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By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi, Sunday, April 19, 2015,Sunday Monitor (Uganda)
The President will continue to command substantial appointive responsibilities and, crucially, gain a firmer control over the finances of key self-accounting bodies, writes Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi.
A 61-page document containing proposed amendments to the Constitution mentions the word “president” 130 times. Just this, some people say, says it all about how the country is dominated by the President. But there is nothing wrong with an “imperial presidency”, says Mr Tamale Mirundi, the presidential spokesperson. “Ask those people to tell you of one place in the world where a president who has been directly elected doesn’t have to implement his manifesto,” Mr Mirundi says.
In fact, he adds, the President is less powerful under the 1995 Constitution than it was the case before because there are checks and balances against his powers. “How many people has the President nominated and have been rejected by Parliament?” he quips.
But Mr Joseph Bossa, the vice president of the Uganda Peoples Congress party, fears that “a very powerful presidency dilutes the ability of the Judiciary and Parliament to check on its excesses … and this is already happening”.
Mr Wandera Ogalo, the legal officer of the Opposition party Forum for Democratic Change, agrees with Mr Mirundi that it was indeed a “major consideration” as they wrote the 1995 Constitution to reduce “the overbearing powers” of the President in the 1967 Constitution.
Mr Ogalo says they hoped to achieve this by putting in place a number of safeguards, including creating self-accounting bodies such as the Judiciary, human rights commission with the view to checking the powers of the President.
The other safeguards to check the President’s powers, Mr Ogalo says, included decentralising some powers from the centre to local governments, subjecting most of the President’s appointments to approval by Parliament and giving Parliament powers to override the presidential veto.
In this case, if the President declines to assent to a Bill passed by Parliament and refers it back to the House, Parliament can disregard the President’s concerns and still pass it into law even without the President’s assent. However, Mr Ogalo says, the safeguards “have not worked well or at all because of the individual weaknesses of people and institutions like Parliament.”
He says the decentralised powers are already being recentralised, citing the decision for the central government to take back from local governments the powers to appoint Chief Administrative Officers.
Mr Ogalo said the mistake “the Constituent Assembly made was to assume that everyone would take decisions in favour of democracy and to assume that Parliament would subject the presidency to stern scrutiny”.
Calls to reduce presidential powers
Most of what was envisaged, however, did not happen, in Mr Ogalo’s estimation. And this seems to have caused unease on the part of some players. Mr Ogalo says Ugandans were so apprehensive of a very powerful presidency as they wrote the 1995 Constitution that a number of proposals were made to check it. The Odoki Constitutional Commission, which wrote the draft of the current Constitution, for instance, had proposed an upper house of Parliament called the National Council of State, whose purpose would be to check the President’s powers.
It would be composed of respected individuals “who are not looking for money”, according to Mr Ogalo, in a way in the mould of the House of Lords in Britain. Somehow, Mr Ogalo said, “politics came in and the proposal was dropped during the CA.” In recent years, Federal Alliance president Beti Kamya has argued that Uganda’s biggest problem is an overarching presidency, which she says can only be solved through a federal system of governance.
In another search for a solution to what is seen as a problem of a powerful presidency, former legislator Israel Mayengo said in an interview with Sunday Monitor on March 1 that the presidency should be abolished and replaced with a presidential or executive commission composed of four commissioners from different regions of the country.
The critics, however, do not seem poised to succeed in having presidential powers reduced any time soon, especially if some proposed changes to the Constitution are effected. The President will continue to command substantial appointive responsibilities and, crucially, gain a firmer control over the finances of key self-accounting bodies. Despite protests from the Opposition and suggestions from election observer bodies and other entities, the President will continue to appoint members of the Electoral Commission, which will be renamed the Independent Electoral Commission.
He will also appoint members of key bodies such as the Judiciary, Uganda Human Rights Commission, Inspectorate of Government and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, with the approval of Parliament. Other bodies like the Public Service Commission and the Health Service Commission, in addition to the Salaries and Remuneration Board, which will be established, will too be staffed by the President.
And should there be queries regarding any member of such bodies, the President shall appoint a tribunal to handle the process of removing that member from office. He will, of course, still have powers to appoint ministers, heads of the military and intelligence organs and the head of the civil service and permanent secretaries. The document dated June 27, 2014, is undergoing the final round of scrutiny by Cabinet before being tabled in Parliament, Attorney General Fredrick Ruhindi says.
More control over money
One controversial proposal is to amend Article 155 of the Constitution by repealing clauses (2) and (3).
Article 155 (2) of the Constitution requires the heads of self-accounting departments, commissions or organisations such as the Judiciary, Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Electoral Commission to present to the President at least two months before the end of each financial year their proposed budgets.
Article 155 (3) goes: “The estimates prepared under clause (2) of this article shall be laid before Parliament by the President under clause (1) of this article without revision but with any recommendations that the government may have on them.”
Parliament would then debate the financial proposals by the respective bodies, taking into account the recommendations of the Executive, and determine whether to pass the budgets as they are or make any revisions in line with the issues that the Executive may raise.
If the amendments are approved, however, the President will have a right to amend the budgets of the self-accounting bodies even without the knowledge of Parliament.
In the draft amendment proposals, the reasoning given for repealing the two clauses is “to enable the President to revise the estimates of revenue and expenditure from the self-accounting departments, commissions and organisations, before submitting them to Parliament”.
This would be a “significant” amendment, according to Mr Ogalo because “the self-accounting bodies are a check on the powers of the President and starving them of finances is one tactic Mr Museveni has used to entrench himself in power.”
There have been repeated concerns of underfunding for institutions like the Electoral Commission and the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
If the President gets constitutional powers to decide how much they are allocated, fears linger, exerting any measure of control over the First Citizen could become a tad more difficult.
Other suggested amendments
-Introduce in the Third Schedule to the Constitution two groups as indigenous communities in Uganda. These are the Bagabo and Bakingwe. This arose out of a petition by Petition by Boaz Kafuda, MP Basongora South.
-To include in the First Schedule to the Constitution all the districts of Uganda created after 2005.
– Parliament to prescribe the grounds and procedure for recalling a member of Parliament under the multi-party political system.
-On being elected and before Parliament approves ministers nominated by the President, the President will appoint acting ministers in the interim period.
– The Inspectorate of government shall not be compelled to hand over any of its cases for prosecution to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
– Amend Article 131 of the Constitution so that when hearing appeals from the decisions of the Court of Appeal sitting as a Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court shall consist of seven members of the Supreme Court and not “full bench” as it is currently the case. This is because the Supreme Court Justices were increased from seven to 11 and 11-judge panel would be too big.
– The retirement ages of the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice, Justices of the Supreme Court and Justices of Appeal to be increased from 70 to 75 and those of the Principal Judge and Judges of the High Court to be raised from 65 to 70.
– The Judicial Service Commission to be reconstituted so that the Chief Justice, the head of the Judiciary, “as the chairperson to participate in the identification and discipline of judicial officers.”
– Repeal of article 213 of the Constitution so that instead of the IGP and Deputy IGP of the Uganda Police Force being appointed by the President, they are appointed by the relevant minister.
– To nominate persons to be appointed to the Electoral Commission, two alternatives were suggested. Alternative A: One body should identify and recommend names of suitable persons to the President. Alternative B: The President should consult the leaders of the political parties represented in Parliament before sending names to Parliament.