Members of Parliament on the Legal Affairs Committee clashed with Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Kahinda Otafiire, on Wednesday over the electoral amendment bills.
Both the Parliamentary Elections, Presidential Amendment Bill and Electoral Commission Bills were yesterday sent to the committee on legal and Parliamentary Affairs by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga.
The Presidential Amendment Bill was tabled yesterday by Attorney General, Fred Ruhindi, as a matter of urgency.
Justice minister, Otafiire presented the bills to the Legal Affairs Committee of parliament Friday morning.
Shadow Attorney General, Abdul Katuntu, was first to speak, noting that there was no need to recall members to consider the “shallow” Bills.
“I am not convinced that we should handle this Bill. I therefore suggest that put it aside,” Katuntu suggested, wondering how they were going to interact with people, say from Kisoro, in order to produce a report.
Katuntu told off Otafiire that government was legislating for convenience but they [MPs] would not waste their time in an exercise that does not add value to the electoral process.
“These are ridiculous proposals and it wasn’t necessary to call us from recess to consider them,” Katuntu made his point clear.
Medard Ssegona picked up Katuntu’s thread: “I had wanted the Minister [Otafiire] to justify the urgency on the need to hurry these Bills and he did not.”
Ssegone cited deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, telling “us that members don’t do research” saying it was because of such conduct by the Ministers like Otafiire.
“The independence and dignity of this parliament has been undermined by this conduct of bringing the bills late,” Ssegona said.
Otuke district woman MP, Annet Nyakecho, was equally enraged.
“Hon Nyaketcho observes that this is not the right time for government to present these Bills yet we are expected to hold public hearing,” she pointed out.
Otafiire struggles to clear his name
Otafiire insisting on the “urgency of passing the electoral amendments”, said the proposals have a direct bearing on the elections of the members.
Katuntu shot back quickly seeking to put the minister in order for “blackmail”.
Otafiire was not yet beaten, he laboured once more to explain: “Members, members, there is nothing complicated in these proposals. I therefore don’t see the reason why we should object to them.”
The atmosphere was very tense, the minister couldn’t find more words.
The committee was forced to adjourn for 5 minutes to consult amongst themselves.
When the meeting resumed, Hon Rose Namayanja, told Otafiire observed that the proposal to remove the requirement that candidates go to all districts has no justification.
Otafiire responded saying that candidates should not be restricted on the number of districts they can traverse in a day.
Ssegona was back demanding to know the basis of increase in nomination fees from Shs 200,000 to Shs1m for MPs saying it may turn the process into a business.
Ssegona further sought clarification from Otafiire what problem he found with voters dipping their fingers in ink after voting which the bill seeks to change.
Hon Nyaketcho instead suggested that the Shs 50m facilitation which will be given to presidential candidates be increased to Shs 100m because of inflation and high fuel prices.
Impatient Katuntu cut the talk short: “I don’t think this Bill is necessary! The justification given by the Minister is inadequate for clause 1.”
“Some of these proposals have not been properly thought out. Sometimes electoral materials are brought in late.”
Katuntu continued: “There is a candidate who is a sitting president who will be moving with hundreds of cars, which other don’t.”
He asked why, for example, the bill wants to adjust the time from 5:00pm to 4:00pm and what mischief was in the proposal to stop dipping fingers seeks to address.
He concluded that the proposal to mandate the Uganda Electoral Commission to make special arrangements was “ambiguous and dangerous”.
Members seemed agree that there should be no funding to candidates and nomination fees be increased to Shs 100m.
Hon Richard Todwong was in agreement with this proposal saying if money given to candidates is dropped, it will eliminate “jokers”.
With some bit of dramatic relief finally achieved, AG Ruhindi requested for some time to put the members concerns in writing.