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We need time to debate, amend the Constitution 

In 1995, a new Constitution was promulgated, replacing the controversial 1967 one. The latter was passed by parliament following the overthrow of President Edward Muteesa II by his prime minister, Apollo Milton Obote, and the subsequent abrogation of the 1962 Independence Constitution. 

In 2015, a section of Ugandans, including the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and opposition political parties, feel some provisions in the 1995 Constitution have outlived their usefulness and, therefore, need change. There are also some new additions. 

It took about a year for the Constitution Commission, led by Justice Benjamin Odoki, to move around the country collecting views on what kind of constitution Ugandans wanted in the new era.

I call it a new era because unlike in the past, Ugandans had never had a fair contribution in the making of their constitution. That of 1962 was a template designed by colonialists and given to the Africans/Ugandans to debate in Lancaster, United Kingdom.

The 1967 one emerged from the pigeon holes and later ended up on the floor of parliament, where the majority of the legislators, who had constituted themselves into a constituent assembly, were members of Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress. So, it was only the 1995 Constitution where independent delegates were directly elected to thenational assembly.

For the first time, women, the army, people with disabilities and youths were represented. So, after Odoki had collected these views, a draft constitution was made and was subsequently debated by the Constituent Assembly delegates (CADs) in 1994. It also took over a year to come up with the 1995 Constitution, which was promulgated on October 8, 1995. 

The country is in such a bad mood; this renders meaningful discussion and debate on the constitutional amendments impossible. The members of parliament, supposed to discuss the more than 100 proposed amendments, are understandably restrained by their own selfish needs. The majority of legislators want to return to parliament.

Therefore, they are busy focusing on how to make it back to the House.  The speaker has on several occasions complained about the MPs’ absenteeism. They report, fill the attendance registers and immediately return to chase campaign money! So, there are likely to be problems of quorum, which again may result in court battles about the constitutionality of the provisions passed by parliament. 

Two, the amendments are likely to face the same problems that the makers of the 1967 Constitution faced. Just like most MPs in 1967 were UPC members, today NRM has the majority.

So, the matters in the House are decided by the tyranny of numbers, and not reason. Sadly, whenever there is a bill to be debated, the NRM MPs debate it as if it is about their party, and not the country. For example, it is almost a foregone conclusion that NRM members will oppose the proposal to return presidential term limits.  

Some of them are surely aggrieved by the removal of presidential term limits, but they cannot be seen to oppose what their chairman and president likes. That is fatal to them, especially the careerist politicians. So, they would rather shut up or go with their colleagues’ decision.  

The other reason for opposing this proposal is selfish. To them, returning presidential term limits means the end of President Museveni. In their mind, they have never imagined any other president leading this country apart from Mr Museveni. And they are right: without Mr Museveni, many of them wouldn’t have made it into politics.

The president owns the NRM party, and without him, NRM will go the same way Kenya African National Union (Kanu) went with the end of President Daniel arap Moi.  President Moi basically dismantled the structures of Kanu; he had to dictate who the secretary general had to be and whoever disagreed with him fell off the precipice.

When he exited, the party did the same. So, the NRM MPs know that when Museveni loses the presidential seat through the compulsion of the constitutional presidential terms, their NRM will be no more. It is thus in their interest, not in the national interest, that they keep presidential terms out of the Constitution.

The debate on constitutional amendments has been focusing mainly on electoral reforms and the return of presidential term limits. The government thinks that by adding the word ‘Independent’ to the Uganda Electoral Commission, the commission will change its character and the public will stop accusing it of being partial and unprofessional. What is in the name, anyway? 

As I said, the current MPs are not the right people to debate amendments. They not only don’t have the time to meaningfully discuss the amendments but we also need a new group of legislators with independent and fresh minds. 

I am assuming that many of those that have been careerist MPs will not return. The ideal situation should be that a constitution is not an ordinary, but the supreme, law of the land. Therefore, it must be accorded the time and respect it deserves. We should not rush to pass a document that is farcical and would not stand the test of time. 

The amendments should be put on hold. After the 2016 general elections, whoever shall be a president should appoint a Constitution Commission which should go around the country seeking people’s views on the changes in the Constitution. Those views should then be debated by parliament. 

We should not rely on the view of the current MPs; history has proved that MPs don’t represent people’s views, but their own. If people are worried about President Museveni returning to power in 2016, the answer is not in the Constitution amendment, it is in denying him votes. Right now, he has the numbers in parliament and he can manipulate the amendments in his favour.

The amendments should go beyond targeting an individual. The Constitution is bigger than any one Ugandan.


The author is the finance director of The Observer Media Limited. 




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