Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, a former presidential candidate, appeared before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee currently processing the Constitution Amendment (No. 2) Bill, 2017.
He gave his opinions on the bill as a former presidential candidate and a senior citizen, OLIVE EYOTARU and JOSEPHINE NAMULOKI followed the proceedings.
Committee chairperson Oboth-Oboth: Professor, we welcome you. You are here as a former presidential candidate and we are considering, among other things, the presidential elections petition filing then qualifications to be a presidential candidate.
We shall ask you to introduce yourself in detail and let us know what we don’t know about you. We know you as one of the youngest leaders in this country who became a professor and got a PhD at a tender age. Thank you very much, please we invite you.
Baryamureeba: My name is Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, I come from Ibanda, my home district and I am here as you have stated to appear before you as a former presidential candidate.
I was invited to appear before this committee and share views on the Constitution Amendment (No2) Bill in my personal capacity as a senior citizen and former presidential candidate. Therefore, the views, opinions, perspectives and recommendations presented before this committee should be attributed to me only in those capacities.
Let me commend President Museveni and the National Resistance Army / Movement for liberating Ugandans from the forces of tyranny, oppression and exploitation in 1986, 31 years ago. In the same vein, allow me to commend President Robert Mugabe for having liberated Zimbabwe from the claws of colonialism and exploitation 37 years ago.
The Zimbabwe Independence was considered a victory for the entire African continent and, indeed, celebrated across the globe. But President Mugabe overstayed in power, outlived his usefulness and reversed his economic achievements. It is my hope and prayer that Uganda’s Parliament will learn from the Zimbabwe experience and legislate appropriately.
On Repeal of Article 102(b) from the Constitution
The 1995 Uganda Constitution as per its preamble was meant to be popular, durable and for posterity. Is this still the case? I will attempt to answer this question and the key issues in the Constitution Amendment (No. 2) Bill, 2017.
Since Independence, all presidents elected and unelected have been above 35 years and below the age of 75 at the time of assuming office.
Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote was hardly 37 years. Dr Milton Obote (1925-2005) died at the age of 79 years and he last contested for the presidency of Uganda in 1980 at the age of 55 years.
President Sir Edward Mutesa 11 was 39 years old, Idi Amin Dada was 46 years old and subsequent presidents including Yusuf Lule 57, Godfrey Binanisa 59 years and Tito Okello Lutwa 71.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who was born in 1944, first became president of Uganda in 1986 at the age of 42 through a military coup and all the presidential contestants have also been above 35 years and below 75 years.
Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogere (1932) who is currently 85 years old last contested for the presidency n 1996 when he was aged 64.
John Ssebaana Kizito (1934-2017) died aged 82 and he first and last contested for the presidency of Uganda in 2006 when he was aged 72.
Beyond the presidency, very few Members of Parliament, save for youth MPs, join parliament below the age of 35 years.
With the exception of youth leagues, all major political parties/ organisations including NRM-O do not have persons below the age of 35 in key party positions like vice chairperson, vice president or secretary general. So, who is going to benefit from lowering the age limit to become president?
People aged 65 and above are prone to attack by several chronic conditions/ diseases which include Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, to mention but a few.
Japan National Police Agency (NPA) has reviewed the driver’s license system to help prevent traffic accidents by elderly drivers. A revision of the Road Traffic Law, which took effect in March 2017 stipulates that people of 75 years or older risk suffering from senile dementia and are therefore required to take a cognitive function test before renewing their driver’s license.
Across the globe, young people and the elderly are not allowed to drive. Also young people and the elderly cannot be allowed to work as pilots. It is only in a monarchy where very young persons and the elderly may serve as kings/ queens. This is because their role is ceremonial.
An Executive president cannot be very young or very old, given the executive powers bestowed on him or her. Some Executive president s have access to nuclear codes; authorize wars against other countries etc. What would happen if such a president suffered from dementia or depression? The result could be catastrophic.
Our motto is for God and My Country; we are a God-fearing nation. In the Catholic Church, canon law requires that for one to be appointed Bishop, he must be at least 35 years old and must vacate office at 75. In the Anglian Church, a bishop is required to vacate office at 65. Other faiths provide age limit for their leaders.
