his Defence minister Crispus Kiyonga and the army chief Aronda Nyakairima to the effect that the army could step in if "politicians" create problems are seen as a direct response to the Nebanda standoff and Parliament's growing willingness to face off with the Executive.

Matembe concedes, however, that the Odoki Commission didn't get its way on all issues. She said they failed in their bid to create a Council of State as a sort of arbitration body above all the three organs of government.

"We wanted to create an organ called the Council of State to be the higher house or an arbitration organ [so] that when there is a standoff between the Executive and the Parliament like today, they would go to it and resolve it but President Museveni deliberately refused it," Matembe revealed.

She added that "[the] Odoki report had recommended the Council of State rather than authorizing the President to dissolve parliament which would be very bad, because if we [had] authorized him to dissolve it, he would have done it now or the other time when they bribed them [MPs] with five million shillings to change the term limits," Matembe said.

She added: "It shocked me when he said [in Kyankwanzi] that he was not party to the constitution-making process when he wanted to change it to remove term limits. It was terrible because he is the one who proposed the making of the constitution, but he did not realize what it would mean to him as the president until when it was finished and saw his powers limited".

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