Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

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Just an ordinary bloke.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The story behind Museveni's third term bid

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda has changed the constitution to allow him stand for another term in office, 20 years after he first took power. This interview, which I carried out with Prof. Fredrick Ssempebwa, shows that the calls for the third term did not come "from the people" as has been said elsewhere...

The Monitor newspaper - March 23, 2004

After handing over the final report of the Constitutional Review Commission to government, Prof. Fredrick Ssempebwa sat down with Daniel Kalinaki and repeated his opposition to lifting the presidential term limits. Excerpts.

You chaired the CRC then wrote a minority report against lifting the presidential term limits. Why?
It is not a minority report but a minority position within the main report. Two of us wrote minority positions on one issue. My position is that this issue is one of orderly succession. Uganda has never experienced an orderly succession from one leader to another; this is the reason the people who wrote the Constitution included a clause on term limits. People should not stay in power until they are pushed. This is a good position; we have not tested it and I did not see any reason for it to change or for us to change it.

The CRC said the limits should be resolved through a referendum. Why are you opposed to this?

The CRC was appointed to make recommendations; it was not our mandate to recommend that an issue goes to the people - otherwise we would have been useless. We could have said that let all these issues go to the people. If the people are really sovereign, they should have been handed all the issues to decide.

One view is that this is a contentious issue for the people to decide...

It is not the only contentious issue; federalism is also a contentious issue, even the issue of multiparty politics is a contentious issue. I did not believe that being contentious was good enough for it to be subjected to a referendum. The CRC should have made a decision - which I made; they should have had a decision then gone to the public to approve it.

Those in favour of lifting the term limits say they do not apply to other elected officials, such as MPs. Why the president?

The CRC considered that and we went to the statistics; we realised that the turnover of MPs is very high, about 70 percent in every election. That argument is therefore not valid. The power of incumbency is very minimal as far as MPs are concerned but if it is good, then the limits could apply to both the MPs and the President. The power of incumbency of African leaders which they use either consciously or subconsciously to win elections cannot be ignored, neither does it compare to that of MPs.

Those for lifting the limits say democracies elsewhere do not have these limits. Why in Uganda?

That is valid but the countries we are dealing with are different. In jurisdictions where they have perfected their institutions for democracy that is valid; elections are completely free and fair, there are no complaints of abuse and intimidation. We have not perfected our institutions, which is why we need artificial limits. Once we perfect those institutions like the Electoral Commission, institutions of accountability and can hold completely free and fair elections then we can drop the limits. The presidency is still regarded as everything. I am not blaming anyone but this is the situation where the president is considered a demigod. When he decides to stand, there is hardly a politician who will beat him. That is the reality.

Where do you draw examples to back this line of argument?

Well, countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, with which we are comparable jurisdictions as far as the level of democracy is concerned have these presidential term limits.

A leaked draft CRC report (web Ed.part of which www.sadterm.s5.com published) said you had rejected the proposal to lift the term limits. What changed between then and the time you wrote the final report?

After the report was leaked, I said at the time that the people who leaked it, and I believe it was you The Monitor, had had access to parts of our draft, but we had not finished. I am not in a position to say whether the leaking affected our work or not but obviously the commissioners were not happy about the leakage.

Were you pressured to change your position on the term limits?

I am aware of those insinuations but I did not see that the CRC was pressured to change its positions. Even government proposals were considered like any other, although they carried a bit more weight. Other pressure groups also tried to influence us.

You say government proposals had more weight; does that mean most of them made the final report?

No. Actually, we rejected many of the government proposals, in fact the majority. For instance, we rejected the proposal to give the president power to make decrees; we said it is not proper to give the president or the executive legislative powers. We also rejected plans to abolish the Uganda Human Rights Commission, as well a proposal to modify the presumption of innocence. Government had proposed that if a suspect, who was medically fit refused to enter a plea, they would be considered guilty. We said no.

We also rejected a proposal to have the district Chief Administrative Officers appointed by the Public Service Commission. This recommendation actually came from the people and was logical. But we felt it was contrary to the principle of devolution and decentralisation of power. The CRC also rejected a government proposal that had sought to shorten the tenure of judges.

Were not some of the government proposals red herrings to give legroom for the one on the term limits to go through?

I do not think so. Government went out of its way to prepare these proposals; I do not think they said: "let us flood them with proposals and get a few through". It would in fact, have been better to bring one, two or three issues and insist on them. These were well considered and well argued proposals.

At what point, during the lifetime of the CRC, did the term limits become an issue?

The term limits had not emerged from the public consultations; they began with the NEC [the Movement National Executive Committee] meeting, then the Cabinet proposals. We had already done two thirds of our consultations when they suddenly emerged as an issue.

Does this mean that this issue is not important to the public?

What I am saying is that before Parliament deals with it, it should be widely discussed. Right now the principle of term limits is tied up with an individual. The right thing is to separate the two. The principle of indefinite eligibility as opposed to Museveni the individual. Right now I think the people have been misled - they are using the people's support for Museveni to shroud the issue. The people should be explained to properly and told to discuss.

What, in your view, are the major recommendations in the report?

We retain the executive form of government; that is a presidency that has power but make it more accountable by separating it from the legislative. We recommend that ministers should not be MPs. They can sit in Parliament, but as ex-officio members. We recommend that ministers who have been censured should not be reappointed in the life of that Parliament or the subsequent one.

We also downsize Parliament using a population quota of 200,000, which, if you take our population to be about 24 million people, gives you about 120 elected MPs - excluding women and disabled. We recommend that the youth, workers and army should not have MPs and that the women and disabled MPs be elected by universal adult suffrage.

Soon after the end of the CRC, your law firm got a lucrative deal to prosecute officers in the ghost soldier court martial. Is government rewarding you for something you have done?

As you can see, most of the government proposals were rejected and I wrote a dissenting opinion on the term limits. I do not see how I can be rewarded for that. The firm was approached through my colleague, to provide professional services and this is being done on a professional basis.

What can you say about the final CRC report?

I can not blow the trumpet for the Commission but I think we made every effort to guide this country into the future.

And what are your views on that future?

Well, I am concerned about the transition, especially the lack of tolerance for dissenting views. It is wrong to stop people expressing their views on the grounds that they are not registered organisations. I made this point while handing over the report - then I went home and saw the police beating up opposition people in Masaka under the guise of protecting them.
This lack of tolerance and absence of liberalisation is bad for our transition; how do you open up the political space and then stop people from enjoying their rights of assembly and speech?
If this continues and we continue to have these repressive laws then the transition is going to be unhappy. ENDS


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