Members of Parliament from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, who had asked for ‘logistics’ before they support lifting of the presidential age limit from the Constitution, on Tuesday asked President Museveni to ‘keep his money’ but grant a seven-year term for the current Parliament.
New details emerging from the closed-door NRM Caucus meeting chaired by the President on Tuesday point at “a give and take deal” between Mr Museveni, who is the NRM chairman, and the MPs.
The legislators, who form the majority in the 436-member parliament, used the Caucus meeting to negotiate their future amidst growing opposition to the proposed Constitution amendment to remove the age limit.
The Constitution Amendment Bill seeking to remove Article 102 (b) has polarised the country and intensified opposition calls for Mr Museveni to retire when his current five-year term ends in 2021. Mr Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986.
Those opposed to the “secret swap deal” between the President and NRM MPs said any attempts to amend the Constitution through an Act of Parliament to extend the life of the 10th Parliament, “distorts governance and principles of rule of law and can only be done by raping the Constitution in exchange for pieces of silver”.
The talk of pieces of silver follows seething allegations in the corridors of Parliament that suggest Shs40m has been paid to each MP to influence them to support the removal of the age limit.
Mr Peter Ogwang (Usuk), a parliamentary commissioner, who spoke on behalf of NRM MPs, denied receiving the inducement for passing the age limit Bill and threatened to take Opposition MPs to Parliament’s disciplinary committee.
“We cannot be intimidated, we have the numbers to pass the age limit Bill and other proposed amendments… those against age limit removal are in disarray. That is why they want to tarnish our names,” Mr Ogwang said.
“We have not pocketed any money to pass the age limit Bill… the only money we received was for consultations… If those matters come on the floor of Parliament, we will not hesitate to use our numbers to subject them to the disciplinary committee,” he said.
The NRM MPs, according to sources, demanded that the five-year term of the current Parliament be extended to seven years as a condition for passing the controversial age limit Bill brought by Raphael Magyezi (Igara West) as a Private Members’ Bill.
The Bill is coming up for the second reading in the House either this week or next week. It seeks to expunge the presidential age limit from the Constitution.
The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee report on the Constitutional (Amendments) Bill 2017 has since recommended a seven-year term for political offices and restoration of presidential term limits which were abolished in 2005 after controversial bribing of MPs.
However, the committee recommended that the matter be put to a referendum since it’s an entrenched provision.
The NRM MPs led by their Chief Whip, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa (Kiboga District Woman), who on Tuesday told this newspaper how the issue of the seven-year term for Parliament was ‘catching fire’, told the President that Parliament has powers under Article 77 (3) of the Constitution to extend their term without any recourse to a referendum.
The President, according to sources, reiterated his frustration with a five-year term and proposed that a five-member committee chaired by the Deputy Attorney General, Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana, be put in place to study the legality of the MPs’ request.
The President insisted leaders need more time to deliver services to the people and that the five years are too short to implement government programmes.
Articles 105 (1) and 77 (3) which provide for a five-year presidential term and powers of parliament were not among the original proposed constitutional amendments.
Sunday Monitor reported last week that 18 MPs of the Legal Affairs Committee had approved a seven-year presidential term and recommended a referendum since it’s an entrenched provision.
When the President met Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee at State House recently, he endorsed a seven-year term and removal of the presidential age limit.
This newspaper learnt that the Rukutana committee sat on Tuesday, the same day it was constituted, brained-stormed and concluded that Parliament has powers under Article 77 (3) to extend their mandate.
Their position was communicated to Ms Nankabirwa yesterday and forwarded the recommendations to President Museveni.
An emergency Caucus meeting is expected to be convened soon to receive what one of the NRM MPs called, “good news”.
Although the Caucus members are plotting to extend the five-year term for 10th Parliament to seven years, Opposition MPs and other legal minds led by Shadow Attorney General, Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) and Mr Abdul Katuntu (Bugweri) warned that any attempt to extend the current term of Parliament will be illegal and absurd.
“The absurdity of the argument that Parliament has powers to extend its current term, is to argue that it can amend Article 77 (3) and provide for a term for life of incumbents... This would be contrary to Article 79 (1), which provides for the circumstances under which parliament can make laws. The only laws it can make are for peace, order, development and good governance and any law enacted by Parliament should pass the test provided under Article 79 (1),” Mr Katuntu said.
Mr Katuntu argued that Parliament cannot unilaterally change or extend the current MPs’ contract with the voters, which is for five years.
He said doing so would be fraud, adding that MPs can only change the term of the next parliaments, not the current one.
Mr Niwagaba said any political deal seeking to extend the term of the current Parliament is not only ugly, immoral but unconstitutional as it offends all principles of legislation including retrospective legislation which is barred.
“Besides, a term of government that is elected cannot be changed mid-way to benefit those in power at a material time,” Mr Niwagaba said.
Asked why Mr Museveni is uncomfortable with the five-year term, Mr Don Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, referred Daily Monitor to the President’s explanation when he met the Legal Affairs Committee.
However, Mr David Mafabi, the President’s Private Secretary for Political Affairs at State House, said: “The [proposed] amendments do not, cannot take away mandatory elections… the amendments take place according to procedure laid out in the constitution.”
The MPs who talked to this newspaper but requested not to be quoted emerged from the Tuesday Caucus meeting highly optimistic about the success of the age limit Bill and downplayed the controversy and violence that bedeviled its presentation in Parliament on September 27.