Government returns police powers on meetings

Wednesday August 7 2013

Opposition MPs surround the table on which the Mace rests as their NRM counterparts relax after passing the controversial Public Order Management Bill

Opposition MPs surround the table on which the Mace rests as their NRM counterparts relax after passing the controversial Public Order Management Bill yesterday. Under the law anyone seeking to hold a meeting, public rally and demonstration must now first obtain police approval. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE. 

By Isaac Imaka & Mercy Nalugo

A meeting between Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, and a team from government was the final straw that broke the Opposition’s resistance to the passing of the Public Order Management Bill into law.

That meeting resulted in the switching of ‘Order Papers’ to include the Bill on the day’s agenda and yet some MPs had received order papers which did not include it as part of matters to be considered.

Another sign of the shape of things to come yesterday afternoon was the apparent violation of a House rule which requires that prior notification of changes to order of business be given to MPs well in advance.

But not even a mini-choir from the Opposition benches deterred Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah (who chaired the plenary) from ramming the Bill through the House, and suspending whoever tried to stand in his way. “Honourable Members, I put the question that the Bill entitled the Public Order Management Bill do pass. May those in favour say aye, to the contrary nay,” he put the question.

Amidst Opposition calls of points of order and livid protests, the numerically far superior NRM side shouted ‘aye’. In less than two minutes, the Bill passed. Immediately after, Mr Oulanyah handed Soroti Woman MP Angelina Osege a three-day suspension for “shouting the most” on the Opposition side. She brings the number of MPs the Bill has claimed to four.

Outnumbered, the Opposition still sang and shouted at him. The chorus at one point changed to the martyred US civil rights activist Martin Lurther King’s anti-segregation signature song and Negro spiritual: “We shall overcome”. Others chanted: “Shame on you Oulanyah” There were also several attempts to grab the Mace but the Sergeant-at-Arms protected it.

Opposition says
Addressing the media later, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Nandala Mafabi suggested that the international community should slam a travel ban on the Deputy Speaker “for presiding over the rape of the Constitution and human rights in Uganda”.

“Speaker Oulanyah has acted as a mercenary to pass a law which is good for tyrants, called the pubic order management bill … It’s only good for dictators not for a democratic country. Oulanyah is a disgrace and we are calling upon all people to reject him. We are appealing to the international community to extend a travel ban on Oulanyah,” Mr Mafabi said. But Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi also criticised the Opposition. “I am surprised to see MPs behave in such a manner.

They behaved like wild animals. It’s a pity. “If you are few, I am sorry for you, this was a decision of the people. In democracy, we must respect the rights of everyone. Our rules and the Constitution are very clear,” he said.

This Bill has been opposed for being an affront to human rights and the Constitution where it, in effect, reverses a Constitutional Court ruling which declared previous police powers to determine who, when and where to hold public rallies unconstitutional, null and void.

“By legislating to control public assemblies/meetings rather than regulate them in accordance with the needs of a democratic society and focused on the efficacy of government and its agencies and political organs, the Bill infringes on the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, thought and belief, assembly, association and demonstration,” a joint statement from civil society organisations yesterday read.

Order Paper politics
Following last week’s chaos in the House, Speaker Kadaga had not included the controversial Bill on Tusday’s Order Paper. Her decision, sources revealed, was informed by an early morning meeting with an Opposition team led by Mr Mafabi. The team had convinced the Speaker that the temperature in the House was not good for the Bill.

This agreement, however, went through the window towards lunchtime when government ministers led by Prime Minister Mbabazi filed into her office and demanded a meeting. It is in this meeting that it was decided to place the Bill on the agenda for the day. In attendance were Information minister Rose Namayanja, Health minister Ruhakana Rugunda, ICT’s John Nasasira and Fisheries minister Ruth Nankabirwa.

After they met, two order papers were brought to the House, one with the controversial Bill and another without. The one without the Bill on agenda was given to Opposition MPs while the Speaker remained with the one which included the Bill.

According to rule 26 of the House Rules of Procedure, any change in the order paper has to be communicated three hours to the sitting of the House. It appears no notice was given. But Mr Oulanyah was in no mood to allow procedural restrictions interfere with his set course.

“This is not very new,” he said, “we have had situations where we have amended order papers here in the chair and we have always proceeded. I have been in a meeting with the Speaker in the Speaker’s office and there are some items that were included.” He made it clear he doesn’t arrange order papers. “That is a meeting for which I even came late. I came to Parliament close to midday because I knew I was going to chair the House. The decision was taken in a meeting chaired by the Speaker. If the item is not on the order paper that you have now, just amend it and we proceed,” he said.

Cries from the Opposition to the Speaker to allow the House to rectify the order paper anomaly fell on deaf ears. Issues in contention and the constitutional meaning

The Opposition and independent minded legislators were particularly opposed to Clause 8 of the Bill which they wanted recommitted pending further consultations. Clause 8 provides that a police officer can notify an organiser of a public meeting, “where it is not possible to hold the proposed meeting”.

Constitutional violations?
Critics observed that the Bill contravened Article 92 of the Constitution which prohibits retrospective legislation by barring Parliament from passing any law to alter the decision or judgement of any court: The Bill under Clauses 7 and 8 undermines the rule of law, constitutionalism and independence of the judiciary by seeking to revive Section 32 of the Police Act that sought to ‘prohibit’ rather than ‘regulate’ public assemblies and which was held unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in Muwanga Kivumbi v. Attorney General (Constitutional Petition No. 9/2005).