Despite the vehement Opposition protestations over lack of quorum in Parliament, the Anti-Terrorism (amendment) Bill 2015 was last night passed into law with several amendments.
The Bill was passed after numerous failed attempts by the Opposition to convince the Speaker, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, to adjourn the House to yesterday to allow further consultations on the contested provisions of the draft law.
After futile attempts, the Opposition protested with their feet—walked out, with their leader, Mr Wafula Oguttu, opening the way as others followed in succession.
The Opposition was particularly suspicious of the three provisions of the Bill, namely the definition of a terror act, which they wanted to be clearly defined.
They were also wary of the provision that talks about the damage to property and prejudicial to public security, saying it should be deleted for it is open to abuse and manipulation.
Finally, they objected to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) being granted powers to investigate and prosecute, while at the same time play the judge’s role.
Government, however, conceded on only one of the contested provisions, which is to do with the damage to properties and being prejudicial to public security, on the ground that it can be taken care of by the Penal Code Act.
In defence to the other two provisions, the State minister for Internal Affairs, Mr James Baba, and Attorney General Fred Ruhindi, said terrorism was evolving and it would be unwise for something like that to be defined.
There was a consensus, however, that terrorism should be defined by its acts rather than words.
The major disagreement was in the role of the IGP, which the Opposition say once it is granted, the police chief may use it to frame and persecute political opponents.
The passed Anti-Terrorism Amendment Act gives the IGP powers to freeze bank accounts or seize property of people suspected of involvement in terrorism, including funding terror activities.
Section 17A (1) of the Anti–Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2015, reads: “The Inspector General of Police shall, if he or she has reason to believe that any account held in a financial institution has funds on the account which are reasonably linked or intended for terrorism activities, direct in writing a financial institution at which the account is maintained to freeze the account in accordance with the directive.”
“This provision is trying to target our (Opposition) political financing. And it is going to be used against us.
This law is also trying to criminalise media content, especially social media. So if you write on social media about the first family or about Mr Wafula, then you will be arrested,” Mr Wafula, said.
By the time the Opposition walked out, Mr Ruhindi had proposed that the IGP and the police be involved in the investigation of suspected terrorists.
Earlier in the house
The legislators wondered why the law could not wait until Parliament resumes in about a week.
MP Theodore Ssekikubo, said: “Why is the Executive stampeding on Parliament. They are making Parliament look bad. By now, this programme should have been known.”
Ms Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker, said: “This is wrong and unfair to the Members of Parliament. I expect critical business to be brought in quickly. I have also written to the Leader of Government Business in Parliament about the same matter but I have not got a response yet.”
Leader of Government Business, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, said: “I am sorry for the House had to be called when members were consulting. We would not want this to happen again. I agree there are mistakes, but we must protect the interest of the country. We should not be bogged down from our fundamental function to protect the interests of the country.”
MP Cecilia Ogwal said: “We need time to consult and negotiate or else we will raise the issue of quorum.”