Uganda needs constitutional reforms beyond the EC

I would like to call upon both sides of the political divide in Uganda to focus on wider constitutional reforms beyond the Electoral Commission (EC).

Friday February 5 2010

By Mathias Kulubya

I would like to call upon both sides of the political divide in Uganda to focus on wider constitutional reforms beyond the Electoral Commission (EC). It is true that the current EC should be disbanded and a neutral one headed by a retired High Court Judge appointed through a credible process. Focus should equally shift from the rhetoric of seeing elections as an opportunity to replace incumbent president to a chance by Ugandans to give their verdict on the performance of the government of the day.

It is interesting that Security Minister Amama Mbabazi successfully demonstrated the use of technology in registering through biometric identifications of the participants at the just concluded NRM meeting. If this is good for NRM internal elections, surely why not roll out this same system throughout the country. Biometric Identification cards for all ugandans using Minister Mbabazi’s technology would bring us closer to our East African neighbours who have had national cards since independence. Even the South African former bantustans of Transkei, Ciskei, Venda and others had IDs. Right now, uganda is used as a conduit for doggy nationals from other countries who easily enjoys this safe haven without paying a diem.

Thirdly, all party leaders should put themselves up for elections in their chosen constituencies as it is done in Kenya and in UK. This prevents opportunists from being elected. It also ensures that even losing candidates have a fall back position of serving their country in the legislature. In South Africa, Mangosuthu Buthelezi of Inkatha and Bantu Holomisa of UDM are good examples. This is a more fundamental constitutional reform which will bear fruit after 2011 elections.
Never again should we as a country allow leaders to come from nowhere to take power under the guise of being better than incumbents.

Majority of politicians to say the least whether in third world or developed countries are in politics for themselves. Recently, the President was quoted in the media AS SAYING that he wanted to punish MPs who did not support the Land Bill; unacceptable and unpresidential.
Fourthly, the confusion around federalism and regional governments including creation of endless districts to now about 100 should be nicked in the bud for the good of the country. There are definately examples around sub-Saharan Africa to emulate a better system than centralised governance. Let us go for Provincial Governments along the South African , Mozambique and Nigerian Models.

For example, in South Africa there are provinces doing better than others in delivering services and people have a choice where to move should they want to do so. I am suggesting that we have provincial governments of Eastern Province, Northern Province, West Nile Province, Bunyoro Province, Western Province, South Western Province, Buganda Province and Central Province just like Gauteng in South Africa.
Legislative elections for provincial parliaments and premiers should take place at the same time as national elections.

This system, if implemented, would provide Uganda with a reservoir of proven future leaders at the provincial level who would easily move up to the national level. This is also one way of providing an alternative platform for leadership away from the only slot at the presidency. I am sure we all admire the American system and democracy where leadership is about service and accountability with very tight checks and balances. Above all, the envisaged provincial governance model would open up employment opportunity for regional tertiary institutions of learning.

Gulu District chairman, Mr Norbert Mao, has shown that it is possible to provide leadership away from the national Parliament. With this system in place, there is no way a brilliant politician with potential leadership material would go far. Buganda and others who are arguing for federalism would equally find the provincial governance as a middle ground and a better way of sharing the national cake. Provincial governments should have transparent budgets approved by the central government.

Fifth, the role of independents should be consolidated and entrenched as a constitutional right in the amendments. We have already seen the positive contribution independent legislators have made as they owe their allegiance to their constituents rather than to party leaders.
They operate outside caucuses and this is good for the country.

The NRM government is not happy and has intimated using their own reforms to outlaw independents. This move should be resisted by all Ugandans who want to see our country graduating into the fold of the civilised mature democracies. Parties should fight to be elected to power individually without alliances as our history has clearly demonstrated since the 1960s that as a people, we do not keep our promises.

Sixth, interest groups and the army should not be in Parliament. In the same vein, we have to trim the size of the Cabinet to about 20 ministers. Norway which has properly managed its resources including oil has only 12 Cabinet ministers. The presidency is also too bloated and way beyond our means as a country. I see no reason why taxpayers should pay for presidential advisers whose advice is never needed. These are the key issues the opposition and lawmakers should be focusing on rather than homosexuals.

Mr Kulubya is a Ugandan living in London, UK