Daniel Kalinaki

We would rather have a president who is ignored than one whose word is law

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By Daniel K. Kalinaki

Posted  Thursday, December 5  2013 at  02:00

Amidst all the fires, fireballs, flame-spitting, and fire-fighting in Kampala these days some of the hottest developments are easy to miss.

Tucked away inside this newspaper on Monday was a story about cabinet mulling a new law to turn the president’s directives into, well, law.

According to the newspaper report, ministers interviewed said the proposed Executive Orders Bill will “go a long way in ensuring that civil servants and other people in authority take the presidential directives seriously”.

Already the Constitution grants executive authority to the president. In addition, the presidency has previously overstepped the checks and balances built into the constitution by, for instance, sending our troops into foreign wars without parliamentary authority, or giving directives to organisations that, on paper, enjoy constitutional autonomy.

So why this attempt to give the president powers to rule by decree? There are at least two reasons. To understand the first one, we must review earlier and repeated declarations by the President opposing the granting of bail to suspects charged with capital offences.

Many reasonable and law-abiding citizens would generally support a law that keeps suspected rapists and murderers away from the streets.

However, the views from the presidency are a lot more sinister than that. The President has publicly said the proposed amendments to the bail laws would also target people who participate in demonstrations, and those accused of as-yet-undefined offences of “economic sabotage”.

In a meeting with ruling party MPs at State House in July 2011, the President said: “We need development in the country which can only be achieved through a stable country. A country that is free from demonstrators. We have to urgently work on the law by putting such people in incarceration for six months and I need that report.”

This is worrying. It is not an attempt to improve the judicial system and ensure criminals are kept off the streets. It is an attempt to wrap dictatorial tendencies in the woolen cap of legal robes, however illegitimate.

Murderers and rapists do not walk Scot-free because the law is weak. They do so because the priority of the regime and its coercive arms, including the police, have veered away from preventing and investigating crime, to ensuring regime survival. Hence while police crime labs are hopelessly inadequate, we have state-of-the-art water cannons and tear-gas spraying vehicles to beat peaceful protestors off the streets.

While it is true that corrupt judges and lawyers often game the system, it is also true that they are able to get away with it because of the overall incompetence and complicity of the state apparatus.

Those who have friends in high places, such as former NSSF boss David Chandi Jamwa, walk away on bail with a slap on the wrists and can enjoy their freedom for as long as they remain ‘compliant’ and subservient to the whims of the State. Others who fall out with the regime, such as Teddy Ssezi Cheeye, are put away for long stretches.

When former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya was charged with corruption-related offences and remanded to Luzira Prison, the Attorney General was asked to give a legal opinion, which showed that the suspect had no case to answer. Cabinet discussed the matter and a few days later the charges against him were dropped.

Who asked for the legal opinion? The President. Who chaired cabinet? The President.
The presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a court of law is a cornerstone of our basic human rights and a key tradition of our judicial processes. It must never be sacrificed to appease the vested political interests of the day.

Recent history shows us why some people would love to have such a law in place. One of the candidates in the 2006 election was charged with rape, treason and misprision of treason.

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