13 November 2017

Uganda: Legal Committee Stuck in Catch-22 Situation On the Lifting of Age Limit

As debate on the contentious age limit bill continues to draw attention, parliament's legal and parliamentary affairs committee is baffled by the nonappearance of key stakeholders, writes OLIVE EYOTARU.

The legal and parliamentary affairs committee in parliament has until November 20 to hear submissions on the controversial age limit bill but with just seven days to go, the situation is mired because several witnesses have declined to appear.

The committee chaired by West Budama South MP Jacob Oboth-Oboth started work on October 31, by meeting Raphael Magyezi (Igara West), the drafter of the bill, which seeks to remove presidential age limits from the Constitution.

By the end of last weekend, only 13 out of the 31 individuals and groups had appeared before the committee to give their views on the bill which has generated widespread debate.

Last week, Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda disputed the insinuation of Richard Todwong, the NRM deputy secretary general, that Article 102 (b), which is the major pointer in the bill, was sneaked into the Constitution. Other people who appeared included Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere, the former Disaster Preparedness and Refugees minister, Ndebesa Mwambutsya and Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza.

Absent, though, were the Makerere University law school dons, who last month stated that they would not appear before the committee on grounds that the amendment bill was illegal.

On November 8, former premier Apolo Nsibambi and Makerere University lecturers Dr Simba Ssali Kayunga and Dr Yasiin Olum also didn't show up. In a move that took the committee by surprise, NRM Electoral Commission chairman, Dr Tanga Odoi, and Uganda Management Institute lecturer Dr Gerald Karyeija sent apologies requesting for another meeting day.

On November 9, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), Uganda Local Government Association (ULGA), Uganda National NGO Forum and Eastern Africa Center for Constitutional Development were scheduled to appear but none showed up.

When contacted, Rose Gertrude Gamwera, the ULGA secretary general, told The Observer they asked to re-schedule their meeting to a later date. She explained that the association is still monitoring the decisions of all district councils before coming up with a solid position.

Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the ULGA vice president (North), confirmed that a five-member committee resolved to conduct more consultation with the local governments. This will give the district councils time to table their resolutions before the association makes a more holistic presentation before the committee.

"What we will present before the committee should be voice of the local governments. We need to get all their views and some local governments have already passed resolutions and communicated them. We require a minimum of 78 districts, that is, two thirds, to make that decision," Mapenduzi said in a phone interview.

IRCU, in a letter dated October 27 and signed by its secretary general, Joshua Kitakule, also declined the invitation.

"I wish to report that the Council of Presidents formally issued a press statement...this communication is, therefore, to regret the invitation. Please accept our apologies", Kitakule said.

The Uganda Law Society (ULS) has also followed suit. During an Extraordinary General Meeting held on November 9, members resolved that the society does not appear before the committee.

According to Francis Gimara, ULS president, the lawyers have resolved to engage in litigation to challenge the legality of the process. Gimara said this will be pursued once parliament passes the law.

"This decision will be implemented when the bill is passed. You cannot legally challenge it now because it would be premature. Normally, you go to court after the bill has been passed as law," he said in a brief interview on Saturday.

MORE WITNESSES

Meanwhile, committee chair- man Oboth-Oboth was unavailable for comment. He, however, told The Observer in an earlier interview that those who have rejected parliament's invitations will miss out on an opportunity.

"Their presence or absence will not affect the work of the committee and will produce its report," he said.

On Tuesday (tomorrow), the committee is expected to meet constitutional lawyers. They include Peter Mulira, Godfrey Lule, Prof Fredrick Ssempebwa and Prof George Kanyeihamba. Benjamin Odoki, the former chief justice, is also scheduled to appear but sources in the committee revealed that he will be a no-show.

Former presidential candidates Amama Mbabazi and Venansius Baryamureeba are also lined up but Dr Kizza Besigye and Abed Bwanika declined to appear. After the completion of Kampala hearings, the committee is expected to move upcountry for regional meetings.

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