Sunday August 29 2010

Church wants leaders to uphold the Constitution

In the final part of the epistle, Catholic Bishops call for timely and adequate funding of the Electoral Commission. The also want Parliament to make special legislation on elections. Read on:-

Article 71 of the 1995 Constitution provides inter alia that internal organisation of the political party shall conform to the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution.

However, of recent we have witnessed a number of challenges as far as management and organisation of some political parties are concerned. There is a visible lack of a culture of political tolerance. There has been a lot of inter and intra party friction which threatens this new system of multiparty political dispensation.

Individuals and groups are intolerant to people having divergent political views. We are very much concerned with the deteriorating internal democracy within political parties and the lack of openness and transparency in the conduct of party affairs. 17.2.

There has been limited transparency in the elections of the party leadership both at local and national levels which has led to bitter infighting. Such events bring shame to our country and threaten democracy. There is still therefore a lack of a clear understanding of the operation of a multiparty political system.

We, however, commend the positive step taken by some parties to come together for the good of the country to form the interparty dialogue. This we believe is one of the best ways to end political disputes that arise out of undemocratic tendencies. This will foster unity and harmony, build national reconciliation and tolerance among the parties. We need to put party interests aside and act in the best interest of the country.

The Role of Parliament
We applaud Parliament for some positive steps to address issues of national concern such as the plight of corruption and enacting some people oriented legislations. However, the concern of coming up with special legislation on elections is still wanting. As the supreme organ of the state, we urge Parliament to ensure the cry of the people to have proper and genuine electoral legislations in place is urgently addressed. This should be done in the name of the people and for the common good for all.

The Executive
While we recognise the continued government effort to improve and strengthen electoral democracy under a multiparty political dispensation, there is much more that needs to be done. The gaps left behind by the Presidential election (Amendment) Bill 2009, Parliamentary elections (Amendment) Bill 2009 and the Electoral Commission Amendment Bill 2009 should be accorded urgent attention in order to guarantee a peaceful electoral process.

The state should come out and punish groups and individuals who violate electoral laws. This must be made abundantly clear in the proposed electoral law reforms. There should be clear and identifiable enforcement mechanisms to avoid a continuation of a culture of impunity whereby many offenders have in the past contested in elections and even been declared victorious.

The government has full responsibility to ensure that the electoral process is undertaken in a democratic, transparent and accountable way. This process should guarantee a free and fair environment according active and informed participation of the people of Uganda.

The people of Uganda would like to see an improved legal environment for electoral activities. We should apply the law in a manner that is impartial and just. This will encourage our people to trust the leadership of the country and abandon temptations to look externally for solutions that can easily be found in the ballot box. The electoral legal framework should provide a linkage.

Media freedom is a preserve of Article 29.1 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda and therefore requires that government deals with the media appropriately and fairly. The government should make use of available legal mechanisms instead of resorting to abrupt closure and suspension of radio stations or print media outlets.

This is detrimental to the free flow, exchange and access to information as a fundamental human right provided under Article 41 of the 1995 Constitution and the Right to Access to information Act of 2005. The legitimate concern of the people about the electoral system should be given adequate attention. If not addressed, this will mostly likely frustrate all efforts to ensure an open and democratic electoral process.

The poor financial position of the Electoral Commission has in the past disabled and limited its ability to properly execute its Constitutional functions. We, therefore, call for timely and adequate funding of the Electoral Commission to enable it to play its role in a satisfactory manner. We would like to see a conducive and smooth electoral process free from all forms of fear, threats and intimidation of both the voters and candidates.

The Role of the State
The government should recognise the fact that “authentic democracy is not merely the result of a formal observation of a set of rules but is the fruit of a convinced acceptance of the values that inspire democratic procedures: the dignity of every human person, the respect of human rights, commitment to the common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life”.
If there is no consensus on these values, the deepest meaning of democracy is lost and its stability is compromised. [Cf. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church # 407]. The role of the state in improving the human rights record of Uganda before, during and after elections must be seen targeting security agencies, whose image has been tarnished according to the findings in the various elections reports for the past electoral periods.

We must seriously look to our record on protection of civil and political rights here in our country. We should understand that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Although there are a number of electoral reforms in place, people are still skeptical on the state commitment to enforcing the electoral laws equally and fairly without discrimination. As we move towards general elections we should not be advocates of violence, hatred, subversion or terrorism but of sustainable peace and reconciliation, free and fair elections.

In conclusion, the rulers and the ruled must have a commitment to protect the Constitution. It is, therefore, very, important that the people of Uganda are closely involved in the process to improve our electoral system so that we all can regard the system as our own and be ready to defend and protect it.

We, the Catholic Bishops of Uganda, would like to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s commitment to work with all peace loving Ugandans in the struggle to pursue a clean and clear path towards sustainable, democratic free and fair elections in our country.

We need to identify a common ground for a common good. By acknowledging our differences we can find common ground on which together we can work for democratic changes and participation. Only when we perceive human dignity as the foundation of all human existence can we fully understand the need to struggle for a common good.

As we move towards national unity is paramount and must override all other interests. We would like to see an open, free, peaceful and democratic electoral process where all people and most especially leaders reach out with one message of unity, justice, peace and reconciliation.