8 August 2018

Uganda: Let's Tell the Truth About 7-Year Term

A Constitutional court defeat last month has given rise to a new determination within government and parliament to find a new path to their troubled seven-year term project for president, parliament and local governments.

According to deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana, government has not given up on the term extension for the principals, despite the unanimous court ruling in Mbale on July 26, which rejected an amendment to extend the term of office of the president, parliament and local governments from five to seven years.

Working feverishly, cabinet and parliament are said to be weighing all available options. In an interview last week, Rukutana said cabinet consultations are ongoing and that there are many options on the table.

In parliament, some MPs are considering tabling a new motion, which will carefully follow the proper procedure. The machinations aside, the reasons advanced for the renewed effort are quite intriguing.

Rukutana has said that in pushing the term extension, cabinet is "... just harmonizing our presidential and parliamentary term with the region because it has been found that five years is not sufficient for any meaningful development. You spend all the time in electioneering."

Interestingly, he said the seven-year term is the trend in the region, "because you cannot achieve anything in five years."

But the minister's statements seem to contradict many tested truths about our politics. There are many MPs who have served three or four consecutive terms (15 to 20 years) yet their longevity in office, viewed in terms of consequence, has carried no meaningful development. Their constituencies still have bad roads, hospitals and their people slip further into poverty every year.

Yet it's also true that some-one-termers have left an indelible mark on some constituencies. Longevity in office cannot and should not be confused for a guaranteed route to achievement. MPs cannot be the vehicles of development in their constituencies because they have neither the means nor resources to make a meaningful impact.

Legally, theirs is more or less an advocacy mission now reduced to being fulltime solvers of their constituents' small problems (school fees, burial expenses, etc).

The institution with the resources and legal mandate is the executive arm of government. It has the money and resources to spur development. But even with the 32 years of the ruling NRM government, Uganda is still latched in the bottom tier of least developed, very poor countries.

Also, to claim that seven-year terms are a trend in the region is a naked lie. Rwanda has since scaled back its seven-year presidential term to five. That leaves no other East African community member with a seven-year term.

This term extension push also breeds suspicion that our leaders are increasingly getting wary of elections and may one day seek permanent representation of their constituencies.

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