The Constitutional Court in December closed the year with two interesting and controversial rulings. The first was a decision not to hear a case brought before it sometime back by Dr Kizza Besigye, the former president of FDC and four times a presidential candidate, including the 2016 election whose results he disputes to this day.
Besigye took the police and government to the Constitutional Court for the violation of his liberties during and after that election. He has also declared himself as the ‘People’s President’ based on his own tally of the 2016 election which gave him 52 per cent of the total votes cast.
Five judges of the Constitutional Court declined to hear his case, instructing him to appoint his own judges since he did not recognise the present government and the institutions appointed by it. They added, strangely, that should Dr Besigye be brought to court for other alleged crimes, they will not hesitate to hear the case against him.
In other words, the judges are practicing selective justice. Besigye can be sued but he cannot sue in the same court. I leave it to legal minds to reason this out, but I do certainly smell a rat. The judges had an option to hear Besigye out and dismiss the case on the facts.
The ‘People’s Government’ is a mere pressure group which happens everywhere. In our neighbourhood, Raila Odinga was sworn in a ‘Peoples President’ but has made peace with president Uhuru Kenyatta and together they launched the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) which will hopefully heal the political wounds in Kenya.
The second and probably more significant ruling was the throwing out of Parliament of six MPs who had been elected to represent the newly created constituencies. The affected MPs are: Patrick Ochan (Apac), Dr Elioda Tumwesigye (Sheema Municipality), Mr Tarsis Bishanga (Ibanda Municipality), Mr Hashim Sulaiman (Nebbi Municipality), Mr Asuman Basalirwa (Bugiri Municipality), and Mr Peter Abraham Lokii (Kotido).
Although the ruling fell short of the 83 MPs, the petitioner, Mr Eddie Kwizera, a former MP for Bufumbira East wanted, it was a significant step in the right direction and certainly long overdue. The ballooning of Parliament in the last two decades or so has been unfortunate and of no benefit to the country. The reason behind it is political expediency or gerrymandering.
This exponential growth has not only increased public expenditure, but rendered Parliament a tool of the Executive, besides creating an imbalance in the representation of all regions of Uganda. This too applies to the creation of miniscule districts, many of which cannot measure up to a size of a small sub-county and have no income generating activity.
What is the long term or permanent solution? Ugandans should go back to the drawing board and look at the entire Constitution critically and not through piecemeal amendments geared towards certain interests. Unfortunately, the 1995 Constitution has been adulterated by selective amendments and lost its original mission and focus.
A Constitution should not be partisan and must stand the test of time, not amended as and when the powers that be find parts of it inconvenient. The amendments of 2005 removing term limits for one to stand as President can be said truly ‘’killed’’ the 1995 Constitution - But trouble started in 1996 with the first amendment allowing the President to expand the size of Cabinet.
The United States constitution which is more than 230 years old has only been amended about 30 or so times. On the other hand, the Uganda Constitution which is barely 24 years old, has suffered close to 40 amendments and more are on the way. It has been so devalued that Uganda needs a new Constitution. This new Constitution must reinstate presidential term limits and entrench the provision so that it makes it impossible to change it.
The new Constitution should also permanently fix the number of districts and constituencies in the country. The United States has 435 congressional districts fixed by law constituting the House of Representatives and a 100-member senate with each of the 50 states having two senators regardless of size.
These are just a few ideas for the new Constitution but there are many more like federalism, independence of the courts of Law, a truly independent Electoral Commission etc.
Mr William G. Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador