My take on the Uganda Constitution (Amendment) Act of 2017
The controversial age limit bill was assented into law by the Ugandan President His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on the 27/12/2017. The key amendments made to this law were removal of age limit for a President initially set at 75 years, restoration of the long awaited term limits and increase of the years in a term of office from five to seven years.
Majority have since questioned the rationale of this amendment alleging that it was meant to make President Museveni a life President. Nevertheless, they were shushed when the amendment came with restoration of term limits. I can say this restored some bit of calm to Uganda which had for many months gone berserk.
A couple of unusual events transpired in Uganda’s parliament during the hearings of the aforementioned bill which prompted a public outcry. The events included but were not limited to fights by Members of Parliament (MPs) in the house, the horrific invasion of security personnel in parliament to evacuate the suspended MPs and “the dramatic allegation of sneaking a gun in parliament by a one Ronald Kibuule, a State Minister for Water Resources in the Uganda Cabinet.”
It so happened that during this period, an amount of money totalling to 29 million Uganda Shillings (7830 USD) was wired to the accounts of Mps and was said to be meant for consultation on the age limit issue. This was contemplated by many as wastage of tax payer’s money and yet Uganda is ranked number 25 out of the 30 poorest countries in the world according to an analysis by Global Finance magazine. This donation occasioned a number of strikes by doctors, prosecutors, teachers for increase in payment because they perceived it as though the government had alot of money at its disposal. Many opposition mps gladly returned the consultation money with a claim that they could not be corrupted while the others quietly enjoyed the government’s tremendous donation.
Upon the suspension of members of the house majority of which were from the opposition during the hearing of the aforesaid bill, one would have expected the bill to fail to be passed on grounds of lack of quorum nevertheless this never happened considering a majority number of up to 68% of the MPs subscribe to the ruling party NRM. Even so, majority have since questioned the bill on grounds that the circumstances under which it was passed were questionable. In fact, a petition was instituted in the Constitutional Court of Mbale challenging the age limit law where we saw proceedings conclude and judgement is yet to be pronounced.
In my opinion, I anticipate that the judgement will exclude the current members of parliament from benefiting from the additional two years in their five year term. Be that as it may, I can with much thought say that the age limit removal will be upheld but it will be subjected to a referendum.
My opinion is rooted on the fact that the events surrounding the passing of this bill aroused so many questions.First off, this law was enacted to bind the current Parliament by adding two more years to their already in existence five year term which makes it an Ex Post Facto law which is defined as a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences/status of actions that were committed or relationships that existed before the enactment of the law. Such laws are unacceptable in Uganda hence this amendment should affect the next parliament and not the current one.
In addition, the parliament is the law making body of the country and if they benefit from this amendment, it will surely look like they can enact any law at anytime to favour themselves however unreasonable. Looking at all these factors, I surmise that judges will uphold the aforesaid amendment but surely the current mps will not benefit from it.
On the age limit removal, the reasons for its removal are rock solid especially if one bends to the side of human rights. Pursuant to Article 21 of the Ugandan constitution, all persons are equal before and under the law and it mandates protection of people from all kinds of discrimination. The Age limit is a violation of these human rights and as such, it was deemed to be amended at a certain point had it not been for the political motives. In this regard, I infer that the judges will uphold this amendment but they will subject it to a referendum. This referendum is meant to give people power through voting on such matters pursuant to Article 1 of the Constitution.
The age limit amendment would have sparked off more criticism, had it not come with the restoration of term limits. Should it be upheld by the court, people will have no problem waiting for only two terms to end and the incumbent retires considering its been 31 years and they are still patient. Some people have since averred that the restoration of term limits is just a tactic to buy time and that the government will call for another amendment at the end of the two terms. If you ask me, this should be a discussion for another day.
Written by Edgar Ankunda.