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Tempers flare as MPs debate Bill on wholesale Constitutional changes

Busiro East MP Medard Sseggona (PHOTO/File)

KAMPALA – Pandemonium broke out in Parliament on Thursday as lawmakers on the opposition and government sides exchanged words over tabling a Private Member’s Bill that seeks to make wholesale changes to the 1995 Constitution.

The Bill seeks to amend more than 30 Articles of the 1995 Constitution and, among others, remove the office of the Vice President and substitute with the Deputy President. It also seeks to amend Articles 113(2) and 114 (3) to restrict the number of Cabinet ministers to 21.

However, Deputy Attorney General, Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana vehemently opposed Shadow Attorney-General Mr Wilfred Niwagaba and Jinja Municipality East MP Mr Paul Mwiru when they moved a key motion seeking leave of Parliament to introduce Private Member’s Bill.

“Our proposal seeks to check the character and nature of Electoral Commission. We seek to establish proper democracy through fair and free elections. For us to have free and fair election, outcries of the citizens on electoral reforms have to be aligned with the current electoral legislation,” Mr Niwagaba said.

But Mr Rukutana argued: “What is before you is a motion seeking leave of Parliament to present a private member’s bill. My interpretation of Article 93 of the Constitution is that this motion requires a certificate of financial implication.”

“Allowing this bill to be tabled is also contrary to the resolution passed by this House that all amendments to the Constitution be handled in Constitutional Review Commission. The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs has received several petitions which will be handled,” he added.

But Busiro East MP Medard Sseggona shot back, accusing the government of failing to constitute the Constitutional Review Commission where such proposals would be handled.

“The opposition bring these amendments is a vote of no confidence in the government. For how long is this Parliament going to be stampeded and taken for granted by the Executive? How do we anticipate that the government is going to institute a Constitutional Review Commission?” Mr Sseggona asked.

Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Ms Betty Aol Ocan and Butambala County MP Muwanga Kivumbi also backed Mr Niwagaba, arguing that the Bill is inspired by the Constitutional Court’s recommendation to overhaul the electoral law and align it with the guidelines of free and fair elections.

Sensing danger, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, who was presiding over the House, deferring debate on the motion to another day.

“The issues are several and I cannot provide an off-cuff ruling on them. Give me time, I will come back here to make my ruling in a way that will cover most of them,” he said.

In the draft Bill, the Opposition wants the office of the Vice President removed and substituted with the Deputy President. In so doing, they have also proposed that the Office of the Prime Minister be repealed.

They also want Article 99 (2) and 100 of the Constitution amended so that every presidential candidate is mandated to appoint a person who also meets the qualifications of standing for presidency to be his or her running mate and would automatically become Deputy President upon their victory.

In addition, the MPs have proposed Clause 14 for amendment of Article 108A by repealing the Office of the Prime Minister; Clause 12 to reintroduce two terms for the Office of President; Clause 19 to amend Articles 113(2) and 114 (3) to restrict the number of Cabinet ministers and other minister to 21, respectively.

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