Will Museveni use Constitution review for political fixing?

Constitution. President Museveni holds the Ugandan Constitution as he addressed a press conference at the state lodge, Mbale District in 2016. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

What you need to know:

  • Proactive: The much anticipated Constitutional Review Commission is on the cards, and a look at the behind-the-scenes politics shows that it might well be the card President Museveni plays to diffuse the prevailing political tensions and buy himself more time. Stephen Kafeero sheds light on what 2019 has in store for us.

Depending on one’s political leaning, this may be a good or bad thing. But the government has been slow and calculative, and insiders say this is all about ensuring political scores in favour of the incumbent.
President Museveni, in his New Year message, removed doubt, if any, that Uganda will soon embark on the rigorous and laborious exercise touted as an answer to some of the fundamental questions in the country that have led to what some have called a political crisis.
The message lined in the first paragraphs of his remarks appears mundane and did not generate much debate from the December 31, 2018 speech. President Museveni, however, is not known to make statements for the sake of it and his remarks in relation to the Constitutional Review Commission were targeted.

“In the Constitutional Review, the Ugandans should address the issue of a discordant Executive and Parliament. In UK, if the Prime Minister and the Parliament do not agree, both of them resign and new elections are held so as not to cause paralysis in the development plans of the ruling political parties. It ensures continuous accountability through representation.”
What is being constructed behind the scenes, sources say, is the preparation of the public and answers on the political capital that may be gained or lost as a result.

Review team
Sunday Monitor has established that a budget for the commission was presented and debated within the executive. It was not clear, however, whether President Museveni has given the final nod on the 14 member team proposed by Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire (Rtd), the Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister.
The team to be chaired by former Attorney General, Prof Edward Kiddu Makubuya, deputised by former House Speaker and long serving retired diplomat Francis Butagira is expected to consider the various constitutional reform proposals that have been received by government.

Besides the chairperson and his deputy, the other members are: former chaplain of St Francis Chapel, Makerere University, Rev Amos Turyahabwe, former MP Nusura Tiperu Omar, lawyer Paul M Wanyoto, Dr Diana Musoke, a senior principal lecturer at the Law Development Centre, former legislator Dan Wandera Ogalo, Richard Laus Angualia a former diplomat, deputy director of public prosecutions Charles Elem Ogwal, senior presidential adviser (Youth), Lillian Aber, Kamdi Byonabye, the director of research, education and documentation at Uganda Human Rights Commission, Ms Sarah Nyirabashitsi Mateke, the former Kisoro District Woman Member of Parliament, Ms Martha Katuntu and Mr Kabogozza Musoke.

Legacy project
The removal of the age limit from the Constitution narrowed the path of options for the end of President Museveni’s more than 32-year reign, to either being forced out of power, stepping down on his own accord and natural causes such as death.
President Museveni, who came to power in 1986, knows too well that time is not his best ally yet he wants to seal his legacy in, among other things, ambitious infrastructure and energy projects. The resource envelope to finance these ambitions is very limited and Parliament, constitutionally, has so much say in the same, sometimes frustrating President Museveni’s ideas.

2nd review commission. Prof Kiddu Makubuya, will he be the head of the next Constitutional Review Commission? FILE PHOTO

With his tenure certain, the President believes that the all too powerful Executive doesn’t have enough power to muscle through his plans as fast as he wants and the way he has formulated them. And so, the constitutional powers of the ruling party dominated Parliament must be clipped to satisfy the wishes of the incumbent.
Parliament is largely seen as a rubber stamp for the Executive but Mr Museveni, even in that case, has had to pay heavily to get his way around the House in terms of favours, threats, cash and other such inducements to legislators.

For example, to remove the term limits from the Constitution and, therefore, be allowed to stand for another term in 2006, he had to pay hundreds of members of the House at least Shs5m. Many would later be “rehabilitated” when voters kicked them out. By 2017 when he needed the age limit removed, the cost of getting legislators to see his way had increased. The MPs who got the cash pocketed between Shs20m to more than Shs300m each. And those are just the more pronounced pieces of legislation. In all most all the cases with legislation where he has vested interest, President Museveni has had to apply the carrot and stick to get his way or at least try even with his own ruling NRM legislators who as noted earlier dominate the House by a decisive majority.
The land question in Uganda has remained a thorn in the flesh of President Museveni since the inception of the 1995 Constitution and Parliament with the backing of the masses has in most part openly defied him or treated his proposals with much scrutiny and opposition.

