Twelve years after they were scrapped, presidential term limit is back on the national stage, being dangled as trade-off for the removal of presidential age limits, in multiple motions lodged with Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga.
The movers of the motions are seeking leave of parliament to introduce private member’s constitutional amendment bills parallel to the ruling NRM-promoted Rapheal Magyezi’s bill seeking to remove presidential age limits.
A common thread in some of the motions is that they either offer a trade-off for saving Article 102(b) on presidential age limits, or are deliberately designed to overwhelm parliament.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga handed a copy of the Constitution by President Museveni last year
By Friday, all hedging was cast aside as Workers MP, Dr Sam Lyomoki, filed what could yet amount to the most aggressive attempt to engineer a dignified exit for President Museveni -- a bill for restoring the term limit and guaranteeing Museveni immunity from prosecution for any crimes.
“Our president fears to leave because other people might want to pounce on him when he leaves power. This bill will cater for his retirement peacefully so that no one pursues him, but that is if he goes peacefully,” Dr Lyomoki told journalists.
After 31 years at State House, Museveni will be 77 when the next election comes round in 2021. Despite promises not to stick around after 75, it is suspected that those fanning the flames, which could burn Article 102 (b), enjoy his unspoken approval.
This has left Speaker Kadaga and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah in some difficulty given the public outrage over the Raphael Magyezi (Igara West)’s proposal to bury presidential age limits.
But even at this early stage, there are questions hanging over Magyezi’s prospects after Oulanyah maintained that his motion has not yet been fully filed. Parliament has not received a copy of his proposed bill.
Last week, Oulanyah, in adjourning the House, hinted at the heavy workload ahead saddled by the speaker’s office in the face of the multiple motions.
Oulanyah said the House had to be adjourned last Thursday because Kadaga needed time to understand the full extent of the two motions (Magyezi, Nsamba motions) and that she also had a pile of other petitions. Since then, many more motions have been filed.
At the other extreme, the counter motion filed by Patrick Nsamba Oshabe (Kassanda North), urging the government to urgently constitute the long-awaited Constitutional Review Commission, is ready but faces hostility from the ruling party’s overwhelming House majority.
Oulanyah had also revealed on Thursday that several other petitions have been delivered to parliament, completing a feeling that the House leadership’s objectivity is being tested on Parliament avenue.
On Friday, Lyomoki filed his notice for a motion requesting leave of parliament to move a private member’s Bill entitled, “The Museveni Succession, Transition and Immunities bill, 2017”. In it, he assures Museveni of a soft landing, free of prosecution and persecution, once he retires.
There is also a provision of smooth transition of power. A day earlier, the same Lyomoki had drafted another notice for a similar motion for a bill to reinstate presidential term limit.
The two-five-year term limit previously provided for in Article 105(2) was controversially scrapped during an acrimonious process in 2005. Ruling party MPs received Shs 5 million reportedly as part of a deal to amend that article by deletion.
As fate would have it, Oulanyah (then still a member of the opposition Uganda People’s Congress party) was the chair of the Legal and Parliamentary committee, whose report recommended the lifting of term limit. His reputation took such a beating that he lost his Omoro seat in 2006.
The reinstatement of term limit as an option was first publicly mooted by some NRM legislators during a caucus meeting held last Wednesday, September 20, to formally back Magyezi’s motion.
“We want to see whether cabinet will rally behind it because it seems they want all bills related to elections so, we hope they will also call a cabinet meeting and endorse my bill,” Lyomoki told journalists at parliament on Friday.
Sources in parliament have revealed that another member, Mbwatekamwa Gaffa (Kasambya), is waiting in the wings with a motion for a private member’s bill to scrap the constitutional provisions on minimum academic requirements for all elective positions in the country.
At the same time, John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya) has a draft bill, which proposes that MPs appointed to cabinet must resign their parliamentary seats.
More MPs have filed separate motions
Nambeshe said on Saturday that his intention is to fully apply the doctrine of separation of powers; to allow the Executive and Parliament finally stand as independent institutions in key decision making.
Nambeshe cited the recent public declaration of support for the Magyezi proposal by 20-plus ministers as the sort of interference he seeks to cure. His bill, he said, would entrench parliament as a separate centre of power, devoid of ‘infection’ from the executive through cabinet ministers who wear two hats as MPs.
Meanwhile, Mbwatekamwa said that unless the Constitutional Review Commission is put in place, legislators opposed to the removal of age limits plan to draft even more motions. That could paralyse parliamentary proceedings.
Nsamba, who revealed that he has another motion, barring private member’s bills on constitutional amendments, said the strategy is both to counter the Magyezi motion, and give chance to the executive to acknowledge the importance of an omnibus bill, which embraces all proposed constitutional amendments from different quarters.
“We are all targeting the enemy. Other motions will come in and by Tuesday, you will hear and then we will see how the speaker and cabinet will say they are only allowing the Magyezi motion. We have all the time on Article 102(b) and it can be postponed to the next parliament,” Nsamba said.
A host of electoral reforms ordered by the Supreme court in their ruling on the Amama Mbabazi 2016 presidential election petition necessitate amendments to assorted articles of the Constitution. The court set a timeframe of two years within which this should be done
Policy wonk Godber Tumushabe, who is executive director at the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, affirms the suggestion that tabling numerous motions on constitutional amendments could very well “bastardise” the Magyezi motion.
In an interview on Saturday, Tumushabe said the only discussion parliament should engage in is on how to secure peaceful and dignified transition from President Museveni.
“Legislators should throw their weight behind Dr Lyomoki’s proposed bill to create the safeguards for peaceful retirement of the President. After 30 years, he has probably done many bad things that he needs to be guaranteed a safe and peaceful retirement,” Tumushabe said.
Implication of motions
A senior legal officer at parliament, who declined to be quoted on record, told The Observer that the speaker now has to exercise her discretion as the head of the institution, to engage all the legislators with motions.
“She will have to listen to them, weigh their legality because some of those motions may be unconstitutional and explore whether some of them can also be consolidated,” the officer said.
Rule 111 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure outlines how a private member’s bills can be introduced by way of motion. For the motion to be approved, the whole House must first vote to grant the mover leave of parliament to introduce the bill.
Chair of the House committee on legal and parliamentary affairs, Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South), told The Observer on Saturday that while the rules do not bar any member from tabling a private member’s bill, reason must prevail.
“It is proper that we handle this constitutional amendment process with rationality rather than with sentiments,” he said. “The greater [point] is that the stakeholders should have an interest in this. However, the first motion to be taken to the speaker takes precedence.”
The wider implication of the flurry of motions being waved, Oboth-Oboth said, is that it emphasises the need for a comprehensive constitutional review as opposed to current piecemeal efforts. In principle, the NRM backers of the Magyezi proposal are open to all-comers, apparently confident in their numbers.
“It is okay for another member to have a motion. Let us debate the motions and vote on them in the first round where one is seeking leave of Parliament,” government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa said on Friday.
“If Nsamba’s motion carries the day, we will go with that. How shall we know what Magyezi or Nsamba wants if they are gagged? It is uncivilisation of the highest degree. Whatever comes, when we take the vote, whoever carries the day we shall support it.”
Nankabirwa acknowledged that “more amendments will come up obviously but the amendments are controlled by Article 93, which dictates that Parliament shall not introduce a motion (including an amendment) that would impose a charge on the Consolidated Fund.