Uganda: Nambooze Takes to the Witness Stand As Age Limit Petition Resumes

Winfred Kiiza, the leader of the opposition in parliament, centre, struggles to control tears as she engages a police officer in Mbale after police officers fired teargas to disperse an age limit rally.

The Constitutional court hearing into the consolidated petition challenging the amendment of the Constitution to remove the age limits resumed today morning at Mbale High court in eastern Uganda.

The petition before a panel of five judges led by deputy chief justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, Remmy Kasule, Elizabeth Musoke, Cheborion Barishaki and Kenneth Kakuru.

The petition challenging last year's constitutional amendments by parliament, which among others, lifted the presidential age limits as well as extended the term of office for members of parliament, presidency and local governments by two years.

According to the petitioners, the executive and parliament breached the Constitution by withdrawing funds from the consolidated fund to finance a private member's bill that led to the amendment. The petitioners are also questioning the legality of the amendment process, arguing that parliament's rules of procedure were flouted when strangers believed to be presidential guards invaded the House and violently evicted MPs opposed to the amendments.

Today's court session began with the cross-examination of Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze on the rules of procedure by the respondents led by the deputy attorney general Mwesigwa Rukutana.

Nambooze was asked if she's aware of the fact that parliamentary rules state that the speaker of parliament shall at all times be heard in silence, which the respondents to the petition argue was not the case on September 27, 2017 - when MPs opposed to the amendments filibustered forcing the speaker to suspend plenary.

Nambooze said MPs are allowed to raise points of procedure during sessions. She seemed to suggest that is what MPs were doing before speaker Rebecca Kadaga suspended 25 MPs and the House for 30 minutes. The MPs were accused by the speaker of violating House rules. When asked whether she vacated the House immediately as directed by the speaker.

She said she didn't, "because there was no opportunity because we were under siege" by "strangers." She was asked by Justice Kasule how the Constitutional court should interpret that "strangers" had entered the House. Nambooze said anybody who's not an MP and has not been officially introduced to the House, is regarded as a stranger.

When asked if what she voted was a reflection of the desires of her constituents, Nambooze said it was because she lives in her constituency and there had public debates about the amendments but that her position would have been more firm, if she had consulted. She said she wasn't able to consult because she'd been hospitalised due to the brutality meted to her by the "strangers" believed to be presidential guards.

At this point, Justice Kakuru asked her now that she'd not consulted if she had returned the Shs 29 million consultation money that was given to every MP. Nambooze produced to court her explanatory note she wrote to the clerk of parliament on December 20, 2017 when she reportedly wrote and indicated that she had written a cheque on December 19, 2017 to refund the consultation money.

Justice Kakuru put it to Nambooze whether she had evidence that the money was indeed returned back to parliament or it was just a gimmick to fool the public. Nambooze said she wasn't sure if the money had been transferred back to parliament's accounts or not but said she hadn't received any protestations from the clerk.

Nambooze raised her "disappointment" that the hansard had not captured her protestation to the speaker when she questioned the legality of the amendments despite participating in the process herself. She was asked by Justice Kasule if this "disappointment" had been captured in her affidavit but said only learnt that her statements were not captured by the hansard yesterday evening.

During the re-examination by petitioners' lawyer, Erias Lukwago, Nambooze was asked why she, and other MPs did not vacate the House immediately as directed by the speaker.

"Before the speaker could leave the chambers, soldiers had entered the house. In particular, I saw them grab Ssemuju Nganda and Muwanga Kivumbi yet these two had not been part of the [suspended] 25 [MPs]. Women, I believe to be presidential guards came towards me and I fell down..." she said.

To this, Justice Owiny-Dollo said the "compliant" MPs "weren't given the opportunity to comply."

Also in the witness stand today is permanent secretary ministry of Finance and secretary to the treasury (PSST) Keith Muhakanizi to answer questions on the financial implications of the amendments.

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