Con­sti­tu­tional Court rul­ing puz­zles work­ers, as they make sloppy sug­ges­tions to Par­lia­ment

By: Isaac Okello

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.