Electoral reforms: Niwagaba inflicts second defeat on government

 

Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba defeated the government after he successfully got Parliament’s nod to table a private bill that opens up the Constitution for a second amendment in a space of two years.

The first amendment; a pro-government bill was passed controversially in December 2017, removing the lower and upper age caps for presidential contenders, handing President Yoweri Museveni another chance to extend his presidency.

Officially 74 years this year, Museveni who has been in power for more than three decades would be ineligible to stand again in 2021 hadn’t the MPs not deleted Article 102(b) from the Constitution that limited the age for presidential contenders.

The new bill by Niwagaba once passed will present fresh legal hurdles for Museveni which explains why the government has since January been trying to block it.

Last month, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga ordered the bill to be put on the order paper after the five electoral law reform bills that Attorney General William Byaruhanga tabled before Parliament, fell short of addressing key political and electoral reforms which had been generated through various processes including a directive by the Supreme Court.

Deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana two weeks ago led the government’s charges in trying to block the bill but Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah ruled last week giving Niwagaba the green light.

And on Wednesday when Niwagaba returned to the floor of Parliament to seek leave of the House to table his Constitutional Amendment Bill, neither Byaruhanga nor Rukutana were in the House to argue against it.

Finance Minister, Matia Kasaija tried in vain to persuade Parliament to delay the motion until Byaruhanga and Rukutana are present to argue out the government position.

“I suggest that we put this matter on the Order Paper on Tuesday and if they are not here, we proceed with it,”  Kasaija said.

Niwagaba however argued that there absence of the Attorney General and his deputy was not a strong ground to stop debate on the motion.

“If the Attorney General has any other input, we have a long way to go where he can contribute on amendments. There is no reason why MPs should not proceed to debate my motion… Let the members debate the motion and either give me leave or not. The presence of the Attorney General in this House has no bearing on this debate. In any case, he already raised his objections,” Niwagaba said.

Oulanyah agreed with Niwagaba’s arguments saying that Byaruhanga and Rukutana have no excuse to cause for a further delay of the bill.

“When I ruled last week, I was clear. I said at the next sitting of Parliament, this issue will be handled, that is why it is on the Order Paper. There is nothing new; it is a motion for leave which has been with us for eight months. Both the Attorney General and his deputy know the importance of the matter but they are both not here, after 8 months, there is no excuse to delay this matter any longer,” Oulanyah said.

Niwagab’s bill proposes the reinstatement of presidential term limits and a cut down on the presidential powers among other proposals.