8The quest for the restoration of presidential term limits in the 1995 Constitution is gaining momentum in Parliament, with almost 90 per cent of MPs interviewed by this paper backing the demand.
At least 125 MPs (one-third of Parliament) who spoke to the Daily Monitor in separate interviews welcome a raft of proposals to amend the Constitution to provide for an Independent Electoral Commission, restore the voters’ right to recall their representatives and the formation of a Salaries Commission.
Of the 125 interviewed, 108 MPs want term limits restored. Uganda has 385 MPs.
The legislators, however, disagree on whether the President should be given more Statutory powers and grant the government the right to acquire land for investment compulsorily.
To boost investments needed to create jobs, Cabinet has indicated it would want Article 26 of the Constitution re-drafted to legalise compulsory land acquisition in strategic areas.
However, many MPs, especially from north, east and central regions have rejected the proposed amendment and accused the government of plotting to ‘grab’ their ancestral land.
“By amending Article 26, it is evident that the government is targeting land in northern Uganda. The President has been salivating to give away Amuru land to Madhvani Group of Companies to grow sugarcane against the will of the residents. This matter is close to his chest,” Terego MP Kassiano Wadri said.
For years, the government, with President Museveni’s personal intervention, has been pleading with residents in Amuru to grant 10,000 hectares of their land to Madhvani for sugarcane growing.
Opinion is divided and the matter is in court where an injunction has been granted against any offer.
Some leaders insist that the government and Madhvani must allow the land owners to own shares in any proposed sugarcane growing enterprise, with their land being their contribution to the venture.
“Land belongs to the people. It will be unconstitutional if we allowed this amendment. We are not against investment, but let the investors enter into joint ventures with the land owners,” MP Gilbert Olanya (FDC, Kilak) said.
Information minister Rose Namayanja, who has confirmed the draft constitutional amendment proposals, told the Daily Monitor that it would be premature for MPs to propose their own amendments since a Cabinet sub-committee is handling “these matters”.
“MPs will not tell Cabinet what to do, let them wait for the right time,” Ms Namayanja said.
“There is no need for MPs to jump the gun. The constitutional review process is very clear. There is a Cabinet sub-committee [chaired by Gen Moses Ali] tasked to handle the proposed amendments by the Constitutional Review Commission, civil society and Uganda Law Reform Commission. Once all this is done, Cabinet will discuss the proposed constitutional amendments and electoral reforms before we take them to Parliament for consideration,” she added.
The minister said any constitutional amendments on land matters would provide safeguards to ensure prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation, prior to the taking of possession or acquisition of property in the case of physical structures.
“It is parochial for MPs to say that the proposed amendments are targeting land in northern Uganda. We have had challenges in roads, public health and energy projects which we need to solve,” Ms Namayanja said, adding that a lot of funds go to compensation “yet these are public facilities”.
The MPs have taken a dim view of a Cabinet proposal to re-write Article 83 of the Constitution so that a lawmaker will lose his or her seat if he or she ceases to be a member of the party on whose ticket he or she stood to enter Parliament, or where he or she ceases to be a member upon being expelled by the said party.
A number of ruling party MPs, including, Mr Simon Mulongo, (Bubulo East) and Mr Eddie Kwizera (Bufumbira East) expressed concerns that some leaders could abuse the new amendments and that “small groups” within the political parties would override the will of the voters.
Mr Mulongo feared that “this will be subverting democracy”, while Mr Kwizera observed that “this will kill Parliament and dent constitutional equilibrium”.
The current constitutional provision states that an MP can only lose his or her seat upon crossing to another party.
This matter is now before court. However, the MPs interviewed generally supported the Cabinet proposal to amend Article 84 to provide, under Clause (6), the grounds and procedure for recalling an MP in the multi-party political system.
Of the 125 MPs who talked to this newspaper, only 11, representing about 9 per cent, objected to the restoration of presidential term limits.
Another 5 per cent (six MPs) were either undecided or thought Ugandans should be consulted on the matter through a referendum.
The MPs in favour of the presidential term limits reasoned that the longer a leader remains in office, the more entrenched his or her grip becomes, and the more likely he or she is to use his or her office for his or her personal advantage.
