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Term limits bill gets green light, draft ready

A private member’s bill seeking the restoration of presidential term limits has taken another step forward, after Parliamentary staff okayed its final draft. The Observer has learnt that Parliament’s Legal and Legislative department has been working with a group of MPs to improve the draft, which is now ready to be tabled in the House. The two-term limit for the presidency was lifted through a constitutional amendment in 2005, a move that eventually allowed President Museveni to run for a third, and fourth term last year.

Last August, however, a group of legislators started work on ‘The Restoration of Presidential Term Limits Bill, 2012’. They included Gerard Karuhanga (Indep, Youth Western), Wilfred Niwagaba (NRM, Ndorwa East), Muhammad Nsereko (NRM Kampala central), Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM, Lwemiyaga), Vincent Kyamadidi (NRM, Rwampara) and Abdu Katuntu (FDC, Bugweri).

Under Rule 105(3) of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure, any MP tabling a private members’ bill may seek guidance and assistance with drafting from Parliament’s department of Legal and Legislative Services.  That assistance has now been accorded to the MPs. Pius Perry Biribonwoha, director of Legal and Legislative Services at Parliament, confirmed to The Observer that his department has been helping the legislators finalise the draft bill.

“The duty of the Clerk’s office is to assist all members in their work and this is part of the work we are supposed to do, according to the rules of procedure,” Biribonwoha said.

However, it is understood that when the MPs first presented their first draft of the bill to the legal department, they got a cold reception. We have been told that it was after the Speaker’s office intervened that the bill got some attention. In an interview with The Observer, Karuhanga confirmed the progress. He said they had also completed the motion as required under Rule 106 of the parliamentary rules of procedure.

According to Rule 106, which lays out the procedure for private members’ bills, “(1) A Private Members’ Bill shall be introduced first by way of motion to which shall be attached the proposed draft of the Bill.”

From the one-page motion that we have seen, the legislators propose that the Constitution should be amended in accordance with Article 269 to provide for restoration of presidential term limits to require a person to hold office as president for not more than two five-year terms.

“Whereas this country has never had a peaceful transfer of power, we propose that presidential term limits be introduced for the purpose of instituting a political culture that supports peaceful transfer of power,” reads part of the motion.

The bill would entail an amendment to Article 105(2) of the Constitution, clause (a) which, if amended, would read: “a person may be elected under this Constitution to hold office as president for only two five-year terms.”

This requirement would apply starting from 2016: Clause (b) reads: “computation of the two five-year terms for purpose of Clause 2 shall commence starting from the next elections following the expiry of the presidential term in which this amendment is passed by Parliament.”

The latest developments come after senior clergymen recently urged President Museveni, who has been in power for 26 years, to relinquish power at the end of his current term, to allow for peaceful transition. These include Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, the Catholic archbishop of Kampala, and Zac Niringiye, the Anglican assistant bishop of Kampala.

“It’s very good that the clergy are with us in this struggle,” Karuhanga said yesterday at the launch of the campaign to restore term limits. Barnabas Tinkasimire (NRM, Buyaga West) agreed, saying the campaign was national and required everyone’s support: “It’s good that they have come out to back us but we need more support from them since they have a bigger following than us.”

However, the restoration of term limits will now depend on the entire Parliament. In a snap survey conducted by The Observer last August, of the 100 NRM legislators interviewed, only 50 said they would support the bill. Twelve indicated they would oppose the proposal, while 38 were undecided.  That leaves movers of the bill with a mountain to climb if they are to proceed.

During a party retreat at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi last year, NRM legislators were urged to emphasize cohesion of the party in the House. Indeed, some NRM MPs that were initially enthusiastic about the bill now say their decision will depend on party consensus.

Initially, there was a fear that it would be difficult to acquire a certificate of financial implications provided by ministry of Finance as required by law. But Katuntu says in this case, it will not be needed. “This is a motion for leave of Parliament and this motion has no monetary implication on government’s budget,” Katuntu said.

skakaire@observer.ug

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