To understand how easily the presidential age limit can be amended, one has to go back to 2003, and look at how the proposal to remove term limits found its way into the report of the Constitutional Review Commission, against the wishes of some commissioners, including Ssempebwa.
Ssempebwa told The Observer that article 105 (2), which touched on the term limits, was never part of the terms of reference of the commission he chaired.
The Ssempebwa commission’s terms of reference were:
To examine the consistency and compatibility of the constitutional provisions relating to the sovereignty of the people, political systems, democracy and good governance.
To review the provisions relating to executive authority and its obligations on the one hand and the powers of parliament on the other, and to make recommendations to the necessity or otherwise of conferring powers on the president to dissolve parliament.
To review the system of decentralization of government and consider; whether federalism should be introduced, where required; and to recommend measures to make the system more efficient, having regard to the extensive powers and services devolved on the local government units.
To review the separation of powers among the executive, parliament and the judiciary and recommend changes toimprove functional effectiveness and accountability of the three arms of government.
To review the composition, powers and privileges of parliament and recommend an affordable but efficient and strong parliament. To review the qualifications and disqualifications of MPs and of the president and inparticular article 80(1)(c) which requires a minimum formal education of Advanced Level standard or its equivalent and article 102(c) which provides that the president shall be a person qualified to be an MP.
To examine the operation of article 88,which provides for the quorum of Parliament. To examine the electoral system with a view to recommending whether presidential and parliamentary elections should be held at the same time and whether local government elections should be conducted by lining up of supporters behind candidates.
To consider and recommend measures intended to improve the access to and efficiency of the courts and in particular, the desirability of establishing a unified judicial service by transferring administrative and support staff from the Public Service Commission to the Judicial Service Commission.
To review the relationship between the Inspector General of Government and the other institutions or organs designed to make the government and public institutions transparent and accountable and recommend improvements in their efficiency, effectiveness and coordination.
To review the constitutional bodies and assess their desirability and affordability and to delineate their functions and powers in order to reduce duplication and conflict.
To re-examine the provisions relating to the acquisition and loss of citizenship and recommend whether dual citizenship should be allowed, particularly with regard to Ugandans living in the diaspora.
To review article 162(2) relating to the functional independence of the Bank of Uganda, vis-à-vis particularly the ministry of Finance and make recommendations.
To review aspects of land relating to the necessity for government to acquire land for public purposes or use and the desirability and affordability of the various land management and dispute resolution mechanism.
To review the role and funding of traditional or cultural institutions and make appropriate recommendations. To review the provisions relating to the rights of children and young people and propose comprehensive and effective measures to protect children and young people against violence and abuse.
To consider and recommend whether Uganda is ready to adopt a national or second official language. To review the Bill of Rights and consider, in particular, whether the death penalty should be abolished or whether the age of minority should be increased from 16 to 18 for purposes of employment.
To consider and propose a programme and modalities for efficient, effective and expeditious implementation of the Constitution. However, at some point during the hearings, delegations from districts swarmed the commission, demanding that article 105 (on presidential term limits) be amended.
While the commissioners were divided on the matter, they initially agreed to keep their view on term limits out of the report. But this did not last long because one of the commissioners leaked this information and the subsequent draft report to some officials within the Movement secretariat.
The secretariat swung into action and forwarded its proposals to the commission, which included reviewing how article 105 could be amended. We have been told that senior NRM functionaries, including Amama Mbabazi, exerted pressure on a section of NRM-leaning commissioners.
The commission yielded and according to the final report, it was recommended that the issue of presidential term limits “be referred to a decision of the people through a referendum.”
However, Ssempebwa and another commissioner, Sam Owori, distanced themselves from the report, particularly the recommendation to review the presidential term limits. The duo authored a minority report.
“Some of us stood our ground and said no, but you know how the matter ended,” Ssempebwa said.
In early 2004, government introduced an omnibus constitution amendment bill, which sought to amend 114 articles, including article 105 (2). And on July 12, 2005, parliament overwhelmingly supported the proposal to lift presidential term limits.
KATI KATI MEETING
Meanwhile, at Kati Kati restaurant yesterday, a group of 10 MPs coordinated by presidential aide David Mafabi met NRM leaders at different levels to urge them to begin mobilising for the deletion of article 102(b) from the constitution.
The MPs that attended the meeting were, Peter Ogwang (Usuk), Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda South), Mwine Mpaka (Youth Western), Esther Anyakun (Nakapiripirit Woman), Andrew Kaluya (Kigulu South) and Col Fred Mwesigye (Nyabushozi).
Others were Nelson Lufafa (Butembe), Moses Angudulu (Terego West), Isaac Mulindwa Ssozi (Lugazi Municipality), Mourine Osoru (Arua Woman) and Juliet Kinyamatama (Rakai Woman).
Also present was the NRM flag bearer in the Kibanda North by-election, Taban Idi Amin. According to a source, the meeting was called to equip youth leaders with information to counter an ongoing campaign by opposition politicians against the proposal.
“There is a lot of intimidation going on by [FDC’s Col Kizza] Besigye and the opposition generally; we want the youth leaders in our party structures to go out and mobilise the public to support the proposal,” an MP who declined to be named said.
Col Mwesigye warned that the opposition shouldn’t think that it owns the country. Mafabi told the youths to explain that the proposal does not necessarily benefit Museveni.
“Yoweri Museveni may not necessarily be a beneficiary of this amendment and to say that he is a beneficiary of such a process would be an insult to him. He has repeatedly said that the issue here is not who, the issue is what and the what determines the who,” Mafabi said.
At the end of the meeting, the youths passed a resolution urging Museveni to allow wide consultation by NRM members on whether age should be used as a determinant for one to be president of Uganda.
The resolution was read by Phoebe Namulindwa, a youth leader from Luweero. This particular meeting is going to be followed by a similar meeting of leaders of the NRM league for people with disabilities on Sunday, July 23.
Additional reporting by Sadab Kittata Kaaya.