47 Parliament bills signed late, illegal
For failing to assent to or reject laws within the stipulated time, President Museveni has put the country in danger of a major legal crisis.
The Observer has established that out of 121 bills passed by Parliament between 2006 and 2013, at least 47 were assented to long after the mandatory 30 days. And experts have warned this makes such laws largely null and void and open to legal challenge.
Some 94 of the bills in question were passed by the 8th Parliament and 27 by the 9th Parliament.
Some 67 bills were passed but there is no proof that they were assented to. Most of the bills passed and later assented to, are posted on the Uganda Legal Information Institute website, ULII, an internet facility that provides the public with legal information concerning Uganda.
ULII is supported by the Ugandan Judiciary. ULII website managers, who declined to be named, have told The Observer that they get their information from the Uganda Gazette, the official government publication. When the president assents to any act, it is published in the Uganda Gazette and so far, none of the 67 acts have been published yet.
Article 91 of the Constitution requires the president to assent to a bill passed by Parliament within 30 days from the date it is presented to him. If he feels uncomfortable with some of the bill’s provisions, he can return it to Parliament with a request that the specific provisions be revisited.
If the provisions are revisited and the president is not happy, he can return the bill to Parliament for a second time.
Where the president returns the same bill twice and the bill is passed for the third time, with the support of at least two-thirds of MPs, the speaker shall cause a copy of the bill to be laid before Parliament, and the bill shall become law without the assent of the president.
The Parliamentary Pensions Amendment Bill and the Political Parties and Organisations Amendment Bill are among those that were returned to Parliament for reconsideration. President Museveni later took at least six months to assent to the Pensions Act.
According to the Constitution, if the president fails to assent to a bill within the stipulated time and does not notify the speaker, Parliament can assent to the bill. Our independent survey found that at least four laws currently on our law books got the presidential assent four years after they had been passed by Parliament. One bill took the President five years to sign; four others took him three years and another three took him two years to sign into law.
Several other bills were assented to after several months; the only exception is the Institution of Traditional or Cultural Leaders Act 2011, which took him 24 days to sign.
Since several acts were signed late or not signed at all, experts say, their legality is doubtable.
“Where time is of essence, the failure to comply with the stipulated time is catastrophic and renders the act unconstitutional and therefore null and void,” says Busiro East MP Medard Lubega Sseggona, the Shadow minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
When an act is passed by Parliament, it is forwarded to Parliament’s directorate of Legal Affairs for editing and inclusion of amendments endorsed by Parliament. According to an insider source, the bill takes about a week to a month at this stage, depending on its size before it is transferred to the president.
“There is no specific time in the law within which we have to send the bill to the president, but I doubt whether we can take more than one month without sending it to the president,” a source at Parliament told us.
Stephen Tashobya, the chairperson of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, said on Tuesday that the laws could easily be challenged in court. But fellow lawyer Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) argues that this would require evidence as to when the president received the bill after it had been passed by Parliament.
“The provision in the Constitution is mandatory for him (the president), and once a law is passed contrary to the Constitution, it is rendered null and void but the challenge is how do you prove that he signed them after the expiry of the stipulated period,” Niwagaba said.
Political commentators fear that government may pay heavily for this breach in terms of court costs in the event that the legality of such laws was challenged in court.
“Such laws offend the Constitution; therefore, no rights can be conferred and no duties can be imposed [basing on them],” says Sseggona.
Mathias Mpuuga, the Masaka municipality MP, agrees that the country is staring at a potential crisis: “A number of decisions premised on such laws can be defeated if some people went to court because the Constitution bars the execution of any law which is not made in accordance with its provisions.”
Mpuuga cited the Uganda Revenue Authority Bill 2006, which was signed into law on June 29, 2007, more than four months after it was passed by Parliament. A business entity whose interests were affected under such a law can easily challenge it and get compensated.
But Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi told The Observer today that the president was not a rubber stamp to endorse something that he has not understood clearly.
“Some of the laws are passed based on foreign interests and others out of anxiety and excitement. The president has to take time studying it and also consult his legal people. He cannot simply sign a law because it may have far-reaching consequences on the country,” Mirundi said.
“If Parliament takes long in discussing the bills, why do they want the president to take a few days to assent to them? And besides, he has a lot of other things to attend to,” Mirundi added.
The spokesman, however, did not address the fact that this is a constitutional matter. And Mpuuga reject the idea that Mr Museveni is too busy.
“The president simply doesn’t believe in the rule of the law because if he did, he would be desirous to assent to the bills. How does he get time to sign questionable transactions? Mpuuga wonders.
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