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Reforming the Electoral Commission is very easy

Very many political analysts in Uganda have opined that the current Electoral Commission cannot conduct free and fair election.

There seems to be wide agreement that there is need to have an election-management body that fits into the modus operandi or aspirations of the multi-party political dispensation which we embraced in 2005.

We should not forget that the current EC was introduced through efforts of a single party; therefore, the perception that it is partial, prevails.

This has not been helped by the manner of appointment of commissioners of the EC prescribed in the 1995 Constitution which gives the president the power to appoint the commission and also the power to fire it without recourse to any other body.

That is why any right-thinking Ugandan should support the bid by Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) to amend articles of the Constitution that talk about the composition of the EC as well as some sections of the Electoral Commission Act.

The Constitution provides for the EC to be independent in the performance of its duties, yet the same article does not state explicitly that members of the EC must be impartial and should discharge their constitutional functions without fear, favour or prejudice.

It is very possible for a member of the commission to be prejudiced even when they are not under the control of any person or authority.

Secondly, even though the Constitution provides for members of the EC to be appointed by the president with the approval from Parliament, there is no clear procedure on identification of the persons to serve or to be appointed members of the commission.

We must not forget that there are several participants in the electoral process, including the political parties and general public whose confidence in the electoral body is critical to the credibility of the elections.

Currently, they are not consulted or involved in the identification of people to be appointed as EC commissioners. In my view we do not need to re-invent the wheel to reform the EC. We can take the route that Kenya used to reform its electoral body.

Firstly, it is important that an independent body, say the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), spearheads the process of identifying people who will serve as commissioners on the EC.

And this need not be a complicated exercise. The JSC can, through newspaper or radio adverts, invite the public to nominate people they feel have the integrity to serve on the EC within a specified period, say two weeks.

After receiving the names, the JSC vets them and eliminates those they feel may not be up to the task, or have integrity issues. Thereafter, they publish the names of those who have made the shortlist in national newspapers for further scrutiny by the public. After another two weeks, the names of those that would have survived this scrutiny would be gazzetted.

Then the JSC can publicly interview the persons on the short list and select at least seven persons whose names shall be forwarded to the president for appointment and later to Parliament for subsequent approval.

I think if commissioners were to be recruited using the abovementioned procedure, it would help dispel any claims of favouritism and biasness on the side of the appointing authority.

The last issue I would like to touch on pertains to the length of the term of office of the commissioners. In Uganda, EC commissioners serve for seven years—but their tenure can be renewed. In Kenya, members of the electoral body serve for only one term of six years. In Tanzania, commissioners serve for a single term of five years.

A longer term tends to make commissioners view their potential re-appointment as an incentive to make ‘politically correct’ decisions that will provide them with a safety net of re-appointment by the appointing authority.

While I think it is important for Uganda to maintain a relatively lengthier time frame for the commissioners, we should entrench a caveat against non-renewal of appointment after the expiration of their term of office.

In the same vein, the security of tenure of the EC commissioners should be guaranteed. It must be enshrined in the Constitution that a commissioner cannot be dismissed from service for causes other than those provided by law and only after a due process is accorded to them.

The author is an advocacy officer, Youth Network Forum and a member of CCEDU.

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