Legal Experts Speak Out On Age Limit Amendment

Legal experts have warned that manoeuvres to amend the constitution and remove the age limit on the president are ill-conceived.

Prof Fredrick Ssempebwa, a constitutional lawyer who led the 2005 constitution review process, told The Observer on Monday, that there is no need to amend the provision.

“The framers of the constitution thought that by 75 years it would be extremely hard for someone to execute the roles of a president. Why amend it?” Ssempebwa said.

Ben Wacha, a former constituent assembly delegate and MP, said: “The argument fronted at the time was that after 75, it was hard for someone to play his or her role as a president since they would not be in good health, which forms part of the requirements of becoming a president.”

Wacha, who was also a member of parliament’s legal affairs committee, said there was little debate on the matter during the constitution-making process, except for a suggestion that the provision targeted former president Dr Apolo Milton Obote. Wacha said little has changed since 1995 to justify an amendment.

“Today they want to amend the constitution to favour an individual, which is a very bad legislative practice. The law should be made for posterity purposes,” he said.

According to Prof Ssempebwa, when the constitution was reviewed in 2005, article 102(b) which states that a person beyond 75 years cannot stand for president, was not considered.

Ssempebwa, who chaired the constitution review commission, said the clause was not seen as necessary at the time. Ten years later, Ssempebwa is of the view that if there are Ugandans who desire that important provisions of the constitution such as article 102(b) be amended, another review process should be instituted.

“If you look at some of the provisions they want to amend, they are more important…you cannot just amend them without carrying out thorough consultation,” Ssempebwa said.

Under chapter 18, which lays out the procedure for amending the constitution, article 102(b) can be amended by parliament. But Ssempebwa, nevertheless ,believes citizens should be consulted. Dr Busingye Kabumba, a constitutional law lecturer at Makerere University, said removing the age-limit is intended to protect a particular project, but not for democratisation purposes as envisaged by the constitution.

“This is evidence of abusing the constitution like it was the case in 2005 when term limits were removed,” Kabumba said.

Invoking article 8(a), which states that Uganda shall be governed based on principles of national interest and common good, Kabumba said: “If you look at the background of this amendment, it falls nowhere in the democratic principles provided by the constitution.”

Peter Walubiri, another constitutional lawyer, added that the proposed amendment could have the effect of subverting the democratisation course.

“If this selfish push succeeds, it frustrates the only left chance for a peaceful transition. The longer a leader stays in power, the more difficult it becomes to check his powers…And when they die in office, everything collapses since all the institutions were at his or her mercy,” Walubiri said.

Walubiri called for a new constitutional order, arguing that the current one has become obsolete.

“We have to move out of the box. No constitutional amendment under the Museveni regime will bring enduring results. The only way out is a new order because the current [one] has been subverted,” he said.

Source : The Observer

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