Government drags feet on electoral reforms

By Stephen Kafeero


None of the 10 recommendations for reform of the electoral system that the Supreme Court made to government and wanted to be carried out within two years has been implemented over two years since the judgment was issued.
Anxiety over electoral reforms has set in after the period that the Supreme Court indicated for carrying out reforms with the government has expired.
In a statement issued at the expiry of the Supreme Court deadline on August 26, lawyers under the Network of Public Interest Lawyers (Netpil) queried the government on the delay to institute the reforms and reminded government that respect of court decisions is the “bedrock of rule of law” in the country.

Futile effort
“Court judgments that go unimplemented are considered a futile effort for both the parties and the court that adjudicated such a matter. Ugandans, as stakeholders in the growth of the country’s electoral democracy, need to interrogate the efficacy of the entire presidential election petition remedy,” Mr Emmanuel Candia, the chairperson of Netpil Advisory Committee, said.
The Supreme Court, in its ruling in the election petition that was filed by former presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi, took the extraordinary step to put a timeline for the implementation of its recommendation since similar recommendations of the same court that had been issued in 2001 and 2006 had been largely ignored by the government.
Just over two years into the current term, Parliament has already fiddled with the Constitution by removing the 75-year cap for presidential candidates.
Whereas Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi, the mover of the Private Member’s motion that led to this amendment, argued that he had to suggest the amendment because time was flying by and the two years allocated by the Electoral Commission to make reforms was nearly coming to an end, it is important to note that removal of age limits was not among the amendments the Supreme Court suggested.
The Supreme Court recommendations were themed on 10 points, including the time for filing and determining of the petition; the nature of evidence in an election petition; the time for holding fresh elections in case an election is nullified; and regulating the use of technology.
The other recommendations are on unequal use of State-owned media; late enactment of relevant legislation; donations during election period; involvement of public officers in political campaigns; the role of the Attorney General in election petitions; and implementation of recommendations by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General to “follow up the recommendations made … with the other organs of State, namely Parliament and the Executive” and report to the court within two years from the date of the judgment the measures that have been taken to implement the recommendations.”
Two years later, no substantial action has been taken by the Attorney General on the Supreme Court recommendations as directed.
Contacted on what has been done on the matter, deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana said: “We have made a report to the Supreme Court. Some of the recommendations were made in Constitutional Amendment Number 1, which we passed. Other recommendations which have wider implications, we left them for the constitutional review commission, which we are setting up.”
Mr Rukutana declined to share the contents of the report that he says they have shared with the court.
Asked whether the Supreme Court has received the report, Chief Justice Bart Katureebe said: “I am now on a safari travelling. You will come to check on us next week, but you should first check with the Attorney General, first establish what they have done, what they have written then check with us.”
On the basis of the actions taken by the AG, court would either “make further orders and recommendations as it sees fit” or not. It is not clear what further steps, if any, court will take.

Old song
On August 7, Justice minister Kahinda Otafiire wrote to President Museveni reminding him to provide his input on the nominees to constitute the constitutional review commission.
In the letter, a copy of which Saturday Monitor has seen, Gen Otafiire expresses the urgency to institute the commission.
“We are about to present the Constitutional Review Bill to Cabinet, and the list of nominees was sent to you for your input and approval in view of what is evolving in the Constitution,” Gen Otafiire writes.

Urgent matter
He adds: “There is urgent need for commencing the constitutional review commission in order to address the issues at hand.”
The process leading to the 2021 elections is expected to commence in less than two years. The country, therefore, is likely to plunge into the old song of “no sufficient time to deal with the reforms” as was the case ahead of the 2016, 2011 and 2006 general elections.
In January 2017, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda told a meeting between the National Consultative Forum and the Electoral Commission that the government was in the final stages of establishing a constitutional review commission.
“There were many proposals that had been made before the elections on how to improve our system of elections and general political environment. Government in principle was in agreement. However, time constraints did not allow us to carry out legal and constitutional amendments and that is why a review commission is being put in place to carry forward the ideas and proposals that were submitted before elections and new ideas that may come up now so that we can formally put them in the constitutional framework of the country,” Dr Rugunda said.
Almost two years later, the review commission has not been put in place.

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