Kampala. The Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, yesterday inserted herself into a rancorous debate between lawmakers and the Executive over the pricing and legality of a government proposal to issue new East African passport to replace existing Uganda travel documents.
In a post on her official Facebook page, Ms Kadaga raised reservations over “the entire process; from its legality [and] the ease of administration and costs.”
“I do not think there is a country recognised as East Africa for it to be able to issue passports. I also do not know whether the East Africa [Community] presidents’ directive was ever brought to the attention of Parliament,” she said.
We were unable to reach the Speaker to confirm authenticity of the post, but Parliament’s director for Communications Chris Obore in response to our inquiries, said: “I have not talked to the Speaker because she is still chairing the plenary. However, it appears that is her Facebook account.”
Ms Kadaga’s political open boot to government on the passport issue came a day after she presided over a Parliament sitting on Tuesday during which lawmakers criticised the Executive for stampeding the arrangement.
As the presiding officer on the day, Ms Kadaga under parliamentary rules can only guide debate in the chamber, but not contribute to the discourse.
In her Facebook post yesterday, the Speaker noted that a protocol reached by presidents of the six-member states of the East African Community, if any at all, had not been presented in and approved by Parliament to legally compel Ugandan citizens to acquire alternative passport of the regional bloc.
State Internal Affairs minister Obiga Kania told this newspaper yesterday that the passports are not being issued by a country called East Africa, but member countries of the East African Community (EAC) in exercise of their sovereign jurisdiction.
“...It (new passport) is issued under the sovereign authority of the President of Uganda and the same is true with other countries in the EAC bloc, which have agreed that all their passports should be in accordance with ICAO standards,” the minister noted.
ICAO is International Civil Aviation Organisation, a specialised agency of the United Nations that fosters planning and development of international air transport.
The EAC Council of Ministers at its 35th sitting directed member states --- Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan --- to have commenced issuance of a new regional e-passport by January 31, 2018, based on each State’s individual preparedness.
Whereas the current machine-readable passports hold only traditional text information, a photo and ghost image, a chip containing electronically-processed biometric information about the holder is inserted in the new passport.
In a separate Facebook post yesterday, Kampala Central MP Muhammed Nsereko said the proposed new passport issuance “legally, is a breach of contract by government” since a Ugandan passport lasts for a decade from date of issue.
“When a citizen pays for a service of 10 years, government as a party cannot receive that money from its citizens and then ask for new payment for the same upgraded document. Therefore, this is the real theft that Ugandans cannot accept.”
Minister Kania said the lawmaker’s concerns are “legitimate” and the Executive will await guidance from the Attorney General, the chief government legal adviser.
He said unlike the Speaker’s contention, issuance of the new passports being done as a joint venture between the government and German firm, Veridos Identity Solutions GmbH, is legal.
The German company was contracted amid controversy and sacking of senior Immigration staff, and on the direct orders of President Museveni, to, among other things, print government security documents, including travel documents and the Uganda currency.