There was an air of excitement and anticipation in Parliament this week after the Daily Monitor exposed a clandestine scheme by MPs to extend the 2016 poll date with a flimsy excuse of allowing Parliament enough time to handle and implement the proposed electoral reforms.
The extension to the current term that expires in 2016 applies to all leaders occupying political leadership positions that include the President, MPs and local council leaders, whose mandate in office is endorsed by Ugandans every after five years through national elections.
And like is the trend these days, Parliament was for the second time in a space of one and a half weeks suspended, this time indefinitely, to accordingly give the joint committees of Finance, Budget and National Economy time to discuss the Public Finance Bill as other NRM Caucus MPs trekked to their extension chambers in State House to discuss, among other issues, the budget framework paper endorsed by Cabinet on Monday and Tuesday.
The opposition is apparently consulting the masses on the 10 proposed reforms with a view of coming up with comprehensive reforms to pave way for smooth 2016 polls.
Key among the reforms is the restoration of Presidential term limits and having an independent Electoral Commission headed by an independent chairperson. The current chairperson and his commissioners are appointed by the President and this according to the opposition, creates an unlevelled ground for the general elections.
During the hand over ceremony for outgoing opposition shadow cabinet leaders on Thursday, the Forum for Democratic Change party leader Mugisha Muntu said they will be done by April. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga assured them that Parliament is ready to receive the electoral reform proposals and advised that they table them to Parliament for consideration before the Budget process.
Now some MPs are planning to extend the 2016 poll date.
While the NRM party denied knowledge of the plan, several MPs both in the NRM and in opposition are well aware of the proposed Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Extension Bill 2014, deal and have been lobbying their colleagues secretly to support the project.
The MPs in principle agree with the proposal they think will earn them more time in Parliament since some fear they are no longer popular and may not be voted back, while others are grappling with huge loans with no savings for the forthcoming campaigns.
Nakifuma County MP Ssekitoleko Kafeero (independent) is pushing for the extension of the election date with NRM lawyers and some MPs on the legal committee.
This has not pleased some opposition MPs. The shadow minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Medard Ssegona (Busiro East) described the move as “sinister” plan to keep non-performers in public office.
“Some people do not perform here and do not expect to return. Others have reached retirement age and want to use this as a blank cheque to have them extend their stay. This will not work,” Mr Ssegona said.
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Wafula Oguttu, said the move is being advocated by self-seekers.
But Mr Kafeero insisted the project is worthwhile since government is already spending too much money on the national census and production of national identity cards, less than two years to the elections.
So how does the matter of time arise and what did the framers of the 1995 Constitution have in mind to put term limits in the Constitution?
Article 77(4) of the Constitution says Parliament can only be extended where there exists a state of war or emergency which would prevent a normal election from being held.
The framers of the Constitution had it in mind that good governance and accountability to the voters requires establishing term limits in the Constitution to allow a peaceful hand over of power.
The pretext that MPs want more time for electoral reforms does not count at all because it took the framers of the Constitution only one year to produce a fine document that has existed since then.
Given the fact that Parliament still has two years to go, an amendment does not require more than one year. Whereas the 7th Parliament is remembered for amending the Constitution to allow the incumbent ‘rule for life’, the 9th Parliament could be worse if they manipulate the Constitution to force their tenure on Ugandans.
Giving ‘bonus terms’ may be a recipe for disaster since people are clamouring for change and mass protests would be inevitable.
In the Public Service Committee, MPs heard this week that at least 21,407 teachers have not received their February pay. In the budget framework paper approved by Cabinet, government is proposing a Shs450b salary increment to cut across the board for all civil servants.
The increment may not effect the teachers’ desired increment of 20 per cent. The teachers must be granted their 20 per cent increment as per government’s commitment.
Parliament must block the approval of the Ministry of Education budget until the teachers’ salary increment demands are addressed.
Being a national forest week and having marked the International Forest Day on March 21, the minister of Water and Environment was expected to issue a statement in Parliament on the fate of forests but the House had been suspended.
Uganda is losing the forest cover at an alarming rate as a result of continued forest degradation and deforestation. It is Parliament’s role to push government to act and address critical challenges to forest management.
Section 40 of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act provides for the establishment of a tree fund. The fund was intended to provide a financing mechanism for promoting tree planting.
This has not been established even after the Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment (now Ministry of Water and Environment), received funding from the Department for International Development, a UK government aid agency, to design modalities of how the Tree Fund should be established and operated.
Meanwhile, the NRM Caucus that met in State House Entebbe on Monday considered the composition of parliamentary standing committee leadership, an exercise that saw most of the previous chairpersons dropped.
Only the Human Rights Committee chairperson , Joova Kamateka and the HIV/Aids Committee chairperson Sarah Kayagi were retained.
Those replaced include: Budget Committee chairperson Tim Lwanga and Rules, Privileged and Discipline chairperson Fox Odoi.