Even the rules of the Conclave were changed in 1975 to exclude all cardinals over the age of 80 from papal elections.
For the same reasons, age limit is set for bishops in the church; we should have age limits for the presidency of Uganda; this is because they all hold executive powers on behalf of the people. The chief justice and justices of the Supreme court are also required to vacate office at 70, while other judicial officers retire at 65 years. In the case of permanent secretaries, 60 is the retirement age.
I can authoritatively state that there is no evidence that the youth and elderly want article 102 (b) of the Constitution repealed to allow those below 35 and above 75 to be nominated for the presidency of Uganda.
I am not aware of any petition from either the youth or the elderly demanding for removal of the presidential age limit. Even the inter party forum, which came up with Constitution al and electoral reforms in 2015 under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda did not find it necessary to remove age limits for the presidency, which is why they did not recommend that it be repealed.
Other than enabling President Museveni to run for president in 2021, there is no evidence to justify the repeal of article 102(b) from the Constitution.
It is not only illegal, but also immoral to amend the Constitution to accommodate one person’s interest, who happens to be a sitting president that will have served the country for thirty-five (35) years at the end of his current term, which ends in 2021.
There is hardly a single senior Ugandan politician who was politically very active in his/ her 60s and 70s and lived beyond 90 years. Politicians, including President Museveni, should enjoy at least 10 years after retirement from active politics and provide their much needed wisdom and guidance to the new leadership.
Framers of the 1995 Constitution put terms limits in the Constitution well aware that President Museveni would be the first president to test the presidential term limit i.e. vacate office after serving two terms under this Constitution.
But before presidential term limits were tested, they were repealed from the Constitution by the 2005 referendum. This paved way for president Museveni to remain eligible until he is barred by article 102(b) of the Constitution , which provides that a person is not qualified for election as pesident unless that person is— not less than thirty-five years and not more than seventy-five years of age.
Before Uganda can test article 102(b) on the sitting president , President Museveni, there is a bill that wants to repeal it. If Parliament succeeds in repealing article 102(b), President Museveni will be free to offer himself for the presidency until death, which amounts to a life presidency.
This is possible because as the incumbent, he will explore government machinery, resources and structures to win elections at any cost, risking to transform into a tyrant, some signs of which are already evident.
Life presidency projects failed in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, In Libya under Muammar Gadaffi, and in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe to mention but a few. Will it succeed in Uganda under Museveni?
It is important to note that in the 1995 Constitution, the people of Uganda chose a democracy/ republic form of governance as opposed to other forms of governance such as federalism, monarchy, dictatorship, authoritarian, autocracy or tyranny.
The main purpose of the 1995 Constitution was to arrest political and Constitution al instability and breeding of tyrant leaders.
We need to be reminded that a preamble is an introductory and expressionary statement in a document that explains the document’s purpose and underlying philosophy. In law, it’s the introductory part of a statute, deed or law stating its purpose, aims, and justification.
Now Parliament, under article 79(3), has a duty to protect the Constitution and promote democratic governance of Uganda. So Parliament must be seen to take its Constitution al function as laid down in article 79 of the Constitution seriously.
From the research I have undertaken and what I have had from NRM MPs, most of them are behaving like the 12 disciples and so president should do to the NRM MPs what Jesus did to the 12 disciples.
The Bible,in John 16: 7, quotes Jesus as having said that “but very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you”. Alternatively put, “Its better that I go away; if I don’t go away you won’t be great”.
Great leaders step aside to give room for other great leaders to emerge. Unless President Museveni accepts to retire there will not be transition in NRM-O and the presidency during his lifetime.
Has President Museveni ever imagined what will happen in his absence? He needs to mentor whoever becomes president after him to carry forward his good works. Jesus handed over the Church to Peter when Peter needed him most and President Museveni should emulate Jesus.
We should be aware of the consequences of having young and inexperienced leaders with no temperament and experience and old leaders who are highly prone to chronic ailments like dementia, depression etc. in senior executive positions of leadership such as the presidency.
