Ruling party leaders yesterday sensationally questioned the credibility of the 1995 Constitution during an appearance before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee.
The officials told the committee, which is processing the Raphael Magyezi bill, which seeks to lift age limits for presidential candidates, that some provisions were smuggled into the Constitution.
One such provision is Article 102 (b) which sets the age for aspiring presidents at 35 years and not above 75 years. Making reference to the Hansard of the Constituent Assembly (CA), NRM deputy secretary general Richard Todwong, said as the party in power, they are puzzled as to how it became part of the Constitution.
“The CA agreed that no age limit should be set and that it should be left to the people. The existence of Article 102 (b) in the Constitution is unfortunate because it was not the wish of the majority of honourable members of the CA,” Todwong said.
It is 22 years since the constitution was promulgated. There have been two amendments touching on the incumbency of the president, NRM has never claimed that Article 102(b) was sneaked in until now when President Museveni who, at 73, would be ineligible for re-election in 2021, wants it removed.
Todwong’s presentation referenced Kassanda South CA delegate John Kaboyo’s proposal to delete the age limits sub-clause. The CA record shows that Kaboyo’s proposal was drawn from a Committee 2 minority report which recommended against age limits.
According to the Hansard, delegates proposed various age limits.
But Muhammad Chepsikor (a youth delegate for Eastern region); regime insider Noble Mayombo (NRA) and Kasirivu Atwooki (Bugangaizi) carried the day, successfully pushing 35 as the lower age and 75 as the upper cap.
Before the committee, Todwong who came with some members of the central executive committee (CEC), appeared not to have fully addressed himself to the CA Hansard. He soon found himself under a barrage of questions.
“By imputing that some clauses were smuggled into the Constitution, you are attacking the credibility of the Constitution! Is it true that this Constitution that we have been swearing to uphold, has some clauses that were smuggled in?” Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri) wondered.
“Now that it is NRM raising it, we have to interrogate it. It is a serious allegation! NRM as a party in power should ascertain who forged the Constitution and this committee should also address itself to this allegation,” Katuntu said.
Similar concerns were raised by MPs Medard Sseggona (Busiro East), Abbas Agaba (Kitagwenda) and Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central).
Mwenge South MP Aston Kajara and his Pian counterpart Remigio Achia sided with Todwong. Kajara is the only committee member who was in the CA.
While the CA Hansard shows in footnotes of the Justice Benjamin Odoki Constitutional Commission report that 40 years was set as the lower age, Kajara claimed that the Odoki commission didn’t propose age limits.
Todwong repeated NRM’s line that age limits are discriminatory, arguing that whoever has a right to vote should enjoy the right to be voted for. More questions followed.
“Article 102 lists three qualifications for one to stand for president. Clause ‘A’ says he/she should be a Ugandan by birth and Clause ‘C’ sets education qualifications. Why are you addressing yourselves to only 102(b) and ignoring those other clauses that are also discriminatory in nature and contradictory to chapter three of the Constitution?” Richard Gafabusa Muhumuza (Bwamba) wondered.
He also cited Article 82 which lists different categories of people who are not allowed to contest for any elective positions under the constitution.
“Should we remove all qualifications because they are discriminatory?” Gafabusa asked.
Todwong called on the assistance of James Tweheyo, a CEC member.
“We came here to respond to Article 102, any other matter that is not related to the subject matter will be responded to when its time comes,” Tweheyo said.
Todwong stated that: “The NRM ideology is against any form of discrimination but our invitation was restricted to Article 102(b); the party is not short of answers and will respond when invited to respond to those other provisions”.