Uganda: Report On Age Limit Takes Shape

Electoral Commission chairman Justice Simon Byabakama, left, shares a light moment with Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu, second right, and the chairman of the Parliament Legal Affairs Committeer Jacob Oboth-Oboth, right.
3 December 2017

As the committee handling the controversial Constitution Amendment Bill that proposes to remove age limits enters the decisive lap, a picture of the support and opposition to the Bill has emerged, based on analysis of witness presentations.

The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee concluded hearings on Tuesday, November 24, 2017, and a draft report is now ready, though details of the tightly-guarded report remain scanty with the committee leadership wary of the damage leaks can do.

Sharp divisions exist among the members of the committee and the now dominant view among most of the members is that there will be a majority report by the members of the ruling NRM who back the lifting of the age limit and a minority report by those opposed to it.

Out of the 35 witnesses who appeared before the committee, 11 opposed the lifting of age limit, 18 supported the idea and five were neutral.

The committee had initially invited 50 witnesses, especially comprised of professional associations, experts in law, history and different fields, political parties, former presidential candidates and other prominent individuals.

Twenty-two of those that had been initially invited declined to appear before the committee, with some openly saying they saw no use in appearing before the committee over the matter because they are opposed to lifting the age limit.

This left the committee with no option but to send out public invitations to make up for the deficit in witnesses.

To committee chairman Jacob Oboth-Oboth [Independent, West Budama County South], it does not matter that almost half of the witnesses they had invited did not turn up.

"If you organise an event, you cannot expect to get 100 per cent (attendance). You should be able to get those who attended and to know that they filled the gaps. But of course you can only have one Uganda Law Society (ULS) and one Makerere Law Society [dons],"Mr Oboth- Oboth said.

Both Uganda Law Society and Makerere University law dons declined to appear before the committee, but they separately issued denunciations of the proposed removal of the limitations on the age for presidential candidates.

To Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, a member of the committee, however, the expertise and profile of the witness who appeared before the committee and presented whatever view matters a lot.

"You cannot rate the opinion of the group of uneducated Ugandans the same way as that of a professor in constitutional law on this matter," Mr Mpuuga says.

He adds that the numbers of those who backed the removal of age limits before the committee were bolstered by obscure groups allied to the ruling party.

He listed these to include the Uganda Mechanics and Engineers Association, Urban Community Vector Control Group, Uganda Association of Uneducated Persons, NRM Veterans Association and Front for National Salvation.

On top of that, Mr Mpuuga argues, a number of NRM officials and supporters, including Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, NRM deputy secretary general Richard Todwong, Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi (the sponsor of the Bill), former minister Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafiire and NRM electoral commissioner Tanga Odoi.

Sunday Monitor has drawn up the full list of who appeared before the committee and what position they took - whether opposed, supported or neutral - and those who were invited but did not appear.

Mr Mpuuga argues that as they write up the report, the "correct position" should be that the views of these witnesses should be classified as subjective because "they are direct beneficiaries of the Bill".

Among those who opposed the lifting of age limits are the Democratic Party and Conservative Party, together with Leader of Opposition in Parliament Winnie Kiiza.

Race against time

These views are likely to form the core of a contentious debate at the retreat that will examine the draft report this week.

Sunday Monitor understands that the plan is to table the Bill for Second Reading when Parliament re-convenes from a short recess on December 12.

Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah was forced to send plenary sittings on recess on Thursday because of lack of substantive business and the report of the committee on Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi's Constitution Amendment Bill will be high on the agenda when plenary resumes.

The government side has an ambitious plan of passing the Bill before Parliament breaks off for the Christmas recess, but it remains to be seen how that will be pulled off given that there will be only six plenary sittings before Christmas arrives.

Ahead of the critical stage of report writing, Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa was in no mood of taking chances and she boosted the numbers of the NRM on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee by six additional ones this week, giving the ruling party a total of 19 members and raising the total number of members to 29.

Ms Nankabirwa this week nominated MPs Brenda Suubi Asinde (Iganga District), Robert Kasule Ssebunya (Nansana Municipality), Rose Lilly Akello (Kaabong District), Prossy Akampurira Mbabazi (Rubanda District), Taban Amin (Kibanda North) and Caroline Kamusiime (Rukiga District) to the committee.

