Demystifying the public order management bill

Monday August 12 2013

By Joseph Lagen

What the bill entails
In layman’s terms, Opio describes Pomb as “…a law that grants the police powers to regulate meetings in public places, public roads or even private places, at which the failure of the government and their policies or any political parties, are to be discussed.”

He adds that it is “a law giving the police the mandate to regulate meetings at which petitions to the government are to be drafted by a pressure group.” In essence, this bill gives the police the right to control and give or deny consent to any meeting they consider as holding political interest.

The good bits
Opio applauds the Bill’s addressing of the need for public gatherings to be peaceful. “That the government takes care and note of the need for peaceful demonstration and that other’s rights should not be infringed on during the course of such gatherings is worthy of applause,” he states.

According to Kalule, Clause 3 is the part of the Bill deserving of a nod for the law makers. Why? “This clause places the responsibility for managing public order and safety as a joint endeavoir of the organisers and participants of public meetings, the local authorities, owners and custodians of the venues for public meetings and the police,” she reasons.

In her view, such places the need for safety and order as a joint endeavour and thus urges all involved, including the attendees to be vigilant. But as all good things come to an end, that is about all that can be said, positively, of the Bill.

The ugly parts
This Bill, according to both sources, is punctuated with loads of oppressive clauses, most of which are an indirect good bye to freedom. According to Mr Opio, the most repressive of clauses, is the already infamous Clause 8, that not only re affirms the IGP’s power to grant consent to public gatherings as Clause 7 states, but also gives him or her leeway to stop a public meeting.

“This clause is draconian in the sense that it seeks to reintroduce and enforce, in a disguised form, Section 32 (2) of the Police Act that was declared null and void by the Constitutional Court during the Muwanga Kivumbi vs Attorney General Constitutional Petition number 9 of 2005. This clause, like the current clause 8 gave the police powers to impose conditions that infringe on the rights of nationals,” he explains.
For what it is worth, clause 8 offers legal mandate and leeway for the police to not only overturn the decisions of the Constitutional Court then but also to wield more power than those that were declared illegal in 2005.

According to Kalule, Clauses 7 and 8 are not the only villains in the script. “Clause 12 is a threat on paper to anyone planning to be involved in the organisation of such public gatherings. Clause 12 (1) d places the gathering’s organisers responsible for all crime and vandalism that occurs within and during a public meeting.”

“In essence, it is the primary role of the police to handle all issues criminal and vandal. To add this burden onto organisers makes the organisation all the more fretful and cumbersome,” she adds. To hold one responsible for petty theft within a crowd at his or her event is what anyone ought to find mindboggling.

The ambiguous
According to Opio, the Bill, as regards to some of its definitions requires a great deal of patching up, for example, the Bill’s definition of a “Public Meeting”.

The Bill defines it as a “gathering, assembly, concourse, procession or demonstration of three or more persons in or on any public road as defined in the Traffic and Road Safety Act or other public place or premises wholly or partly open to the air at which the principles, policy, actions or failure of any government, political party or political organisation, whether or not that party or organisation is registered under any law, are discussed; or held to form pressure groups to submit petitions to any person or to mobilise or demonstrate support for or opposition to the views, principles, policy, actions or omissions of any person or body of persons or institution, including any government administration.”

The ambiguity lies in the failure of the Bill to state a particular government for which police consent will be needed. “The bill has it that even when a group of people are discussing politics of any country say USA, they can be arrested due to its extra-territorial nature.” Just imagine if this is made law, talking Kenyan politics over a cup of coffee could get you arrested!

How media is affected
This Bill, when passed is bound to make it more cumbersome for the media to source information from the public.
According to Kalule, clause 12 (1) d holds not only the media but also the gathering’s organisers responsible for all statements made to the media that contravene the law.

“Simply put, when a person, whether drunk or not, at my event is aired on the media and says something that irks the government, both the media and I will be held accountable. Should I have to hypnotise and mind-read every attendee’s mind so as to hold a meeting?” she asks rhetorically.

Opio adds that, according to the Bill, journalists found within the premises of a gathering deemed unlawful by the police shall be treated like any other man. In other words, journalists recording such gatherings are liable to arrest.
“This is a travesty of justice. It is the vilest affront to civil liberties since the promulgation of the constitution in 1995!” he concludes.

What does it mean to the women folk?
Kalule says that this Bill is not only a setback, but also a nullification of their endeavours in sensitisation and empowerment of women in civic circles.

“39 per cent of all Ugandan women aged 15 to 49 cannot read. This implies that they depend on word of mouth for sensitisation. Restricting such meetings by adding red tape to the event’s organisation process, cripples the organisation of the ability to freely perform its duties,” she reasons.
She adds that in light of their objectives, one of which is to vehemently speak against corruption, asking for permission from an already prejudiced authority is another long path to a “no”.

“Given clause 7 (2) c, we will be mandated to give the police the agenda of our meetings, which includes us granting sensitisation against corruption and its perpetrators, which will be refuted by them.”

How does it affect civil society organisations?
Kalule says that though the Bill has some clauses meant for good, it is a direct ploy to gag all civil organisations hell bent on sensitising the politically ignorant majority of the ongoing political foul play.

“This Bill was passed to send shockwaves in the civil circles. It literally places bottle-necks along the paths of civil societies working to educate communities.

By stating that the police requires prior notification of meetings of public interest (Clause 7 (1)), and that the Inspector General of Police reserves the right to decide whether or not a meeting is to go on (Clause 8), it leaves us powerless in the hands of a prejudiced authority.”