Wednesday May 14 2014

Why do we reduce a national debate to one personality - the President?

By Beti Olive Kamya

Recently, I attended a “Citizens’ Debate” organised by Monitor Publications and NGO Forum on the “Relevance of Uganda’s Constitution”. Predictably, both proponents and opponents reduced the debate to President Museveni, who clearly clouds people’s ability to think rationally. So, in order to focus on the topic rather than Mr Museveni, imagine that the electoral reforms’ crusade was successful, Museveni lost the 2016 elections and we have a new president!
As with Museveni, 13 of the 19 chapters of the Constitution will give the new president authority to: Appoint all public officers from the rank of commissioner or director upwards; propose Bills for enactment by Parliament; consent or not, to Bills passed by Parliament; manage the national Treasury; perhaps most important of all, appoint the Minister of Finance, Secretary to the Treasury, Governor of Bank of Uganda and Commissioner General of Uganda Revenue Authority, hence, uncensored access to the Treasury.

In summary, 80 per cent of Uganda’s Constitution reads like a script written for a president to act the role of sole employer, provider and benefactor! The new president will appoint her/his supporters to the public offices, as Museveni has, and as any president would.

That is where real power lies because common sense would prompt appointees to protect their jobs by protecting that of the appointing authority, hence, tear gas, electoral malpractices, incredible court rulings and illegal transfer of funds from Bank of Uganda. The ballot box, which comes into play at the tail end of a five-year-joy-ride of unrestricted access to the Treasury and bottomless pit of public jobs, is only of cosmetic consequence.

The cumulative and multiplier effect of such appointments is phenomenal because in addition to the President’s free access to the national coffer, only his/her supporters get access to public resources, officially and fraudulently.
Patronage, sycophancy and dictatorship in Uganda emanate from the Constitution and will continue no matter who occupies State House, as long as the script written for “H.E. the Imperial President of Uganda” remains!

Critics argue that with a similar constitution, Rwanda is doing well, but President Paul Kagame’s landslide election wins of 92 per cent, point at no opposition in Rwanda that calls for political machinations.

In the UK, an election is worn by a political party, not the Prime Minister, so the party has power to indict the PM. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were indicted by their respective political parties, not the ballot.
Because of their federal system, the president of the USA has no power over what happens in the States, his / her real influence being on foreign affairs and defense, whose impact is outside the USA. In Israel, Germany, Australia, Canada, power is shared between the Head of State, Head of Government and regional governments.

In Kenya, the president no longer appoints the Electoral Commission, Inspector General of Police, Chief Justice, Judges and Governor of Bank of Kenya, among others.

But in Uganda, the President is the Alpha and Omega.
Pretending that disbanding the Electoral Commission and ousting Museveni from office will fix Uganda’s problem is missing the point because when Yoweri goes, the Constitution will create us another Museveni, that’s how it was designed to perform.

For a lasting solution, the centre must be decongested of power as happens in democracies. This can only be done through a national referendum via Article 1(4) and 255(1) of the Constitution of Uganda.

Ms Kamya is the president, Uganda Federal alliance.