Thursday March 27 2014

My colleagues in the Opposition, Uganda’s problem is not the EC

By Beti Olive Kamya

Colleagues in the Opposition, I appreciate and commend your efforts for free and fair elections. However, I request you to consider the bigger picture that begins the day the president of Uganda takes oath.
After swearing-in, 75 per cent of Uganda’s Constitution gives the President authority to appoint all public officers, to propose how the National Treasury should be used, to propose Bills for parliament to pass, to consent or not, to the Bills passed…. to practically be an “Imperial President”.

Of the 19 Chapters of the Constitution, 13 empower the President to give, deny or take away! By focusing on the Electoral Commission (EC), whose job, in any case, comes at the very end of the five-year term, you overlook the fact that the President would have used the five years to great advantage with the above authority.

Moreover, the EC does not operate in isolation, but in compliment with the Ministry of Finance, Local Governments, police, National Bureau of Statistics, Parliament, Cabinet, IGG, Auditor General, Public Service Commission, National Water & Sewerage Corporation, among others.

Suppose the EC was freed of presidential influence but does not receive due cooperation from the other institutions that remain under presidential influence, would their job be any easier?

The journey to free and fair elections does not begin and end with the EC. It begins with Uganda’s Constitution, which creates a larger-than-life presidency and an environment that propagates patronage, sycophancy and corruption.

Fraudulent elections are not the problem of Uganda but a consequence of the patronage system created by the Constitution of Uganda. We must get away from fighting consequences and symptoms to finding and addressing ourselves to causes.

Mr Badru Kiggundu’s EC is just an agent, not the real cause of fraudulent elections; after all, was Mr Kiggundu a factor in disputed intra-party elections?

If I became president of Uganda, using constitutional mandate, I would likely appoint to public offices my comrades in Uganda Federal Alliance with whom I share ideology, outlook, history and aspirations. They would, in turn, be loyal to me and common sense would tell them to protect their jobs by protecting mine…. and the vicious circle would continue.
Colleagues, pretending that Uganda’s problem is the Electoral Commission and that it will end by disbanding the commission is living in denial. We must go all the way back to where the problem begins: Uganda’s Constitution that allows fusion of the State, government (Executive, Legislature, Judiciary) and the party in power.

The EC ought to be part of the State, not part of government because government has a biased interest in its operations. While the State is permanent, non-partisan and its role being to provide infrastructure to any incoming government without bias, government are partisan and short-term (renewable through elections), whose role is to implement their campaign manifestos and oversee day-to-day business of a country. Many countries have a Head of State different from Head of Government.
No one could predict the negative impact of such fusion at promulgation of the Constitution, but after 19 years, it is clear for all to see. Fortunately, Article 1(4) of the Constitution of Uganda provides for Ugandans “to decide how they wish to be governed, through referenda”. We did so in 2000 and 2005 and should do so again in 2015.

I, therefore, call upon you colleagues, to push for a referendum to amend the Constitution to trim presidential powers, not just electoral reforms.

Ms Kamya is the president, Uganda Federal Alliance and chief petitioner for a Referendum to amend the Constitution to trim presidential powers