Last week, the chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC), Justice Simon Byabakama, was explicit that despite election road map activities stalling over financial constraints, the country will hold elections in 2021.
However, with Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire yesterday telling MPs sitting on the legal and parliamentary affairs committee that “there is no money” to sanction electoral and constitutional reforms, the debate as to what kind of elections the country will have is bound to rage.
Otafiire was at Parliament with the top brass of entities under the justice ministry to interface with lawmakers over the ministerial policy statement for the financial year 2019/20. “We are contemplating enacting electoral reforms to meet the demands of our people, but we are of the view that some of the reforms can be handled together with constitutional review.
The problem is that there is currently no money and we have to wait upon finance,” Otafiire said. However, unlike Byabakama who told MPs how much money is required to implement the different activities in the 2021 election roadmap, Otafiire was guarded and failed to tell lawmakers the financial implications of enacting electoral and constitutional reforms.
Following the 2016 general elections, the Supreme Court in a petition in which former prime minister, Amama Mbabazi sought to have President Yoweri Museveni’s victory overturned noted that there was a need to amend the Constitution and a string of sections in the current legal regime governing elections in the country.
The Acts of Parliament that the Supreme Court called for amendment within two years include the Electoral Commission Act, Presidential Elections Act, Parliamentary Elections Act and Local Government Act. MPs heard that draft Bills to the aforesaid statutes have been prepared and are pending submission to Cabinet for approval prior to being introduced in Parliament by end of next month for debate and enactment.
Weary of sanctioning piecemeal amendment of the Constitution over the years, the Executive had in 2015 promised a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) to oversee a process leading to holistic amendments reflecting the will of Ugandans.
“The Government is in the process of making final preparations relating to the establishment and appointment of the CRC and securing of the necessary funds for the activities of the commission,” Otafiire said.
In January, the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, gave the Executive a two-month ultimatum to table the electoral reforms. At the time, Kadaga declined to buy Otafiire’s argument that electoral reforms and plans to amend the Constitution through a CRC were inextricably intertwined.
The shadow Attorney General, Wilfred Niwagaba, had asked the House to give him leave to table electoral reforms if the Executive continued to drag its feet. MPs Robinah Rwakoojo (Gomba County), Hamson Obua (Ajuri County) and chairperson of the session, Abas Agaba (Kitagwenda County) told Otafiire that the high attrition rate of lawmakers on the legal committee would be partly attributed to the tabling of electoral reforms at the tail end of Parliament’s tenure.
In 2015, then Attorney General Fredrick Ruhindi tabled electoral reforms. As lawmakers sullied forth in their constituencies to campaign, those on the legal committee were busy scrutinizing these reforms. As a result, 90%, including the chairperson, Stephen Tashobya and his deputy Stephen Abbas Mugabi lost their seats.