Two NRM MPs - Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga County) and Richard Gafabusa (Bwamba County) are openly opposed to the removal of age limits.

On October 31, Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi, the sponsor of the Bill, was the first in the hot seat to make a case for it, but he later stormed out of the sitting amid heckling from MPs opposed to the removal of age limits.

Next in the line of fire was Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafiire, who was also forced to abandon the committee as he was heckled by MPs opposed to the Bill.

Then NRM Deputy Secretary General Richard Todwong attempted to put the committee off-balance by claiming that Article 102(b) was smuggled into the 1995 Constitution by the Constituent Assembly (CA).

Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, who participated in writing the Constitution in 1994-95, dismissed Todwong's claims, clarifying that Article 102(b) was debated and agreed upon by the Constituent Assembly.

More controversy

However, it has not been plain-sailing as the committee has been dogged by questions of bias, with MPs opposed to the Bill questioning the neutrality of the chairman Oboth- Oboth, an NRM leaning Independent.

Mr Oboth-Oboth particularly ruffled feathers when he attended a meeting of the NRM Parliamentary Caucus that resolved to back the removal of age limits, much to the chagrin of some committee members.

But Mr Oboth-Oboth is unapologetic about attending NRM caucus meetings.

"I do not deny that I attend NRM Caucus meetings and I will not stop attending. Who says that I do not subscribe to any political ideology? I can proudly say that I achieved neutrality because both sides were afraid of me. In this country, who does not have a political lineage?"Mr Oboth-Oboth says.

The committee had initially resolved to start on writing a report but during a heated closed-door meeting on Thursday, MPs opposed to the removal of age limits insisted on holding countrywide consultations, forcing the chairman Oboth Oboth to seek audience with the Speaker, Ms Rebecca Kadaga.

In the meeting with the Speaker on Thursday afternoon, Mr Oboth was told that money for holding countrywide consultations will be mobilised but the Speaker could not confirm availability of the money for foreign consultations.

Those Invited but did not appear before committee

Uganda Law Society

Forum for Democratic Change

People's Development Party

Uganda People's Congress

Uganda Federal Alliance

Peoples' Progressive Party

Makerere Law Lecturers

Uganda Management Institute's Dr Gerald Karyeija

Political scientist Yasin Olum

Dr Sali Simba Kayunga

Former premier Apollo Nsibambi

Inter Religious Council of Uganda

East Africa Centre for Constitutional Development

Lawyer Godfrey Lule,

Former Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki

Women's Democracy Network

Uganda Elder's Forum

Women's Council

John Patrick Amama Mbabazi

Kizza Besigye

Maureen Kyalya

Abed Bwanika

Those supporting lifting of age limit

MP Raphael Magyezi

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafiire,

NRM party deputy secretary general Richard Todwong

Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda

Tanga Odoi, NRM party electoral commission chair

Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere

Kick Age Limitations Out of the Constitution

Uganda Market Allied Employers Union

Kampala Business Community Informal Sector

Kampala Operational Taxi Stages Association

Wansaso Kibuye Cooperative Saving and Credit Society Ltd

Nakivubo Road, Old Kampala Market Vendors Association

Kampala Tukolebokozi Timbers Association - Ndeeba

Uganda Mechanics and Engineers Association

Urban Community Vector Control Group

Uganda Association of Uneducated Persons

NRM Veterans Association

Front for National Salvation

Those opposed to lifting age limit

Democratic Party

Conservative Party

Platform for Alternative Leadership

Prof Frederick Ssempebwa, former chairman of a Constitutional Review Commission

Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza

Peter Mulira, lawyer

Mwambutsya Ndebesa, political historian

Prof George Kanyeihamba,

Ex-presidential candidate, Prof Venancius Baryamureeba

Ex-minister Amanya Mushega

The National Office of the Promoters And Supporters of the Referendum on Articles 26(b) (1)(11) and 102(b)

Neutral

Equal Opportunities Commission Uganda Law Reform Commission Electoral Commission

Uganda Local Governments Association

Kampala Arcaders Grocery Forum

Uganda Medical Association

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