Uganda’s Parliament on Wednesday differed indefinitely a controversial motion to amend the constitution.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga ruled that Nakifuma MP Robert Kafeero Ssekitoleko was not granted leave to move a private members bill, whose intention was to lift age limits of judges and the electoral commissioners.
She said the motion be deferred indefinitely until government comes up with comprehensive, political, social and electoral constitutional reforms to be considered by the house.
“This parliament is not a football field. Let us defer the motion to allow others bring a comprehensive motion to amend the constitution,” said Kadaga after a heated debate.
Kadaga said she did not see the urgency in amending the constitution in MP Ssekitoleko’s motion.
JUST IN: Speaker Kadaga has indefinitely deferred the motion to amend the constitution. #PlenaryUg
— Parliament Watch (@pwatchug) September 14, 2016
Asked to explain the proceedings, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kahinda Otarfiire said he needed to consult before committing himself.
“As a minister for constitutional Affairs, I can’t pronounce myself on the motion to amend the constitution. I will have to consult my cabinet before stating my stand on the motion,” Otafiire said.
MPs had argued that government take over this bill so they can handle it as a parliament while others questioned if it is right for any MP to move a private members bill.
Ssekitoleko’s motion seeks to increase the retirement age for judges and open the currently restricted two terms for the Electoral Commission.
“I beg to move that our colleague respects the constitution and waits for the constitutional review commission,” MP Gerald Karuhanga said. “In the spirit of ensuring that our constitution doesn’t become a play ground, we need constitutional review commission.”
Earlier, Ssekitoleko had argued that “in many Commonwealth countries, many judges retire at 100 years some at 90 years. The older, the more experienced and the better, so let us allow our judges to serve for a long time.”
Jubilant scenes at Parliament as MPS block bill
There were jubilant scenes at parliament after the bill to amend the constitution hit a snag.
Speaker Kadaga ruled that the house could not proceed debating on a motion of granting leave of the house to a member to introduce private members’ bills on reforms that were submitted and recommended by parliament, only to be left out by the government without clear reasons.
“Most of these reforms are contained in the citizens’ compact on free and fair elections and were submitted to the legal and parliamentary affairs committee last year ahead of the 2016 elections. I have set a precedent. This is a house of repute. It is a serious house and not a playing field,” Kadaga said
The Buliisa MP Stephen Mukitale Biraahwa, had appealed to the speaker to block Ssekitoleko’s motion describing it as a “face-saving exercise” for the house.
“I have 9 amendments to the constitution, if you open the Pandora Box, I will bring my bill tomorrow. The reforms being discussed were processed by the legal and parliamentary committee. We should preserve the image of parliament,” said Mukitale.
Drama unfolded during the long-awaited debate on the bill after Ssekitoleko failed to get MPs to second his motion.
This followed the absence of his seconder Dokolo North MP Paul Amoru who is reportedly out of the country and the rejection of his two other proposed seconders, Tororo North MP Annet Nyakecho and Kyaka South’s Jackson Kafuzi.
Nyakecho was accused of conflict of interest on grounds that she is currently battling a court case in the court of appeal and hence she couldn’t second a motion to do with age limit of judges including those of the court of appeal.
After ruling on the motion and adjourning the house to Thursday, they were loud cheers from members of both the ruling party and opposition parties with the members chanting the name of the speaker Kadaga and thanking her for being “non-partisan”.
Ssekitoleko put on a brave face and said what happened in parliament was a historical moment for the 10th parliament. He said he is satisfied that he brought to the attention of the house the need for urgent constitutional reforms ahead of the 2021 elections.
“I am happy that the executive has been reminded to come up with comprehensive constitutional reforms where my reforms will be incorporated on top of provoking other members to come up with several other amendments that will be considered.”