Uganda: I Regret Removal of Term Limits for President - Chief Justice

14 October 2020

By Derrick Kiyonga

Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has said he regrets the removal of presidential term limits from the Constitution because the 1994 Constituency Assembly, which he was part of, did not entrench the safeguards to stop such amendments.

Justice Owiny-Dollo said the Constitution in Article 102 (b), provided that the presidential age limit could be amended and removed without a referendum.

"I don't think this thing of age limit was a big issue; but what I wept for this country was for the removal of the presidential term limits. That is where we lost it. The mistake we made in the Constituent Assembly was not to entrench, not to make it difficult for anyone to amend the provisions of the term limits," Justice Owiny-Dollo said yesterday in an interview with Daily Monitor at his chambers in Kampala.

"That one, I take responsibility and anybody else who was in the Constituent Assembly; that we should have secured, entrenched that provision so that if you want to amend that particular article, you would go back to the people. We failed the people of Uganda as a consequence," he said.

Parliament amended the Constitution in 2005 to remove the presidential term limits when President Museveni was in his second and final five-year elective term.

In 2017, Parliament again amended the Constitution to remove the 75 year age limit for the president when Mr Museveni was due to turn 75 years old.

A group of MPs and civil society members petitioned the Constitutional Court chaired by Justice Owiny-Dollo, then deputy Chief Justice. But on a majority verdict, the court upheld the amendment of the age limit for the president.

The petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court, but the verdict was the same.

President Museveni came to power in 1986 after a five-year guerrilla war and instituted a process that culminated into the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution.

However, in 2003, after a meeting at National Leadership Institute-Kyankwanzi, his ruling party initiated the process to amend the Constitution to remove the two presidential term limits. Each MP was paid Shs5m 'facilitation' to consult the electorate about the amendments, without which President Museveni would not have been eligible to stand again in 2006.

At the time, some senior NRM members and Cabinet ministers opposed the move to remove presidential term limit clauses from the Constitution. Many of them were subsequently sacked from Cabinet. The Constitution was finally amended and the term limits removed in 2005.

In the interview yesterday, Mr Owiny-Dollo, now Chief Justice, was asked whether he is brave enough to annul President Museveni's election if he 'wins' in 2021 and his victory is contested.

"I will not in my judgment seek to please anybody. An election petition will not be against President Museveni but against candidate Museveni and whoever is petitioning the court. I have said and I have repeated that I never make my judgment to please an ideological leaning, a political grouping, No," he replied.

Commenting about the preparedness of the Judiciary to handle election petitions that are expected to clog courts after the 2021 General Election, Justice Owiny-Dollo said the judges are ready, despite inadequate manpower to expeditiously dispose of the electoral disputes.

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