12 April 2018

Uganda: MPs Term Extension Has Puzzled Cabinet - Lawyers

Photo: The Independent
The age limit petition hearing at the Mbale High Court in Eastern Uganda.

Mbale — The Constitutional Court yesterday heard that Cabinet is facing a dilemma harmonising the office terms of the President, Parliament and local government councils following the amendment of the Constitution.

Lawyers for the petitioners challenging the Constitution amendment law told the court in Mbale Town that the amendment of Article 102 (b) as it is now, has created two office terms of different length which will require elections on different dates.

They said the term of MPs is now seven years while that of the President is still five years.

Mr Erias Lukwago, one of the petitioners' lawyers, argued that because of the dilemma, Cabinet has been thrown into panic which could disrupt government functionality.

Quoting a January 8, letter 'Roadmap for implementation of the Constitution (Amendment) No. 2 Bill, 2018' from the Attorney General's warning about having parallel terms of office for the two offices, Mr Lukwago said: "The effect of amending article 105 (1) of the Constitution to extend the term of office of the President from five years to seven years would mean that the presidential elections and parliamentary elections will have to be held on separate dates due to the difference in the time of expiry of the terms of those offices."

"Whereas aligned terms of the President, Parliament and local government councils predict well for good governance, failure to align the terms would create obvious disfunctionality in the effective operation of government," the AG was further quoted.

In the letter, the Attorney General proposed that Cabinet should urgently introduce in Parliament a Bill to amend Article 105 (1) of the Constitution through a referendum to increase the President's term from five years to seven.

Background

Late last year, Parliament amended Article 102 (b) which barred a person aged above 75 or below 35 from standing for presidency.

Under the article, President Museveni now aged 73 would be barred from seeking re-election in 2021. The amendment included extension of the office terms for the President, Parliament and local councils from five years to seven. However, the extension of the President's term has to first be subjected to a referendum.

During the hearing of the constitutional petition challenging the amendment, Mr Wandera Ogalo, counsel for the petitioners, argued that as the Constitution is now, parliamentary elections will be held in 2023 while the Presidential election will be held in 2021.

He further submitted that given the two distinct terms of office, the Electoral Commission will have to hold two separate general elections, which will have a huge financial implication on the Consolidated Fund.

Mr Ogalo said that if MPs had not extended their term of office to seven years, such mischief would not have arisen.

However, the Deputy Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo reminded him that the fact the EC will organise a referendum to extend the President's term to seven years, it will also require huge sums of money, which will be charged on the Consolidated Fund.

Consultation fee

During earlier proceedings in the morning, the petitioners' lawyers had described the Shs29m, paid to each MP for constituency consultations on removal of the presidential age limit, as outright robbery of the national treasury.

"The consultation is for the members of the public. In this particular case, this amount of Shs29m was illegal and this amounts to theft. If you take something that does not belong to you it amounts to theft," Mr Lukwago submitted.

Justice Owiny-Dollo asked Mr Lukwago whether he wants the age limit Act struck down on the basis of the Shs29m given to MPs because it contravened article 93.

"Yes, the entire Act. We invite you that this issue can dispose of this matter alone. I am not saying that the other issues are not important, but the moment you find that it was illegal for each MP to be given Shs29m, you strike it down basing on this particular issue," he replied.

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