Here is what government reforms completely missed

Government has published its proposals to amend the electoral laws in Parliament. The must-pass Bill is a much shorter than the thousands of proposals solicited from members of the public over the past four years.

During the first three years of the process, Cabinet delegated a committee chaired by former prime minister Amama Mbabazi to review and adjudicate the process. With Mbabazi’s departure from government, his colleagues were afraid to touch any of his work product.

Pressed for time and aided by an ineffectual Opposition, government has pushed forward a minimum agenda. Its first score was to completely ignore the central issue of whether presidential term limits should return to the nation’s basic law. The Constitution has continued to lose stature in the hierarchy of laws into a major working document.

The basic features of the Constitution, a strong President and weaker Parliament, were intended to work in tandem to free the President to govern through a direct mandate while leaving Parliament with a law-making function. Neither is what we have today.

The republican powers in the Constitution were never intended to be arrogated to an imperial president. In fact, given the environment at the time, the presence of political parties at the levers of power was completely washed off.

For this reason, the parliamentary parties we have are unlikely to have the same stature accorded parties in the commonwealth parliaments with the ability to whip the government of the day into shape. Without term limits, Parliament is wasting time to even debate the law.

A lot of misplaced opinions have been directed at the Electoral Commission (EC) to improve its independence. One somehow thinks subjugating appointment of electoral commissioners to vetting by the Judicial Service Commission is the solution. The President has already ignored the existing status quo, preferring that the chairman of the Commission be a judge or a person qualified to be appointed a judge.

At the root of the unhappiness of the EC are accusations that the EC is complicit in ballot stuffing, switching results and so on. These may have some validity, especially involvement of State machinery in the actual balloting process, but obscure the fact that the Opposition parties are not evenly matched with the ruling party. None of the parliamentary parties today can raise candidates in all constituencies.

Worse is that the parties cannot raise polling agents in all polling stations in the country. The traditional role of an election agent, the constituency party and parliamentary candidate has been lost under the current system.

Members of Parliament arrive for work while completely cut off from their constituency parties.

The Judiciary has published its own proposals, which ordinarily should be ignored for their selfishness. The adage that a good judge improves with time ignores the reality that a judicial system that does not reflect society cannot succeed. By insisting that sitting Judges serve up to the age of 75 years ignores frailties imposed by nature. It is a fear of the unknown.

In Uganda, the essence of a national court system has been lost. National courts should exist to adjudicate issues with a “national character” or “constitutional question”. The vast majority of private disputes belong to district courts that should work alongside other district institutions. At the national level, a judge should serve 10 years renewable once, whether in the High Court or any of the appellate courts and the number of judges need to be reduced rather than increased!

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law
and an Aocate.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor


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