Opposition working on minority report
A critical assessment of witnesses who appeared before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee to give views on the age limit bill shows a slight majority want the 75-year cap removed.
Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi drafted the bill seeking to scrap presidential age limits from the Constitution. On Tuesday, the committee finalized hearings in which 34 individuals and groups participated. At least 18 supported the removal of the age limits while those against the removal were 12.
The committee had initially invited more than 60 stakeholders, including political, religious and civil society organisations as well as opposition legislators but many declined the offer. Makerere University law dons described the process an illegality while some said it was ‘already a done deal.’
Others who declined to appear include Uganda Law Society (ULS), Dr Kizza Besigye; Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU); former premier Prof Apolo Nsibambi and political parties FDC, UPC and People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission, Uganda Law Reform Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission had no clear position on the amendments and remained neutral.
REMOVE AGE LIMITS
Among those who supported the amendments were Magyezi, Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Kahinda Otafiire, NRM Deputy Secretary General Richard Todwong, youth pressure group Kick All Age Limits Out of the Constitution (KALOC), Rtd Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi (NRM Veterans) and Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere.
In their presentations, these groups opined that the current provisions in Article 102 (b) limit participation in electoral politics and are discriminatory in nature.
Todwong, for instance caused uproar when he insinuated that the clause on presidential age limit was smuggled into the Constitution.
However, his assertion was discredited by Dr Rugunda, who told the committee that all the provisions in the Constitution were debated and agreed upon by Constituent Assembly delegates, including himself as a representative of Kabale municipality.
The 12 witnesses who opposed age limit removal include Amanya Mushega, Prof Fredrick Ssempebwa, Peter Mulira, Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, Prof George Kanyeihamba, Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza and DP leader Norbert Mao, among others.
In their opinion, the amendments provide an avenue for President Museveni to easily breeze through the 2021 presidential election without legal inhibition.
Wilfred Niwagaba, the Shadow Attorney General, told The Observer that the absence of key stakeholders in the consultations raises doubts about the credibility of the whole process.
“Many of those invited to the committee were simply ‘parroting’ the same message as the NRM party and the process of smuggling the bill would not have been endorsed by right thinking members of society,” he said.
“The bill was not brought in good faith but to favour specific individuals. We respect the fact that they declined to be part of this process, marred with illegality. We plan to capture this in our minority report,” he added.
By press time yesterday, some committee members were holed up in a meeting with the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to endorse their five-region consultative meetings on the bill, budgeted at Shs 700 million.
“As a committee, we agreed to go and meet the people upcountry but since we do not have the funds, we need the speaker’s counsel on the way forward,” one of the MPs said.