A number of human rights activists have joined a growing number of groups that have rejected government’s plan to amend the Communications Act.
The amendments to the Act were tabled by former Attorney General, Fred Ruhindi before the 9th Parliament wound up. It seeks to allow government to draft regulations regarding the sector without getting approval from Parliament as is the current case.
The Bill seeks to amend section 93(1) of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013 to remove the requirement for parliamentary approval of regulations made by the Minister under the Act.
The Act grants the Minister powers to make regulations relating to among others: fees payable upon the grant or renewal of a license; the classification or categories of licenses; the use of any communications station, apparatus or license; and anti-competitive practices.
In addition, the Minister will have powers to make regulations on the retention of records relating to programmes or broadcasts; the obligations of proprietors, producers or broadcaster in respect of public broadcasts; and the regulation of community broadcasting.
While appearing before Parliament’s committee on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) on December 13, 2016, officials from the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) and Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) stressed that Parliament will be giving up its oversight powers in allowing the minister to make regulations without House approval.
The Advocacy and Research Officer at Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), Dr. Rebecca Amolo stated that clipping the powers of Parliament will not give opportunity for MPs to check the excesses on government’s side.
The national coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ), affirmed that Parliament has a duty to ensure that regulations made by the minister do not suppress the rights and freedoms of citizens.
Last week, Medi Kaggwa, the chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) told the committee that the move by government to remove parliamentary approval is meant to usurp the powers of Parliament.
Officials from Airtel and MTN also appeared before the committee to give their views on the amendments.
The Senior Legal and Regulatory Manager of MTN Uganda, Ronald Zakumumpa, asked that the law is not amended; instead that government gives the law, which was passed in 2013, more time for implementation.