Reduce presidential powers not term limits to stop dictatorship

Ms Kamya says federalism would ensure equitable distribution of resources across the country. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

What you need to know:

A better option. The debate on restoration of term limits has dominated political debates in the last one week. The architects of the proposed Bill are advocating for the restoration of the a five-year, two-term limit in the constitution. However, the president of Uganda Federal Alliance, Ms Beti Kamya, says its restoration will not stop dictatorship. She talked to Risdel Kasasira and here are excerpts.

1.How far have you gone with the process of collecting signatures in order to cause a referendum that would change the political system and also restore term limits?

We are progressing steadily but the process is not entirely in our hands. The process has to be managed by the Electoral commission. It’s initiated by us but once you initiate the process, it’s managed by the Constitution and the Constitution says through Article 255, that you have to look for signatures that are 10 per cent of the registered voters. We are evoking this article to demand for a referenda on federalism and term limits. Parliament has already enacted the Referendum Act.

The Act says you have to look for 10 percent of signatures of registered voters from one third of the total districts in Uganda and now they have to provide us with forms to collected signatures. They wrote back to us asking about our plans to allow them prepare. The last time I talked to them, they said our intentions on restoration of term limits are clear but “your intentions on federalism are not so clear. Can you throw more light? What kind of federalism?” They are asking because they have to do civic education.

2.When are they giving you the form?

They are working on it. In the meantime, we are telling people that the referendum is coming. Referendum is where people power lies because the people submit their power to Parliament, and then Parliament uses that power as they want. That’s why they removed term limits. But the people didn’t want term limits removed. The people would not have loved to see the State House budget passed as it is. But Parliament used the people’s power to pass the presidential budget the way it was. The people’s real power is in the referendum.

3. Must we go through a referendum to have the presidential term limits restored? Why not let MPs do the job?

No, I think they are well intentioned. But two months down the road, they have not concluded anything. Several resolutions passed by Parliament have not been respected. They said Amama Mbabazi [Prime Minister] must fall. Is he not in office? They said [Tumusiime] Mutebile must go. Is he not in office? They swore that the presidential supplementary budget would not be passed unless government showed the budget for nodding disease. Didn’t they pass it? I’m not criticising them but sympathising with them because of the environment within which they operate. It’s too strong for them. But for us the voters, we are not limited. Even NRM members cannot be summoned to State House like the MPs.

4.Don’t you think the President can still go around the country and mobilise people against the “YES” vote if he is against it?

He must have good reasons to de-campaign it. For us, what we want is to say we want the president’s powers to be limited.

5. You have talked about the process through which a referendum can be held. But what have you specifically done on your side, particularly on the plans to change the political system from unitary to federalism and what kind of federalism is good for Uganda?

We continue to lobby and sensitise the people. Federalism is broad in concept. It’s like monarchism and others. But it is a broad concept that talks about devolution of power from the centre to the regions. Each country domesticates the concept to suit its own history and aspirations. The American federalism is different from the one of Japan and different from the one of Malaysia because of their different needs. So, the federalism of Uganda should be designed to suit Uganda. We are proposing that once we have a “yes” vote, we shall propose that there should be a federal commission which will consist of all stakeholders-religions, tribes, political parties, technocrats, historians etc. Their job would be to study the various brands and compare them with our unique situation and design a brand for Uganda.

6. Don’t you think because of our historical regional imbalances, federalism would worsen these inequalities for example a place like Buganda would benefit more than Karamoja because national development has concentrated more in the central than any other part of this country?

I don’t think so, because we are not even reinventing the wheel. We have to find a way to balance them through legislation. But the most important thing is that each community, region is given space to think. Otherwise there is only one think centre. If central government says NAADS, the whole country talks about NAADS, even where they don’t grow beans, you will find them struggling to grow them. If we federalise then areas like Karamoja should be developed as a mineral federal unit, it has a lot of minerals but it’s not developed. Kabale should be developed as a tourist centre. This country gets about Shs1.6 trillion from tourism. There should be an international airport in Kabale. But tourists who come to see gorillas have to go to Entebbe first. Why? Jinja should be an industrial centre and Kampala a commercial centre.

7. How much power should the President have?
Right now he is the commander-in-chief, he appoints the vice president, prime minister, chief justice, ministers, permanent secretaries, judges, heads of commissions, RDCs. In Kenya, the President controls 20 per cent of the budget and he does not appoint central bank governor, judges and others. This is what we want. In Uganda, when they appropriate money in our Parliament, 80 per cent remains in the hands of central government. That’s why there is no service delivery.

This makes it hard to change leadership because of immense influence that the centre has. Presidential term limits are important but they can be manipulated. I want Ugandans to consider this country like a sick person but the origin of your sickness could have been a boil which turned into a wound, which turned into a fever, which fever brought vomiting and dehydration.

All those opportunistic diseases caused by the original wound should be treated but the original cause of fever could have been a wound. If you don’t deal with that original wound, you will never get well. That’s how Uganda is like. Restoration of term limits and fighting corruption and remodeling the EC are opportunistic diseases. The real problem is concentration of power in one place. We need to deal with the constitution.


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