From the very beginning, we need to note that one of the major achievements of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) is the granting of affirmative action to formerly marginalized and disenfranchised groups in Uganda by placing them in positions of decision-making.
Objective Six under the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of the 1995 Constitution obliges the State to ensure gender balance and fair representation of marginalized groups on all constitutional and other bodies. This is further legalized by the Article 32 (1) of the Constitution which is very key on affirmative action in favour of formerly marginalized groups like women, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) among others as well as Article 36 which calls for protection of the minorities.
Since the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution, PWDs have been represented in the 6th, 7th, 8th and the current 9th parliament by 5 representatives. The criterion for their election is spelt out under Sec 8(4) (e) of the Parliamentary Elections Act, 2005. It states;
“The representatives of PWDs shall be elected by an electoral college of representatives of such persons from each district in a manner prescribed by regulations by the Minister under section 100”
22nd September 2015 saw the First Reading of various Government Electoral Bills in Parliament among which included the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill 2015 which was referred to the committee on legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
The objective of the bill included among others things; the revision of the election of representatives of PWDs in Parliament to be elected at the regional college levels of north, eastern, central, and western and a woman national representative. Consequently on 30th September, 2015, the committee reported back to the House with the proposal that the House upholds the status quo. The committee’s proposal on the clause eventually triumphed over the government’s amendment and was dropped.
The government’s proposal which was also supported by the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda was founded on the belief that the four representatives of PWDs be voted regionally to enable their electorates to know them and hold them accountable as opposed to the current system where these representatives are elected by the national delegates constituted of 5 delegates from each district.
The provision in the Principal Act as upheld in the amendment raises a lot of democratic challenges, first and foremost, it makes the representation role of the MP difficult. The mere fact that each Member of Parliament representing PWDs represents the whole country, collecting the electorates views becomes an uphill task. It is also time and resource consuming for an electorate from the District of Kisoro to access his or her representative who stays in Kampala and his or her upcountry home is in Arua. This is literally across the country. Because of this inaccessibility of representatives, PWDs are unable to hold them accountable.
Secondly, it also makes it difficult for the electorates to identify their representatives thus instigating confusion. Although these representatives are identified by region for instance northern representative, eastern representative, western and central representative, their constituents are not clearly demarcated since they are elected by an entire delegates conference.
Furthermore, the criterion do not favor those with inadequate resources who may wish to vie for these positions. This is so the case because a candidate has to transverse the whole country canvassing for votes yet it could have been easier for him or her to concentrate and manage the process at the regional level.
The above challenges could have been resolved if only parliament adopted the government proposed amendment. For example, it would play a big role in demarcating the constituencies as it is the case with Youth Members of Parliament. This would also go along with enabling the electorates to easily identify and access their representatives as well as hold them accountable.
This amendment was long overdue because it intended to create room for accountability and representation.