Uganda: Govt Moves to Block Opposition Reforms

All signs are pointing to a showdown in parliament between the opposition and NRM over a second Constitutional amendment bill, which Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba will attempt to introduce again in the House on Thursday.

Government is clearly opposed to the Niwagaba bill, which the opposition tried to introduce last week but Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah pushed the matter to Tuesday, August 6 and later Thursday, August 8. Niwagaba's bill has been on the parliamentary shelves since January when he filed his notice of motion but met stiff resistance from government.

At the time, Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire told parliament that the reforms were to be handled by a Constitutional Review Commission, an idea opposed by Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. Unsatisfied with Attorney General William Byaruhanga's reforms introduced in parliament on July 26, Niwagaba asked and was allowed by Kadaga to table his motion seeking permission of parliament to introduce alternative reforms.

The motion was tabled on August 1, seconded by the Leader of Opposition in Parliament Betty Aol Ocan and Butambala MP Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi. Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana led the government opposition against it.

"What is before you is a motion for leave to present a private member's bill... when I look at Article 93 of the Constitution, I want to tell you that the bill has financial implications, it is proposing to increase the number of Electoral Commissioners, among others," Rukutana, who rose on a procedural point, told Oulanyah.

THE BILL

In his bill, Niwagaba wants to amend Article 60 of the Constitution to increase the number of members of the Electoral Commission (EC) from seven to nine whose appointment should be handled by the Judicial Service Commission, and not by the president. Niwagaba's bill also seeks to establish qualifications for the chairperson of the EC and to prescribe the grounds for the disqualification of members of the EC.

He also proposes an amendment to Article 61 to set a time frame within which the EC determines election complaints arising before polling. The clause further seeks to amend Article 61(3) of the Constitution to require the EC to hold presidential elections on the same day as general parliamentary and local government council elections.

The bill also proposes an amendment to Article 78 to remove the army from parliament. And demands that the ex-officio Leader of Opposition in parliament should be the leader of an opposition political party with the highest number of MPs in the House.

The same amendment also proposes to have the Attorney General and deputy Attorney General as ex-officio members of parliament. Niwagaba also proposes the scrapping of a requirement for public officers to resign in order to contest for an election and also introduces a clause that prohibits the appointment of ministers from among MPs.

Clause 6 of the bill seeks to introduce a new Article 82B to provide for the Speaker's panel while in Clause 7 of the bill, Niwagaba wants to amend article 87 (1) to provide for the involvement of the Parliamentary Commission in the appointment of the Clerk to Parliament.

The Ndorwa East MP also proposes an amendment to Chapter Seven specifically Articles 99 (2) and 100 of the Constitution to replace the office of Vice President with the office of Deputy President plus Article 103 (2) to require every candidate in a presidential election to nominate a person who is qualified for election as President, as a candidate for Deputy President.

The bill seeks to amend Article 104 to allow any voter or political party or organization to challenge the outcome of a presidential election in addition to an aggrieved candidate. He also wants to re-introduce Article 105(2) reinstating the two-term limits for a president.

RESIDENT DISTRICT COMMISSIONERS

He also wants to repeal the office of resident district commissioner (RDC) and to change the name of Uganda Police Force to Uganda Police Service and provide for the regulation of its conduct.

Information and National Guidance minister Frank Tumwebaze told The Observer on Monday that government is studying the bill and will soon come up with a position.

"Any private member's bill has to attract the attention of government. Although we are yet to discuss it in cabinet, we are wondering why for example he is calling for the removal of RDCs which is provided for under Article 203 of the Constitution. RDCs are the monitors of government programs in the districts if you have a Chief Administrative Officer in the district who implements the programs, why shouldn't we have RDCs to supervise and monitor government programs?" Tumwebaze wondered.

Niwagaba told this writer that for now, he will wait for the speaker's ruling and decide on which course of action to take.

sadabkk@observer.ug

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