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‘Parliament can’t make desired reforms’

Analysis

‘Parliament can’t make desired reforms’

Rather, analysts argue, the country needs a much broader and deeper engagement, akin to the Constituent assembly of the early 1990s, that brings together the interests of different groups of society to overhaul the current laws and institutions to ensure that they serve the interests of Ugandans rather than serving a few individuals in power.

Nicholas Opiyo, a seasoned Kampala lawyer, political analyst and author argues that the sorts of reforms that are needed, necessitate reducing the powers of the president, reducing the number of MPs, which is not in the interest of both arms of government that now want to carry out of the reforms.

Following pressure from the donor community as well as local political parties and the civil society, the government has proposed several legal reforms including several ammendments to the Constitution, that among other things seek to entrench the independence of the electoral commission.

The government proposals aside, the civil society and a coalition of opposition political parties have also called for reforms including changing electoral laws, the number of constituencies and the powers of the president.

“Some of the reforms are going to have to be radical such as reducing the number of constituencies. Quite obviously, we are being over-represented. The Women’s Movement has for example, called for the reduction in the size of parliament and cabinet because they are a blow to public expenditure,” says Opiyo.

He adds: “So, in my view, Parliament is incapable of producing meaningful reforms, because some of them will affect their own interests, but also because of the nature of this parliament which has been captured by political party interests as opposed to national interests.”

In fact the need for reforms is so grave that I think we need to get back to the drawing board because they are going to set a new national consensus for the governance of this country. If that then is the case, in my view, the only process that can deliver meaningful reforms, is one that is extra-parliamentary.

“It is a process that is CA-like. We need to get back to the drawing board and develop a new national consensus because the consensus that was arrived at in 1995, has since been decimated.”

“To develop the sort of consensus we need we must have a national dialogue to determine the governance of our country and that then reduces the role of parliament to merely endorsing what would have been agreed upon.”

Opiyo however dampens the hopes of those who think that the present government or Parliament can cede any authority to other organs to change the centres of power because it is not in their interests.

“What I think must happen, and this is just a dream, is for the people of this country to demand for a new national consensus through popular participation, through a hugely fairly independent consultative process. That is why I support the initiatives of the civil society and the political parties to go around the country building consensus that will set the stage for a peaceful transfer of power.”

“We need to see a rebirth in the leadership of this country. I know it can be very difficult task, but I am confident that if the people of Uganda are resolved to having the changes, they can have it because people have the power,”

Opiyo’s arguments that meaningful reforms are impossible under the current political dispensation, appear to rhyme Betti Olive Kamya’s position that given the overwhelming powers invested in the presidency, Ugandans should have little hope for any changes in the political system.

Other than a national dialogue, Kamya has called for a national referendum to change the political system from a unitary to a federal government which takes away some powers from the president to other groups of people.

“The problem we have is an imperial presidency. 80 percent of the laws we have give powers to the president and so he can do whatever he wants,” Kamya told a Kaboozi ku Bbiri this week.

Cissy Kagaba, the Coordinator of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) too believes that the much-hyped constitutional changes are merely cosmetic and a waste of time because the government cannot allow unfavourable decisions to be passed by a parliament where it has the majority.

Kagaba also calls for a much broader process of dialogue that brings together different shades of opinion from the Ugandan society other than those of political parties or those that touch merely on elections.

“The current 1995 Constitution was made after a consultative process led by Justice Benjamin Odoki. It’s my view that if the same document is going to be reviewed, it needs to go through a similar process so that we get greater consensus on many things than simply electoral issues,” argues Kagaba.

Specific reforms

According to news reports, the government has suggested to change the name and composition of the leadership of the Electoral Commission. The government has adopted a Civil Society’s proposal to rename EC as the Independent Electoral Commission whose commissioners are appointed by the President, after being selected and vetted by the Judicial service commission.

Prof. Mwambustya Ndebesa argues that the appointment of the chairman and the commissioners is paramount and needs to be without due influence of the president.

Other observers argue that besides the independence of the EC, other laws such as those that govern the different electoral processes, need to be amended to create a level playing field.

Opiyo for example calls for laws that ensure strict adherence to accountability of all electoral players including the incumbent president.

“There is need to control the power of incumbency to gain undue advantage over other players. In my view, two things have to happen. The question of financing of political parties. If you determine the financing of political parties so that they receive equal amounts of money perhaps from the government, then you put everybody at a level playing field.

Secondly, you’ve got to ensure adherence to accountability, so that if the president starts campaigning two years in advance like he’s doing at the moment, then you can hold him to account.”

Opiyo and other observers have warned however that the government appears to be trying to sneak into the constitution more dangerous provisions that violate fundamental human rights such as those relating to the acquisition of land by the state, limiting people’s power to freely assemble and demonstrate by gazetting specific places and days for demonstrations.

In 1995, when the Constitution was being promulgated, President Museveni said he was very happy with it except the provision on land. So president Museveni has always had that insatiable need to control land resources in this country.

“His thirst for land has never waned. So for me, those proposals on land are not new. He wants to be the Alpha and Omega for distributing land. If you look at amendments n 2005 when the constitution was being amended, key things passed unnoticed. For example, we removed minerals from the public trust doctrine.

“They are now the property of the government of Uganda. So the control of land and land resources has always been the ambition of president Museveni so that he can doll out land to people that he wants,” argues Opiyo: “We must maintain the fundamental principle that land belongs to the people of this country, and land that is held by the government is held only in trust,”

“If you have a government in power that has the power to determine who lives where, there is going to be massive abuse of human rights.”

Recent laws passed by Parliament suggest that most of the proposed reforms are likely to pass unchanged promoting the NRM’s stranglehold over power. But as Ofwono Opondo said before he became the government’s spokesperson, meaningful reforms may not happen until things have gotten worse.

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