The 1995 Constitution has lost almost all its original checks and balances and now requires an entirely new review process or national dialogue to generate countrywide consensus, Prof. Frederick Ssempebwa has said.
Ssempebwa, former chairman of the 2004 Constitutional Review Commission, on Tuesday appeared before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee which is currently considering the Constitutional (Amendment) (No.2) Bill, 2017.
Tabled last month by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi, the bill seeks to among others repeal Article 102(b) of the Constitution which puts 35 and 75 as lower and upper caps respectively on the presidential age.
Those opposed to the amendment say the move would eliminate the last hurdle for President Yoweri Museveni to seek re-election when his current term of office expires in 2021.
Born in 1944 and in power since 1986, President Museveni wouldn’t be eligible to contest for the presidency in 2021 since he will be above 75 years of age.
According to Ssempebwa, the current process to amend the Constitution cannot be left to Parliament, even though it comprises people’s representatives. He says MPs are pushing their party positions.
“We are at a stage where the Constitution has changed drastically, not through legislative fear but mostly through practices of government, which has led to erosion of its checks and balances,” said Prof. Ssempebwa.
He added that the Constitution should not be amended based on party loyalties, noting that MPs cannot be trusted because they hold what he called hardened positions for or against the amendment.
The law professor wished for the days of the no-party system saying that MPs and individuals debated more in the interest of the country than party loyalties.
He said that a Constitution Review Commission would help consider all provisions of the Constitution as well as effects of amending any of them on the entire document.
He said that Ugandans who were consulted and had consensus during the Odoki Commission needed to be consulted again during the new process.
In 1989, Justice Benjamin Odoki, who later became Chief Justice, was appointed to chair the Uganda Constitutional Commission which collected the views of the public and prepared a draft Constitution for Uganda. It is the Odoki Report that guided deliberations during the constitution-making process in 1993-1995 Constituent Assembly.
This Constitution was later reviewed in 2004 through a Constitutional Review Commission chaired by Prof. Frederick Ssempebwa
Ssempebwa expressed disappointment that the various constitutional amendment proposals are yet to be handled.
He warned that the proposed amendment on Article 102(b) could affect other provisions in the Constitution and, therefore, undermine the entire document.
Ssempebwa rubbished arguments by those in support of the removal of presidential age limits from the Constitution, arguing that all the other countries without presidential age limits have checks and balances in their law allowing for smooth and orderly change of government.
He cited the much quoted Kenya and Tanzania in the East African region, which have and follow term limits but have no upper age caps; and the UK which uses its strong political party and parliamentary systems to change non-performing governments.
Ssempebwa said that there would be no need for upper age limits for the president, if Parliament had not removed presidential term limits in 2005, which were recommended by the Constitutional Review Commission he chaired.
He also questioned MPs whether there has been an outcry from the elderly or toddlers in the country demanding for the scrapping of Article 102(b).