In September last year, government withdrew the Constitution Amendment Bill No. 2 of 2017, which sought to give it (government) absolute power to acquire land for development without first compensating the owners after much opposition from both the public and in Parliament.
With rising public debate, corruption and a dwindling resource envelope, land more than before has become very critical to President Museveni’s legacy. The incumbent would want to fast track as many infrastructure projects without going through the delays and costs of compensating people. The start could be cajoling Parliament to see things his way. The other aspect of this is the sometimes tedious process of getting approvals from Parliament to borrow money or appropriate the same for certain projects.

A critical read of many of President Museveni’s communiques that have made it to the public domain suggest an adoption of “me against them” with the President suggesting that his “good” projects and proposals are frustrated by other government officials. The President has also taken to making sweeping directives on certain things he wants done.
To swiftly and easily acquire resources, President Museveni needs Parliament to do his bidding and what better way than through a threat of an early election with a serious likelihood to lose one seat

Originator. Justice Benjamin Odoki headed the first Constitutional Commission which collected views and made the draft Constitution that was debated by the Constituent Assembly. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

Term extension
Parliament could have lost the controversial extension of its term by two years from the current five to seven which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court but the debate did not and hasn’t died. Those behind it went to work and are mulling a comeback.
One of the reasons for the delay to institute the commission, insiders say, was to create a crisis and then box all the stakeholders including the Opposition, civil society organisations and even donors into agreement to the extension of the current term of office for all the political leaders and consequently normalise it in the subsequent enactments.

The proposal contained in the December, 2018 Electoral Commission(EC) roadmap, sources say, did not come from a vacuum but is part of this well-crafted and thought out campaign.
“All the necessary legal reforms will be undertaken, at least, two years before the General Elections to facilitate proper planning, and implementation of the Strategic Plan and the General Elections Roadmap,” the EC strategic plan notes.

The EC adds: “The Commission has accordingly proposed that if it is to execute its mandate appropriately, the laws should be enacted/amended at least two years before the General Elections. In that regard, the Commission has already submitted its proposals to the line ministry.”
Civil Society Organisations, donors and the Opposition have been very vocal about reforms before a meaningful and credible electoral process can take place in the country.

With less than two years to the 2021 general elections, the proposal will be a straight forward take or leave it. Allow the Constitutional Review Commission and other organs of the state sufficient time to consider and debate all the reforms so that an acceptable frame work can be reached. The catch 22 will, however, be on whether those reforms will be enacted after the anticipated two years. The writing is on the wall.

1st review commission. Prof Fredrick Ssempebwa headed the 2005 Constitutional Review Commission. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

Cooling off
Opposition political actors have dubbed 2019 as a year of “action” riding in some part on anti-establishment momentum and awareness built over the years and the contestations coming out of the 2016 general elections. The Constitutional Review Commission, however, is reportedly being positioned as one of the mechanisms that will cool off a year that promises a hive of divisive political activity.
All political actors with alternative views to the status quo will be directed to the commission to submit their views for consideration instead of holding rallies and other such campaigns to mobilise the citizens. If this goes as planned, the option will provide cover for the regime to crackdown on those defying a “constitutional process”.

New commission

According to Daily Monitor, the Commission, if approved, will gather views of Ugandans on aspects of the supreme law they wish changed. This is seminal because Article One of the Constitution vests sovereign power in the people who shall determine who governs them, and how, through a free, fair and regular elections or referenda. Our position and clarion call to the nominees, when eventually endorsed for the job is to satiate the high expectations and aspirations of citizens in the manner in which they do their work. This requires of them par-excellence rectitude so that the population can trust that the consultation will be no charade. It should also not be manipulated to circumvent alternative dispute resolution, including through planned political/national dialogues.