The elec­toral laws leave room of am­bi­gu­ity for ac­count­abil­ity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion of PWDS

By: Parliament Reporter

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.