Uganda: Government Fails to Block Constitution Amendment Bill

24 February 2021

Government yesterday failed in its third attempt to block the Constitution Amendment Bill No 1, 2019, in which Mr Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East, Ind) proposes an overhaul of the Executive and restoration of presidential term limits.

The unsuccessful attempt by Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, follows previous failed attempts by Finance Minister Matia Kasaija and former Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana.

Mr Rukutana on August 1, 2019, when Mr Niwagaba sought leave of Parliament to introduce a Private Member's Bill, raised objections saying the government was planning to handle all the proposals listed in the Bill in the Constitutional Review Commission whose formulation was in "advanced stages".

A month later, Mr Kasaija's attempt to refuse issuing the mover with a Certificate of Financial Implication failed after Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah based on the provisions of Section 76(4) of the Public Finance Management Act, 2015, to allow Mr Niwagaba to proceed.

Section 76 (4) states: "A Certificate of financial Implication shall be deemed to have been issued after 60 days from the date of request for the certificate."

Yesterday, when asked by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to comment on the report of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, Prof Kamuntu attempted to convince the House to put debate and subsequent passing of the Bill on the halt to pave way for the government to constitute a Constitutional Review Commission.

He also raised the issue of financial implication of the Bill on the Consolidated Fund."If you look at the amendments, they tantamount to about 31 Articles of the Constitution, which affect so many entities. This is a huge exercise (and) it almost tantamount to overhauling the Constitution through a Private Member's Bill. It also has a financial implication" the minister said.

Prof Kamuntu who expressed fear that the Constitution is being amended in a piece meal said his ministry has been analysing several constitutional amendment proposals that can be handled together with those in the Bill through the Constitutional Review Commission.

But MPs questioned the spirit in which the minister was trying to derail the processing of the Bill, arguing that it is the same government in which he serves that has not heeded to the House call to consider a constitutional review.

In her ruling, Speaker Kadaga reminded the minister of the past actions of the government in regard to the Bill, insisting it must be processed as planned.

"Minister I am sorry to say, you are standing where another minister stood to say the Constitutional Review Commission was about to be constituted. It is difficult to believe that you are actually telling the truth. Let them pass it," Ms Kadaga ruled.

The Speaker also overruled Prof Kamuntu's excuse that there was no quorum in the House to debate the Constitutional Amendment Bill.

"The issue of quorum leave it to me. When we reach that stage, I will deal with it," Ms Kadaga ruled.

Article 260 of the Constitution provides for a Constitution Amendment Bill to be supported by two thirds of the total number of MPs at the second and third reading.

MPs speak out

MPs castigated the Committee on the recommendation to extend the term of elected leaders from five to seven years. The Committee had proposed that the extension of the term of office would make it "sufficient" for the President to fulfill his or her mandate given through an election.

Some MPs asked the Committee chaired by Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South) to withdraw the recommendation and apologise to the House because it was not part of the Bill.

"The idea of a seven-year term is in bad faith. The Committee wanted to tarnish the image of this House. I would like to call upon the chairman of the committee to withdraw this recommendation," Kilak South MP Gilbert Oulanyah said.

Much as debate continues to ensue during this afternoon's plenary session, MPs who participated yesterday welcomed the proposal to reinstate presidential term limits, which were lifted in 2005.

State Minister for Minerals Sarah Opendi said: "I am glad I was the only minister who stood up in 2017 (during age limit debate) to reinstate term limits. It is now back and I think it is good for the peace and stability in this country."

Despite the Bill having about 31 proposed amendments, the MPs yesterday in addition to term limits only discussed repealing army representation in Parliament. There were mixed views over this.

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