Uganda is at political and constitutional crossroads. Parliament has adjourned sine die to allow lawmakers to consult constituents on proposals to, among others, amend the Constitution and scrap age specifications for president and district chairpersons.
Abrasive public discourse on the matter that opponents suspect aims to offer President Museveni a freehand to rule for life exploded in physical fights among MPs on two consecutive days, with Special Forces storming the chamber to extract the red fez-donning dissenters.
This was unprecedented in Uganda’s history, calamitous for our fragile democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism. It elevated violence, a commoner’s resort, as fashionable to sort out differences of opinion.
This polarisation is not our preoccupation today. Rather, we want to illuminate seminal provisions in the Constitution that escape public scrutiny during constitutional changes yet they undergird life-time privileges to legislators.
Of course, this is not to distract from the debate on age limit, but flag issues that the planned Constitution amendment should encompass.
A functioning democracy envisages, as enunciated in our Constitution, that citizens determine who governs them and how. The currency for renewal of mandate is the right to vote and be voted and adherence to the social contract with the electorate. It also includes the right to recall an elected leader, who digresses from voters’ expectation. Our situation, however, is different, hamstringing.
When the Constitution was amended in 2005, the dictating issue was removal of the presidential term limits. MPs deviously retained a provision under Article 84(7) that “the right to recall a Member of Parliament shall only exist while the Movement political system is in operation”, aware that the country was transitioning to a multiparty dispensation.
This means unless terminated by death, a lawmaker, once elected, serves a full term whether they breach their contract with voters or become a political nuisance.
We argue that the right of recall in itself is an incentive for elected leaders to behave and retain commitment with the electorate and, as such, must be restored in the supreme law of the land. As it is, legislators are off the leash. There is no age cap for them, no term limit. And they under Article 85(1) of the Constitution, determine their own emolument.
We are not persuaded that legislators, whose minimum academic qualification is a high school certificate or its equivalent, should relish in such treats.
MPs must show patriotism beyond rabble-rousing. It is our position that the proposed Salary Review Commission should be fast-tracked to determine remuneration of all public officials, lawmakers inclusive. We demand MPs to be less parasitic and set themselves the same bar as others.