In addition to the academic qualifications (a minimum formal education of Advanced Level standard or its equivalent), persons aspiring to be president should have years of learning on the job either in the public or private sector (working experience) which they can bring to the presidency.
It is researched practice, that all chief executive positions in the public and private sectors require working experience.
Appointment of cabinet ministers is the prerogative of the president and a serious president should appoint energetic and experienced ministers; so the argument of having in cabinet senile elders or young and inexperienced persons should not be used as justification for repealing article 102(b).
It is scientifically proven that its dangerous to put (senile) elderly people in positions that have immense executive power like the presidency.
Article 102(b) gives a range of 45 years i.e. From 35 to 80 years for one to serve as president and, so, any body interested in serving as president has from 35 years up to 75 years (40 years’ range) to offer himself or herself as a president ial candidate.
Since Independence in 1962, If Uganda had had president s who served only one term of five years, by now Uganda would have had 11 president s. So, being president is not for everybody and should also not be monopolized by a few individuals.
Considering that President Museveni is now 73 years old, all MPs who are 55 years old and below can be put in the category of ‘’his children’’.
In the African culture, parents take decisions for their children below 18 years and likewise children take decisions on behalf of the parents who are very old. So, this parliament should demand that President Museveni retires in 2021 by ensuring that article 102(b) is not repealed.
If Uganda was a private family business limited by shares, President Museveni would by now have handed over the chief executive officer (CEO) role to one of his children and concentrated on being Chairman Board of Directors; thus its about time President Museveni considers handing over the presidency to another Ugandan and concentrates on being Chairman of NRM-O.
I recommend that the Constitution should be amended to provide for two (2) consecutive presidential term limits for the president where each term is of five (5) years.
Constitutional Review Commission
I strongly recommend that the successor to President Museveni should put in place a Constitution al review commission to address the gaps in the Constitution . Under President Museveni Uganda cannot have a meaningful Constitution al review process.
Extension of the term of the current president and parliament, in a situation where we find ourselves on the verge of repealing article 102(b) from the Constitution, then I urge parliament before the 3rd reading to negotiate with President Museveni on this exit strategy.
Article 102(b) allows one to serve a Presidential term of five (5) years as long as that person is nominated before he is 75 years old.
For purposes of transition if its considered as an option, I recommend to Parliament to extend the current term of the president and Parliament by three years so that President Museveni can prepare to vacate office in May 2024. This should be on condition that Parliament doesn’t repeal article 102(b) from the Constitution .
The framers of the 1995 Constitution did not realise that by allowing a speaker/ deputy speaker to just be removed by 2/3 of members of parliament without putting in safe guards like those for the president and chief justice that include putting in place a tribunal comprised of the justices of the Supreme court, it was weakening the legislature.
Separation of powers is a political doctrine of Constitutional law under which the three arms of government (Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary) are kept separate to prevent abuse of power.
Also known as the system of checks and balances, each arm is given certain powers so as to check and balance the other arms of government. The Separation of Powers aims at doing one primary thing: to prevent the majority from ruling with an iron fist.
To appreciate the dilemma facing the three arms of government in Uganda today, I will quote James Madison, the 4th president of United States (US) .
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self–appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny” (James Madison, Federalist No. 51, 1788).
This is because the founding fathers of US were well-acquainted with a long-held tenet of government: the accumulation of power by a single person or body of government is the greatest threat to liberty.
Since the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are elected by the whole parliament/ house and not by a party caucus, I strongly recommend that Article 82(7)(e) on the Removal of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, be amended to provide for a Chief Justice constituting a tribunal comprising three justices of the Supreme Court to investigate the allegation in the resolution of parliament for the removal of the Speaker/ Deputy Speaker and report its findings to Parliament stating whether or not there is a prima facie case for the removal of the Speaker/ Deputy Speaker. This will strengthen the legislature and enhance independence of the three arms of government.
As I end my submission, permit me to share with you a word of God from the book of Genesis 18:14 ‘’is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Indeed, it came to pass; when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, she gave birth to Isaac. With God nothing is impossible.
Oboth-Oboth: We want to thank you professor for coming and making history, we thank you very much.