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Justice Minister Fails to Block Debate on Opposition Constitutional Amendments

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On Tuesday, Kamuntu asked Parliament to halt debate on the bill to allow the government to constitute a Constitutional Review Commission to handle the proposals in the bill and others that may arise. He also noted that the proposed amendments were many as they affect many entities, arguing that considering them would tantamount to overhauling Uganda's Supreme law.
Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga.

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The Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Ephraim Kamuntu has failed to block the parliamentary debate of the opposition sponsored Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2019.

The Bill moved by the Shadow Attorney General, Wilfred Niwagaba seeks to scrap UPDF representation in Parliament, repeal of the Office of Prime Minister and Vice President, reinstate the presidential term limits and prohibit the appointment of Ministers from legislators among other things.  

On Tuesday, Kamuntu asked Parliament to halt debate on the bill to allow the government to constitute a Constitutional Review Commission to handle the proposals in the bill and others that may arise. He also noted that the proposed amendments were many as they affect many entities, arguing that considering them would tantamount to overhauling Uganda's Supreme law.

However, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga declined the Minister's request and reminded him of earlier attempts by the government to derail the Bill.  “You are standing where another Minister stood to say the Constitutional Review Commission was about to be constituted. It is difficult to believe that you are actually telling the truth,” she said.

Kadaga also overruled the Minister's argument about the lack of the required quorum to consider the bill, saying that the issue can’t be used to stop debate since it is only considered at the second and third readings of the Bill. Article 260 of the Constitution, requires two-thirds of the total number of legislators at the second and third reading of the Bill.

Kadaga's ruling paved way for debate of the main and minority reports of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee on the Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2019. The main committee report presented by the Chairperson, Jacob Oboth rejected several proposals in Niwagaba’s bill.

They include among others the proposal to scrap UPDF representation in Parliament, repeal of the Office of Prime Minister and Vice President, appointment of Chairperson and Commissioners of the Electoral Commission by Judicial Service Commission, scrapping Resident District Commissioners, making all Ministers Ex-officials, reducing the size of Cabinet to about 40 Ministers (21 Cabinet Ministers and 21 State Ministers) and introduction of the Speakers' panel in Parliament.  

However, the Committee agreed with the proposal to reinstate the presidential term limits, holding the Presidential, Parliamentary, and Local Government elections on the same day, allowing a political party or Organizations that sponsored a candidate to challenge results of Presidential elections. Although it isn’t part of the original proposals in the Bill, the Committee also recommended that the term of office for Parliament and other elected officials increase from 5 to 7 years beginning May 2021.

This proposal was initially passed by parliament while amending the Constitution in 2017 but was quashed by the Constitutional Court. If approved by Parliament, Uganda would hold its next general election in 2028 instead of 2026. During the debate, several MPs led by Richard Okoth Othieno, the West Budama North MP attacked Oboth accusing him of smuggling in a clause of increasing the term of office for elected leaders from 5 to 7 years. 

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This statement did not go down well with Oboth, who castigated the MPs for personalizing the committee report. The Committee in its report said that extension of the term of office would make it sufficient for the President to fulfill his or her mandate after the election.



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Gilbert Oulanya, the Kilak South MP said the proposal of extending the term of political office was in bad faith. He demanded that the Committee Chairperson withdraws the recommendation. Jessica Ababiku, the Adjumani Woman MP also disagreed with the extension of their term of office, saying that the voters had elected them to serve for only 5 years and that an extension would be wrong.

A section of MPs agreed with the main Committee report to reinstate Presidential term limits. The committee recommended only two terms for the Head of State. Michael Kamugisha, the Kajara County MP said that a developing country like Uganda needs term limits.

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Sarah Opendi, the Tororo Woman MP said that the two terms of office were enough to help the President fulfill his presidential Manifesto before someone else takes over office.

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The debate on the Bill continues today.

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