Amend appointment process of electoral commissioners

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By Crispy Kaheru

Posted  Wednesday, December 11  2013 at  11:52

Civil society unveiled its nine-point reform agenda targeting the fulcrum of Uganda’s electoral processes – the Electoral Commission. I will speak about only one of the nine-point issues that require urgent attention and re-examination – the appointment process of the EC commissioners.

Commissioners must be hired through a transparent, public appointment process that enlists wider stakeholder consultation and a more inclusive approval mechanism that instills public confidence in the capacity of the commissioners and their ability to operate autonomously and professionally.

The current Ugandan experience according to the Constitution, Article 60 (1), is that, all seven (7) Commissioners are appointed by the president with the approval of Parliament. Such a process which vests appointing powers majorly in the hands of the president, risks undermining the impartiality of the Commission. This appointment process does not safeguard the commissioners from any potential influence from the incumbent authorities.

It is critical that laws relating to the appointment of commissioners carry safety valves against any possible manipulation of the Commission by a single appointing authority. In Kenya for instance, the recruitment process is handled by a specialised selection panel.

The panel is formed by a total of seven representatives drawn from the offices of the President, Prime Minister, Judicial Service Commission, the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board and the Association of Professional Services of East Africa. Nominees to this panel are vetted by the National Assembly.

Once the National Assembly has approved the nominees, they will then constitute themselves into a selection panel which will from then onward manage the selection process of the commissioners to the Independent Election and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). In accordance with the law, the panel invites applications from qualified candidates from the public from which it shortlists individuals to be interviewed.

Shortlisted individuals undergo a public interview process from which three individuals are selected for the position of chairperson, and 13 for the Commissioners’ positions. The names of selected candidates are then forwarded to the president. The president chooses one name for the position of Chairperson and eight names from the pool of 13 names proposed for commissioner appointment.

The president forwards the nine names to Parliament for vetting and approval or dis-approval. But as an interested stakeholder in elections, it may not even be necessary to refer the names of the successful candidates to the president; the committee can resolve the process and forward the final exact names of successful candidates to Parliament for vetting and approval or dis-approval.

Such a recruitment procedure is not only participatory but also dispels any ‘would be’ claims of biasness, and favouritism by the appointing authority. This process strengthens the credibility and legitimacy of the commissioners and portends well with Public’s trust in the institution .

Ahead of the 2016 general elections, it is, therefore, critical that the Electoral Commission Act, Chapter 140 of the Laws of Uganda be amended to provide for a detailed process of identifying and selecting persons who may be recommended for appointment as members of the Commission. The identification of the Commissioners of the EC must, therefore, be public, openly competitive, merit-based, and handled by a competent team or body.

The selection team or body must undertake to invite applications, interview candidates, set and supervise aptitude tests, and seek information from candidates’ referees before declaring any candidate successful under the first stage. Parliament should perform the crucial role of vetting candidates who have successfully interviewed for the commissioner positions. Names of the successfully vetted candidates should then be forwarded to the President for subsequent appointment.

Such an elaborate appointment process will withstand scrutiny and be publicly defensible. It will also inherently safeguard the EC’s institutional independence and autonomy, especially from the executive branch of government.
Mr Kaheru is the coordinator – Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.