Legislators on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee on Wednesday sent away the Attorney General, Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka, refusing to review the Sexual Offences Bill 2020 as directed by President Museveni.
The MPs said President Museveni failed to return the Bill within the 30-day-period after refusing to assent to it as stipulated in the Consitution. They also said that any reviews on the Bill would attract constitutional implications.
As she chaired the House on Tuesday last week, the Deputy Speaker Ms Anita Among directed MPs on the aforementioned committee to effect the changes that President Museveni had highlighted in a letter he wrote to the Speaker.
In his August 3, 2021 letter addressed to Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, the President said the legislation needs to be reviewed to address the redundancies, noting that some of the clauses in the Bill were already provided for in other legislations.
However, Kira Municipality MP Mr Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda questioned the President’s decision to return the Bill after 30 days within which he is supposed to return it had elapsed.
“The person who raised the matter said actually that period had elapsed and therefore the Bill had to be processed to become an Act. I thought we need to sort out those matters so if it is true the President sent the Bill late, we don’t have to waste our time dealing with a matter already determined by the Constitution,” Mr Ssemujju said.
In her response the committee chairperson Ms Robinah Rwakojo objected Mr Ssemujju’s submission reasoning that the constitutional challenges around the Bill could be sorted out by the General Counsel of Parliament.
In rebuttal, Mr Ssemujju declined to heed Ms Rwakoojo’s proposal saying the proposal to review the Bill would amount to a waste of both Parliament’s time and taxpayers’ money since the process would attract constitutional queries if the committee went on to review it.
“If it is indeed true that the President sent the Bill late, we don’t have to waste our time because provisions of the constitution were quoted. First of all, you aren’t an ordinary Chairperson, we are lucky you are a lawyer,” Mr Ssemujju said.
Bugiri Municipality MP, Mr Asuman Basalirwa, said the President has been putting Parliament in tricky positions by returning Bills after 30 days. He therefore asked the committee to write to Parliament to have the President assent to Bill the way it is, so that the government can return it for amendment.
“Even if we write to the General Council, the Constitution will not change. Otherwise, no amount of explanation, no amount of circumventing is going to change a clear provision of the law. As a committee we are constitutionally barred from considering this matter,” Mr Basalirwa said.
However, Ms Rwakoojo insisted that the proposal should be referred to the General Counsel of Parliament, saying she wasn’t around when the matter was discussed in Parliament and has no evidence on when the President received the Bill.
Mr Basalirwa faulted the Attorney General for not following up the matter and remind the President to respond to the Bill on time.
“We don’t want to find ourselves in such a situation, kindly ensure that some of these constitutional obligations that have deadlines are met because you can see the dilemma we are in. Somebody needs to make a follow up and give regular reminder on the constitutional deadlines and I hope you take this assignment especially on assent very seriously,” Mr Basalirwa said.
Attorney General responds
In his response, the Attorney General, Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka challenged committee members to table proof to show that the President had returned the Bill after the 30 days which are provided for in the Constitution.
“The office says the Bill was presented within time. So it isn’t the date when it is sent from Parliament, it isn't the date when it is stamped, it is about the date when it was presented to the President,” Mr Kiryowa said.
However, the MPs rejected Mr Kiryowa’s argument saying that the internal processes are not in public domain and therefore cannot be relied on to establish the dates when the President received the Bill. This prompted Rwakoojo to defer consideration of the Bill to next week.
Information before the Committee indicated that Parliament sent the Bill to the President on June 14 thus the 30 days elapsing in July.
The Sexual Offences Bill was tabled by former Kumi Woman MP, Monica Amoding who said it was intended to protect the community and vulnerable people in society.
The Bill criminalises and sets stiff penalties for sexual assault, indecent assault, cat-calling, indecent communication, sexual harassment, exploitation of detainees, sexual exploitation, unnatural offences, simple defilement, aggravated defilement, and incest among other things.