Uganda: Otafiire – Constitution Set for Total Overhaul

2021: NRM looking at massive overhaul, not just Museveni age limit

Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, says government plans a complete overhaul of the Constitution.

Otafiire said he is working on constituting a Constitution Review Commission similar to the one Prof Fredrick Ssempebwa headed from 2001 to 2003. The commission will seek Ugandans' views, write a report that ultimately will guide government in writing a Constitution Amendment Bill.

Otafiire, a member of the ruling NRM's topmost policy organ, the Central Executive Committee (CEC), announced the overhaul in an interview with The Observer on Tuesday at Parliament, moments after he was sworn in as an ex-officio MP.

Asked to offer clarity on the fast-growing trend of NRM politicians campaigning to remove the presidential age limit, Otafiire said: "As of now, it is their [campaigners] democratic right to say what they want but we are contemplating putting a constitutional review commission in place so that the Constitution is reviewed in [its totality], not in bits," he said.

Otafiire spoke days after NRM district chairpersons handed Museveni a memorandum on July 13 calling for the removal of article 102(b) of the Constitution that caps the presidential age at 75. It was a dinner for the party's district leaders at Hotel Africana in Kampala. (See: NRM split over Museveni age limit, The Observer July 18).

"It is a democratic society; people can make proposals, but what we [the government] promised last year when we were considering the constitutional amendments was the appointment of a constitutional review commission," Otafiire said.

Otafiire was one of the ministers who opposed a similar plot to remove the age limit in cabinet last year. The plot was pushed by a cabinet subcommittee of largely lawyer ministers. (See: First lady foils age limit plot, The Observer March 27, 2015).

"What would be prudent is for people to wait until a commission is put in place and it goes around looking for people's views, then they can articulate their interests and make proposals," Otafiire said.

He said that after more than 20 years since it was enacted in October 1995, the constitution is due for a review to establish whether it has stood the test of time.

"After 20 years, it is due for amendment [and] as a ministry we are working on it and when we are ready, we shall make our suggestions known to the country," Otafiire said.

The constitution was first amended in 2005. The amendments were motivated by the push to lift the two five-year presidential term limit. Eight years later in 2013, NRM launched another push to amend nearly 67 percent of the constitution. NRM then constituted a team of lawyers led by Amama Mbabazi who was at the time its secretary general and prime minister, to study the proposed amendments.

Other members of the team were, former Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya, Defence and Veteran Affairs Minister Adolf Mwesige, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, and Wilfred Niwagaba and Elizabeth Karungi (Kanungu Woman MP).

The team never got to conclude its assignment after Mbabazi fell out with Museveni and Niwagaba too turned into a sharp critic of the establishment. The amendments then largely targeted five legislations; the Political Parties and Organisations Act, Electoral Commission Act, Parliamentary Elections Act, Presidential Elections Act and Local Governments Act, which government had wanted to amend in the run-up to the 2011 elections but could not because the proposals would affect the Constitution.

NOT CONCLUSIVE

The first attempt to amend the constitution in 2005 was not concluded as did last year's attempt. Stephen Tashobya, who chaired the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee in both the 8th and 9th Parliaments, in an interview yesterday blamed the failure to push through the amendments on government's reluctance to table the proposals in time.

"Bills [to amend the constitution] come to Parliament barely three months to the elections [yet] we consistently asked government to table the amendments well in time," Tashobya said.

This, according to Niwagaba, is done out of a lack of government's goodwill to have a proper review of the constitution.

"We can only have a credible review of the constitution if Museveni's interests are put below national interests but as long as it is amended to satisfy the individual interests of Museveni, they will always look out for those clauses that will keep him in power for ever," Niwagaba said.

In the run-up to the previous elections, civil society activists and opposition political parties suggested many electoral and political reforms, which were largely left out of the 2015 Constitutional Amendment Bill, which was tabled in Parliament late last year.

According to Tashobya, such proposals should be the starting point for the constitutional review commission that Otafiire is proposing.

"It should be done as early as possible because it has to be a comprehensive process of reviewing the constitution and that would call for enough time to debate and pass the amendments, and enough time for the implementation," Tashobya said.

Opposition political parties and civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Citizens' compact on free and fair elections had proposed reforms such as; the return of a two-term presidential limit, establishment of an independent electoral commission, separation of the state from the ruling party and the removal of army and workers MPs from Parliament.

NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba on June 23 told a post- 2016-elections conference for political party leaders under the Inter-party organization for dialogue (IPOD) that these proposals came at a wrong time that government chose to shelve them.

In Parliament, shadow Justice and Constitutional affairs minister, Medard Lubega Sseggona, tabled a minority report that forced government to refer the proposals to the current Parliament.

Source: The Observer.