Ever, won­der why Bills take long be­fore as­sent? Here is why

By: Winnie Watera

Ac­cord­ing to Ar­ti­cle 91(1) of the con­sti­tu­tion of the Re­pub­lic of Uganda, the power of Par­lia­ment to make laws shall be ex­er­cised through bills passed by Par­lia­ment and as­sented to by the Pres­i­dent.

At a point where a bill is passed by Par­lia­ment, bill en­thu­si­asts can’t hide their con­tent­ment. And for a mo­ment they for­get the “must be as­sented to by Pres­i­dent Part.” Tech­ni­cally the Pres­i­dent needs to ap­pend his sig­na­ture for a bill to be­come law.

This is pro­vided for by Ar­ti­cle 91(2) which stip­u­lates that a bill passed by Par­lia­ment shall, as soon as pos­si­ble, be pre­sented to the Pres­i­dent for as­sent. Ar­ti­cle 91(3) sub­se­quently stip­u­lates that the pres­i­dent may, as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter the pre­sen­ta­tion to him of a Bill for as­sent, as­sent to bill or re­turn the bill, re­con­sider the Bill or any spec­i­fied pro­vi­sions thereof and when a Bill is so re­turned, the House shall re­con­sider the Bill ac­cord­ingly, and if the Bill is passed again by the Houses with or with­out amend­ment and pre­sented to the Pres­i­dent for as­sent, the Pres­i­dent shall not with­hold as­sent there from.

A Bill that has been as­sented to and signed by the Pres­i­dent be­comes an Act of Par­lia­ment and must be pub­lished shortly there­after in the Gazette. An Act takes ef­fect (be­comes bind­ing on every­one) when it is pub­lished in the Gazette or on a date de­ter­mined in terms of the Act.

Speak­ing from an en­thu­si­ast’s point of view, the pe­riod of as­sent can be quite long some­times. This can be on the part of Par­lia­ment or that of the Pres­i­dent, ei­ther way it spins alot of crit­i­cism. To­day we look at some of the rea­sons that would de­lay the process of as­sent­ing to bills.

Po­lit­i­cal ur­gency of the bill some­times de­ter­mines how long it will take be­fore as­sent. What Par­lia­ment and the Pres­i­dent term as ur­gent some­times dif­fer, the on-go­ing po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances at the time nor­mally de­fines what is. Also whether the bill will fos­ter the re­quired agenda. The pres­i­dent re­cently as­sented to three elec­toral bills[1] on the 24th of Au­gust this year and one won­ders what the other bills sit­ting at his desk were wait­ing for. The elec­tion pe­riod is al­ready upon us thus ren­der­ing the bills po­lit­i­cally ur­gent.

Ac­cord­ing to the then Pres­i­den­tial Press Sec­re­tary Tamale Mirundi, “Some of the laws are passed based on for­eign in­ter­ests and oth­ers out of anx­i­ety and ex­cite­ment.[2]  This is com­mon es­pe­cially when it comes to Pri­vate Mem­bers’ Bills. This begs for scrutiny by the Pres­i­dent and his le­gal team, It some­times takes a while to study and con­sult with var­i­ous stake­hold­ers. Laws have have far-reach­ing con­se­quences in the coun­try and the Pres­i­dent in his role of pro­tect­ing Ugan­dans who elected him must ex­er­cise due dili­gence on the bills.”

The clerk at the time of the bill also plays a huge role in the time lag,  the at­ten­tion span is re­ally im­por­tant be­cause many changes hap­pen on the floor of Par­lia­ment, in some cases one may miss some­thing and has to get ei­ther the par­lia­ment of­fice or wait for the Hansard to make the changes.

When an act is passed by Par­lia­ment, it is for­warded to Par­lia­men­t’s de­part­ment of Le­gal and Leg­isla­tive Af­fairs for edit­ing and in­clu­sion of amend­ments en­dorsed by Par­lia­ment. At this stage, the time varies; the bill may about a week to a month or more at this stage, de­pend­ing on its size be­fore it is trans­ferred to the pres­i­dent.

Be­tween 2006 and 2013, the Pres­i­dent as­sented to 47 bills days longer than the con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated 30 days. Whether or not there are le­gal reper­cus­sions is an­other story, how­ever in case you won­der why that bill you’re look­ing for­ward to does­n’t mak­ing to the gazette within the ex­pected time, it prob­a­bly one of those rea­sons above.

[1] Na­tional Wom­en’s Coun­cil (Amend­ment) Bill, 2015, Na­tional Youth Coun­cil (Amend­ment) Bill, 2015 and Na­tional Coun­cil for Dis­abil­i­ties (Amend­ment) Bill, 2015.

[2] Ac­cord­ing to the Ob­server