Monday May 5 2014

What would we achieve by trimming President’s powers?

By Geoffrey Buga

During last week’s debate organised by the Monitor Publications, Minister for the Presidency, Frank Tumwebaze castigated Dr Kizza Besigye former FDC president for participating in bringing what he now calls a dictatorial regime, to power.

Besigye himself admitted to and regretted his participation in what he initially thought was a good thing, but which he now realises is a thoroughly rotten system. Besigye is right in saying that a change of government from President Museveni to Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi or even himself would not make much difference because the President has unbridled power and all institutions have been destroyed or are hamstrung by the current system of governance.

It would, therefore, be necessary to dismantle the presidency, and overhaul the Constitution so that the people have real power over the government and accountability is taken to higher levels. In a sense Besigye now agrees with Ms Beti Kamya the chief petitioner for a national referendum to trim presidential powers who has been singing herself hoarse with this message. So what would be the approach to achieve this?

Ms Kamya’s referendum sounds straightforward, but that referendum would be scuttled by the current government. It is, therefore, a stillborn idea. Besigye’s solution of pushing out President Museveni by an Arab-spring kind of activism may have had merit then, but we now know that it did not solve the problems in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The people in these countries are probably worse off now than they were with the dictators they pushed out. When you push out a government without an organised alternative in place, a vacuum is created which attracts all kinds of vultures. A new president, whether from the NRM or Opposition would not wield the kind of power Museveni does even if the Constitution was not amended first.

This would then afford a big chance for Ugandans to really sit down, talk and put up a new constitution that limits the powers of the presidency, emphasises institutions and accountability to the people. But as things stand, if President Museveni stands again, he will probably win. So in a sense, the ball is squarely in Museveni’s court.