Electoral Bills: Little time and unrealistic amendments
Over the years, the Speaker of Parliament, Hon Rebecca Kadaga has asked Government to table important Bills for Parliament’s consideration before the fifth session, normally reiterating her concerns at the high profile State of the Nation addresses and also the budget speeches. Her argument being, in the 5th session MPs will not be able to conduct any serious business given the pending elections. Well, Government did exactly that when it tabled three election related Bills on the floor of Parliament on 22nd September, 2015. Four months into in the infamous 5th session.
Needless to say is that these bills were tabled when Speaker had adjourned the house sine die, which technically means indefinitely. Therefore it required that the house be recalled to handle the bills expeditiously. This meant that Parliament had to facilitate the MPs to come back and deliberate on the Bills, MP Bityekerezo ensured he clarified on that.
In light of this, the Speaker instructed the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to scrutinize the bills and report back on Friday 25th September. Thursday 24th that week was a public holiday Eid- al-Aduha and the rules of procedure provide that the house shall not sit. This gave the committee only a day to hold public hearings, do research and generate reports on all three bills. This was quite impossible to pull off, the committee asked for an extension period, till Wednesday 30th, which was only a few more days.
Nationwide announcements for the public hearings on the Bills were made and unless it was just a formality, ample time was needed to receive contributions and carry out research; which the committee did before 30th.
Parliament consequently passed two of the bills; the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2015 and the Parliamentary elections (Amendment) Bill, 2015. The third; the Elections (Amendment), Bill, 2015 was withdrawn for further government consultations. The two Bills passed were similar save for a few clauses like the Exemption from campaigning in all districts for Presidential Candidates.
In both bills passed, there was a clause advising against the dipping of the thumb in indelible ink as proof for voting; only the thumb print will be applied without necessarily dipping entirely. The clauses were justified by advances in technology. Although it wasn’t adopted on the floor of Parliament, it was a recipe for election rigging through double voting, the thumb is not known for keeping ink that long, over a period of time. With Government still trying to gazette the registration equipment and their constant break down (evident during the I.D registration period) there is no guarantee that an individual’s thumb print would be available when the time came. It was basically going to be a formidable task and the mere fact that it was proposed by a government with people’s interests at heart, it’s intentions are questionable.
Clauses revising the nomination fees for Presidential and Parliamentary aspirants from UGX 8 Million to UGX 20 million and UGX 200,000 to UGX 3 million respectively were passed. The bill attributed the revision of fees to the change in economic conditions since the passing of the principal Acts in 2005. This basically means that those who can afford these amounts can vie for these political positions, those who can’t find means to pay cannot be nominated. It has now come down to our political representation being gauged on what they can afford and not on merit? This is political patronage among many other things. Its amendments like these that bedevil our country; it’s only a matter of time before this clause comes back to haunt us.
Time is an important factor when it comes to Laws, its one other thing when laws passed hurriedly will soon come back for amendment like the Public Finance Management Act signed in to law at the beginning of this year. Hellen Kabejja, a Parliament Watch Uganda (@pwatchug) respondent had this to say, “I hope this is not another desecration of Parliament. The manner and speed is very suspect. Why the rush?’ And I concur with her, many times Parliament has passed laws in a hurry with limited scrutiny, for our sakes I hope this is not one of those situations.”
 Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2015 and Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2015