Saturday February 22 2014

Politicians must abide by rules at all times

By David F. K. Mpanga

A couple of recent political events caught my eye and got me thinking about the fate of this country. The first event, in time, was the reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet by Major General (rtd) Gregory Mugisha Muntu, the president of the Forum for Democratic Change. The constitution of the FDC vests his office with that power. There were high profile changes right from the Leader of Opposition through to the chairs of various parliamentary oversight committees.

Now, regardless of what politicians will tell you, reshuffles are never win-win situations. Some people will feel aggrieved about losing a particular appointment and others will feel disappointed by the office to which they have been appointed, preferring another instead.

I am sure that this shadow reshuffle was no exception but what was remarkable to me was the fact that some very senior leaders of the FDC showed open defiance of their party president, and, therefore, of their party constitution, when they did not keep or get or the positions that they wanted. These leaders went to the media with statements demeaning the offices to which they had been appointed and calling their party president’s decisions to question.

The second event came from the ruling National Resistance Movement. The party, which has been in power for 28 years, recently held a retreat for its Members of Parliament at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi. Despite the fact that Uganda has a constitutionally mandated multi-party dispensation under which there are several legally established political parties, only the NRM is permitted to use the National Leadership Institute facilities, which are managed by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces, for party retreats.

At these retreats, the participating MPs don military uniforms and, amongst other things, perform military drills, including shooting at a firing range. Although the constitutionality of this situation is highly doubtful, it was not the main reason that the recent Kyankwanzi retreat caused me concern.

This time, over and above the donning of military uniforms and carrying out military drills, the ruling party MPs came up with a popular resolution. Signed by 222 of them, it declared their incumbent party chairman, Gen Yoweri Museveni, the party’s sole candidate for the 2016 elections. This resolution is contrary to the NRM’s own constitution because the Parliamentary Caucus is not the constitutionally mandated organ to determine who runs for office on the party ticket. Yet the caucus seeks to issue binding resolutions on matters as important as the party’s presidential candidate to the complete exclusion of the lawfully empowered organs of the party.

These recent events in the FDC and the NRM should be of concern to all Ugandans irrespective of party affiliation. Nations, without exception, are built upon the firm foundations of institutions. To build lasting institutions you have to establish a set of rules, governing the institutions and a tradition of respecting those rules. This is why constitutionalism is not established simply by having a written constitution in place.

Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic all have written constitutions but they are not exactly bastions of constitutionalism right now. Constitutionalism is the tradition of not just having a set of rules but also respecting those rules at all times – and most especially when the rules create a result that is against our own transient personal interests.

The events that I have briefly recounted above show us that our politicians, as a united class, have serious problems with subrogating their personal interests to the rules of the political institutions to which they belong. Like all bad habits, defiance of rules and a breakdown of constitutionalism at a macro-level begins with a lack of respect for the small rules. If our politicians disregard and disrespect the rules of their parties, expect little or no respect for the laws that govern our nation.

We are in the hole that we are in as a nation, largely because of our failure to engender a culture of respect for the rules of the game. It is incumbent upon all of us as Ugandans to demand that politicians, big and small, abide by the rules – at all times and not just when it suits their personal interests.

Further, the subverting of the rules of the ruling NRM should be of greater concern to all of us. The NRM is essentially welded to the State and we have seen in the past elections that it is able to command huge financial, human and security resources to get its way.

Barring some miraculous turn around, akin to the conversion of Saul on the road to Damacus, the NRM will deploy the same tactics that it has deployed in the past to take the 2016 elections. So if the “Kyankwanzi Resolution” holds, Uganda’s electorate will have been effectively reduced to 222 people! 222 largely broke, unprincipled and easily manipulated people. If that doesn’t worry you, I don’t know what will.
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