Legislators want degree as requirement for aspirants 

Tororo District Woman MP Sarah Opendi addresses the media at Parliament on August 10, 2022. PHOTO | DAVID LUBOWA

A section of Members of Parliament have proposed to change the minimum academic qualification for prospective legislators and presidents from Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE), or its equivalent, to a Bachelor’s degree.

The plan to vary provisions of Article 80(c) and others of the Constitution is contained in a draft Private Member’s Bill mooted by Tororo District Woman MP Sarah Opendi, and three other colleagues.

The objects of the Bill, according to its preamble, are “provide for reservation of 40 percent seats in Parliament for women; exclude district women representation in Parliament and local government councils from the requirement for periodic review of their representation by Parliament every after five years; and, to amend the minimum education qualifications of president and a MPs to a Bachelor’s degree”.   

The lawmakers argue that retaining A-Level certificate, or similar qualification, currently the minimum standard for prospective legislators and president, is outmoded and out of sync with the robust progress Uganda has made in improving education.

 “The introduction of universal primary and secondary education has since led to a rise in access to education, with secondary school student numbers increasing in the first five years alone from 292,321 to 952,643,” the authors noted in their Private Member’s Bill.

The government introduced Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997, and a year later, added Universal Secondary Education (USE) to enable learners from particularly poorer backgrounds pursue formal education to higher levels.

Despite schools charging no tuition, separate analyses by this newspaper, the Education ministry and other sector stakeholders show that nearly seven in every 10 of those who enlist in Primary One under UPE exit before UACE, the current minimum academic qualification for any prospective MP.  

In their Bill, which Speaker Anita Among in yesterday’s sitting referred for inclusion and consolidation by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, which plans to table a raft of Constitution amendments, the lawmakers write: “[There is a] need to change the minimum qualification required for the election of a person as President and MP to Bachelor’s degree to match the rise in educational standards achieved by Uganda.” 

In the Bill, whose copy this newspaper has seen, Ms Opendi, a former state minister, is listed as the mover and seconded by Bwamba County MP Richard Gafabusa and their counterparts Dorcas Acen (Alebtong Woman) and Maurice Kibalya (Bugabula South).

Speaker Among, citing her July 5 decision to refer another Constitution amendment proposal by  Kibanda South MP Jacob Karubanga to the Justice and Constitutional Affairs ministry, said: “There is a need for a comprehensive review of the Constitution through a Constitution review commission so that the amendments of the Constitution are consolidated as opposed to piecemeal amendments by private members.”

Asked whether his ministry would incorporate the proposals, new line minister Norbert Mao said review of Uganda’s supreme law is not done by his ministry but “the people”. 

“So, it depends on who wants it, but ultimately, it is the Parliament which decides,” he said, and declined to discuss its implication on quality of debate in the House.

MP Kibalya said Uganda is flooded with highly-educated citizens “so, the time is ripe for us to elevate the minimum qualification so that we can, among others, deal with vices such as forgeries”.

The legislator, however, did not qualify how raising the bar will end falsification of qualifications by seekers of elective offices when the vice is prevalent with a lower academic requirement.

Courts have in the past annulled elections of some MPs after finding that they lacked the minimum qualification of A-Level certificate, or its equivalent. 

We could not establish the number of MPs in the 11th Parliament without degrees, although they would not be affected even if the proposal was accepted and passed. Whereas the minimum educational credential is A-Level, majority lawmakers hold first or advanced degrees, with a handful with bragging rights as doctorate degree holders.

Uganda’s national literacy rate stands at about 72 percent, according to the 2014 census report. 

Some analysts argue that there is no evidence in Uganda showing that highly-educated MPs execute their duties better than less-educated peers. 

The key roles of an MP are making laws, appropriating the national budget, approving taxes, providing oversight on government programmes and representing the views of constituents in the August House.

“Lack of a degree does not impact my work as a legislator. For representing people, A-Level (certificate) is enough as long as you have the views and plans that can take this nation forward,” Bujumba County MP Julius Opondo, a holder of A-Level qualification, said.

Whereas the government, during the State-of-the-Nation Address, unveiled a raft of proposed legislative agenda, Minister Mao in yesterday’s brief interview with this newspaper did not discuss timelines when the proposed legislations, including amendments to the Constitution, would be introduced for consideration by Parliament.

About the Bill

In an interview with Daily Monitor, former minister Sarah Opendi reasoned that her proposal is chiefly meant to have a “solid” crop of legislators.

“Currently, we have 53 universities, nine of these are public universities and the rest are private and all these are regionally located in the different parts of the country,” Ms Opendi said.

She added: “So, we have many more graduates. There is no reason to currently justify the qualification of MP as Senior Six.”

She refuted allegations that her proposal was calculated to lock out competitors.

“The reason for bringing it early enough is to allow members time [to return to school] because 2026 is some four years away,” she said in apparent reference to colleagues without degrees. Ms Opendi wants more representation for women MPs in the August House, ministries, departments and agencies plus units within the local government.

“So we are proposing an amendment from the current 30 percent to at least 40 percent of the Parliament and also other bodies such as Local Government, and all boards to have women representation,” she said.

In the same Bill, Ms Opendi seeks to bolster interventions toward women’s participation in political decision-making and also make further strides in the implementation of the international commitment made by Uganda to achieve gender balance by 2030.

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