A section of workers’ representatives and concerned parties are struggling with suggestions for new laws on the mode of election of representatives to Parliament. Following the tabling of the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill No 2 of 2015 by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs on the 10th day of November 2015, the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs was tasked to scrutinize the Bill and report to the House on 24th of November 2015 so that the House can consider it.
The Bill was introduced to address the 29th September Constitutional Court ruling that nullified the process of election of Members of Parliament representing Special Interest Groups in Parliament, as unconstitutional, since the laws regulating the election thereof were not made by Parliament as mandated by the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, but by the line Ministers under whose dockets, such Special Interest Groups fell.
Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, through its clerk, called out to the concerned parties to present their proposals to the Committee on how they would like to address the concerns raised by the Constitutional Court, and for three straight days from 17th of November, different groups appeared before the committee presenting their proposals thereto. Some of the groups that have presented their opinions to the committee concerning the Workers’ representatives include the officials from National Organisation of Trade Union (NOTU, officers from the Central Organisation of Free Trade Unions (COFTU), Attorney General, the Chairperson Independent Electoral Commission, Members of Parliament for Workers, officials from Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, among others.
To the Committee’s dismay, however, none of these groups had tangible proposals that prescribed a mode to address the loophole highlighted in the Constitutional Court ruling. i.e. the question of non-unionised workers not being involved in the process of election of representatives of the Workers to the August House.
Prior to the Constitutional Court ruling, Members of Parliament representing Workers were elected through an electoral college comprised of people from NOTU and COFTU, without the consideration of other duly registered trade unions which by law do not affiliate or form part of the two groups, and the non-unionized workers.
While appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the Attorney General, Hon Fredrick Ruhindi representing the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, clarified that the five Workers’ MPs are to be elected by all persons constituting both NOTU and COFTU electoral colleges. This However did not address the concerns raised in the Court ruling. It is against this background that the Committee was prompted to request the Attorney General to return to the Committee with a more detailed suggestion to the Bill.
Meanwhile, apart from suggesting that the formula for the composition of the Electoral College of workers be provided in line with the Court ruling, the Independent Electoral Commission did not make a proposal on how it should be phased, something the Committee was looking for. Instead, it suggested that the word “worker” be defined, again, without proposing any definition and justification thereto. The Independent Electoral Commission in fact agreed with the rest of the Bill, without any further suggestions.
Hon Muruli Mukasa W, the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, while presenting his opinion to the committee stated that the unions ought to have their numerical strength represented in the electoral college, but did not have a suggestion of harmonising the concerns of the Constitutional Court on non-unionized workers. To this, Hon Abdu Katuntu remarked thus; “You need to harmonize yourselves along with the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General, to sort out the issues raised by the Court.” From the proposal emanating from the different ministers regarding the same Bill, one could easily deduce that the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and the Attorney General did not consult the other Ministries, on whose dockets the Bill fell. Could it be that the Bill is actually not a Cabinet Bill or they are legislating under panic mode?
After deciding not to appeal the court ruling, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and the Attorney General simply regurgitated the outlawed regulations without any form of input thereafter, and presented them to Parliament for a its stamp and signature. However, if not carefully scrutinised and thoroughly debated, Parliament may not find a workable solution for the workers’ representatives within the limited time frame at hand. The Electoral Commission has already released a calendar for nomination for Members of Parliament which are slated for the first week of December 2015, but there is a Court restriction on government and Electoral Commission from conducting elections under regulations not made by Parliament, and that that disenfranchises non-unionised workers.