PARLIAMENT. The government’s proposed Constitutional Amendments Bill (2015) yesterday faced stiff resistance at Parliament with MPs punching holes in the bulk of the Bill, forcing the Executive to promise a defence next week.
During its maiden presentation to the House Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, MPs rejected amendments touching on the appointment and firing of the Electoral Commission staff, whether MPs who lose party status should lose their seats and the procedure of nominating Independent MPs.
The Committee argued that the government proposal to amend Clause 1(Article 60) and change the name of the Electoral Commission to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) does not guarantee the much-needed neutrality of the electoral body.
The same proposal seeks to retain the President’s powers in removal of a member of the Commission. The Opposition wants the appointment of commissioners to follow a process of open application, public hearings and scrutiny conducted by the Judicial Service Commission.
Clause 4(Article 83) proposed to have MPs ejected from Parliament, if they lose membership of political parties on which they were elected. MPs disallowed it with a warning that it offends the ongoing court case where four NRM MPs are challenging their ejection from Parliament after being expelled from the ruling party, NRM.
The proposed Article 72 requiring candidates intending to contest as independent MPs to mobilise 1,000 signatures was also shot down as “discriminatory” and “impractical” as some constituencies have less than 1,000 voters.
With deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah today expected to give directions on how the Opposition will formally table alternative electoral reform proposals, MPs told the government legal team- led by Justice minister Kahinda Otafiire, Attorney General Freddie Ruhindi and deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutuna, that the proposed reforms fall far short of the threshold required to ensure a free and fair election next year.
Leading the charge against the government proposals, Shadow Attorney General Abdu Katuntu and Shadow Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Medard Ssegona warned that the Presidency still has legroom to influence the workings of the electoral body.
“Just giving it [EC] a name does not make it independent. What people of Uganda are yearning for is an EC which is independent, where we all have faith and submit ourselves without doubt that they will conduct free and fair elections. But to have one of the players, one of the candidates competing to be given the sole responsibility of appointing the EC does not render this commission independent,” Mr Katuntu said.
“If you want to strengthen the commission in a multi-party dispensation, why would you have a president who is member of a political party and whose party is supervised by the Commission, have powers to dismiss. You are talking about the name without the tenets of independence,” Mr Ssegona stated.
MPs Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East MP) and Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West),both currently battling to retain their seats in Parliament following their 2013 expulsion from the NRM, said the proposal to have MPs lose their seats once they are thrown out of their parties is open to abuse.
Article 144 of the Constitution to increase the retirement age from 70 years to 75 years in the case of Justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal and from 65 years to 75 years in the case of judges.