Parliament has indefinitely differed a motion by Nakifuma county MP, Robert Kafeero Ssekitoleko seeking to amend the Constitution to increase the retirement age for judges, and also remove term limits for commissioners of the Electoral Commission (EC).
The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga directed that the motion by Ssekitoleko to seek leave of Parliament to draft the Constitution Amendment Bill should be shelved until government brings an omnibus bill to handle all constitutional amendments all at once.
Kadaga said she couldn’t allow one MP to bring amendments, noting that other legislators may be prompted to bring theirs at different intervals.
“I have not seen the urgency of this one [motion] and an urgency of the others which are deferred by government. Less than one year ago, government said these are not urgent and this was one of them. The danger we stand if we allow this motion, is that I will not have any reason not to allow other motions for many amendments of the Constitution…I think Parliament is not a football field where you just kick balls, it is a serious house and we should treat ourselves with respect”, she said.
Kadaga’s pronouncement drew wild cheers and dancing in Parliament as MPs from opposition and NRM joined in the jubilation. During the two-hour debate today Wednesday evening, majority of MPs called on Parliament to block the bill on grounds that it was laced with suspicion and ill motive.
Among the proposals in the bill includes raising the retirement age for the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme court and Court of Appeal from 70 years to 75 years and creating an open-ended term for electoral commissioners.
Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Gen Kahinda Otafiire told the House that while government was yet to discuss the proposed bill, it had proposed that an omnibus detailing several amendments to be tabled in one Bill.
“Last year while we were debating constitutional amendments, we made an undertaking that we would appoint a constitution review commission to look at all aspects of the Constitution now that it has run for over two decades to see where it’s been plausible and where there have been difficulties and make recommendations. I recognise that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and as such as the steward of constitutional affairs, I can not pronounce myself on this motion before I have consulted my cabinet colleagues because we’re collectively responsible for what we submit here at parliament and what we put out to the country
Some MPs including Peter Ogwang wondered why opposition MPs were opposing the motion yet their respective parties supported the proposals earlier.
“Their position was to support the current amendment of Eng Hon. Kafeero Ssekitoleeko. It is on the hansard, and I want to read it verbatim so that we get to know what we’re when we this august House. The hansard says, the opposition believes that this is a specialised scheme that takes long to develop and proposed that in possibility, the retirement age should be set at 75. That was the position of the opposition in the 9th Parliament. I want anyone here to stand up and challenge me on this”, Ogwang said.
MPs Odonga Otto (Aruu county) and Stephen Mukitale (Buliisa) said they too had constitutional amendments which they wanted to present as well. However, majority MPs were excited after Kadaga ruled that Parliament should urgently table the omnibus bill.
Several legislators including William Nzoghu (Busongora North), Mbwatekamwa Gaffa (Kasambya county) and Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo) who spoke against the motion were elated that MPs had stood against what they claimed would amount to what they called defilement of the constitution.
“This stupid and unpopular motion on Hon. Kafeero must never be heard because what he was trying to do was to defile Parliament. We shall not accept, we shall not agree”, Nzoghu said.
On his part, Karuhanga said “It was a very prominent step in our legislation that members across board and parties can stand firm and say no to a very bad law. No wonder this is happening because it was not in the interest”.
Kilak North MP Anthony Akol who Kafeero threatened to 'punch' and sue for defamation, said the bill has nothing to do with amending the age limit of judges and Electoral Commission commissioners but rather a scheme by government to amend the presidential age limit so that president is qualified to stand in 2021.
“This wasn’t actually about the age limit of these judges or the electoral commissioners, it was testing whether the water is deep or it is shallow. And today I think the mover of the motion has gotten [it] right that the water is not shallow. It is a deep one. This Parliament will want to deliver for the country and the country is bigger than all of us”, Akol said.
Reacting to Parliament's decision, Kafeero conceded defeat but said he had played his part as an MP by demanding that government performs its duty to bring a consolidated Constitutional amendment Bill which will include his proposals.
“My colleagues have expressed interest in bringing various amendments to various articles. They argued that in case we allow the Hon. Ssekitooleko to bring this bill for amendment, then it will provoke others to also start bringing. The contents of my motion will be part and parcel of the comprehensive package by government. I think that is an acceptable position”, he said.