Elec­toral Bills: Lit­tle time and un­re­al­is­tic amend­ments

By: WIN­NIE WA­T­ERA

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[1] 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.”

[1] Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tions (Amend­ment) Bill, 2015, Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (Amend­ment) Bill, 2015 and Par­lia­men­tary Elec­tions (Amend­ment) Bill, 2015