Western Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga , who blames Speaker Rebecca Kadaga for “sitting” on his 2012 motion on the restoration of term limits said Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and scientist, observed that in a democracy “no office should be held twice by the same person.”
He said the lack of term limits breeds dictatorship and denies the country, the prospects for smooth transition of government.
Article 105(2) which had provided for term limits was lifted from the Constitution by the 7th Parliament in 2005 with ruling party members being accused of accepting Shs5 million to see through the controversial amendment.
Ms Kadaga’s aide, Ms Ismail Ranny, refuted claims that the Speaker is sitting on the ‘Karuhanga Motion on term limits’.
She advised the MP to follow the right procedures, saying there was no formal motion tabled in Parliament, adding that “whatever goes on the Order Paper is a collective decision of the Business Committee.”
However, Mr Richard Todwong, the Minister Without Portfolio (responsible for political mobilisation) and others, said term limits would deprive Uganda of “farsighted leaders”.
Mr Towdong said the age limit provision in the Constitution offers sufficient safeguards.
“Any time is right for constitutional amendments. But currently, the Constitution sets 75 years as the age limit. That is good enough for the current system. But if the amendments are to be approved, there will be need for a referendum,” he said.
While majority of the MPs have supported the restoration of the two five-year term limits, there was no consensus on the number of years. Some said five years is not adequate for a leader to put in place meaningful reforms and proposed a term of seven years yet others like Mr Odonga Otto (Aruu MP) prefer eight years.
In 2005, 10 years after its promulgation, the Constitution was amended by 7th Parliament to pave way for the return of political parties and also scrapped the two presidential term limits.
It was, however, widely acknowledged that 70 per cent of the members (NRM MPs) took Shs5 million each to give Mr Museveni the mandatory two-thirds vote needed to alter the Constitution to allow him a third term in office.
Reported by: Yasiin Mugerwa, Olive Eyotaru, Mercy Nalugo, Solomon Arinaitwe and Nelson Wesonga.
Some of the amendments would require approval through a referendum under Article 259 of the Constitution, while others would require ratification by district councils under Article 260 of the Constitution, and yet others would require only parliamentary approval by at least two-thirds majority at the second and the third readings in Parliament.
Other than fixing things at the EC and the Salaries Commission, the rest of the proposals are detestable and draconian. We should restore the term limits in the Constitution and MPs should not be appointed ministers to protect the independence of Parliament.
Wilfred Niwagaba (formerly NRM, Ndorwa East)
“If that (granting power to parties to expel members and enable their ejection from the House) happens, no one is going to stay in that Parliament. MPs should be left to debate independently. If a party member steals government money, should I keep quiet because he/she is a party member?”
Medard Bitekyerezo [NRM, Mbarara Municipality].
“NRM wants to bring 200 amendments. This is unacceptable as they want to rewrite the Constitution. We want a fully-fledged federal [system] for Buganda,”
Betty Nambooze (DP, Mukono Municipality)
“Any attempts to give the President more powers borders on scandal. The presidency is already overweight, requiring less and less roles to enhance effectiveness.
* Expelling MPs should remain a preserve of the voters, not parties. Party loyalty and discipline can be reinforced through legalese, parties must be pro-people or else their MPs shall not stop defying them. Instead, the law should be amended to make recall easier,”
Mathias Mpuuga (Indep, Masaka Municipality)
“There are several provisions in the Constitution which need review. We should not just focus on elections. This should be an opportunity for the country to amend all those aspects. Government should bring the full proposal of all articles for amendment on the table. The process should be consultative,”
Raphael Magyezi (NRM, Igara West)
“We have to restore term limits if we wish our country to progress and be stable. On compulsory acquisition of land, this is absolutely a joke. Land belongs to the people; we are tired of foreigners taking over our land and if this happens with the magnitude of corruption in this country, then Ugandans will be left to sleep on the streets and this is unacceptable,”
Mariam Nalubega (DP, Butambala)
Reported by Yasiin Mugerwa, Olive Eyotaru, Mercy Nalugo, Isaac Imaka, Solomon Arinaitwe and Nelson Wesonga