The Shadow Attorney General, Wilfred Niwagaba, has registered a significant victory in his move to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Constitution, after his request for leave met unanimous endorsement by Parliament.
Hon. Niwagaba moved past the eight months delay indirectly imposed by the Attorney General, whose final attempts at postponing the motion failed under the weight of bipartisan opposition on Wednesday, 4 September 2019.
Through stand-in Prime Minister, Matia Kasaija, Attorney General William Byaruhanga asked for the postponement of debate on the motion, saying the subject matter is crucial yet he and his Deputy, Mwesigwa Rukutana, are out of the country on official duty.
“The Attorney General [William Byaruhanga] rang me about half an hour ago that he is in London doing some national work; he has asked that this matter be deferred till next week,” said Minister Kasaija.
Save for MPs Abraham Byandala (NRM, Katikamu North) and Robert Kasule (NRM, Nansana Municipality), the House received Kasaija’s request with hostility.
“I have had occasion to share the contents of my proposal with the Attorney General; the intent of the government seems to be how we can ruin this path…if the Attorney General has any input, we still have a long way to go,” said Niwagaba.
The Chief Opposition Whip, Hon. Ibrahim Ssemujju, said it is inexcusable for the Attorneys General to absent themselves, saying Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, should have been present.
“This government has a Minister responsible for Constitutional Affairs [and] government has over 80 Ministers; I thought the Minister responsible for Finance was going to thank Hon Niwagaba for taking up a role that was meant for the government,” he said.
Deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, earlier chronicled the painstaking wait he had to subject Niwagaba to as he gave government more time to study the proposals and author the Bill.
“They [Attorneys General] both know that this matter is important and they should be here; after eight months, there is absolutely no basis for any delays whatsoever,” said Oulanyah.
Rule 121 now requires the Clerk to Parliament to cause the publication of the Bill in the gazette.
It will, then, be read for the first time before being referred to the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for scrutiny.
The draft Bill seeks to abolish military representation in Parliament, create the position of Deputy President instead of the current Vice President and abolish the position of Prime Minister.
The Leader of the Opposition in Parliament is proposed to be head of the opposition political party with the largest representation in Parliament.
In a bid to secure the independence of the Attorney General, the Bill seeks to have the Attorney General and his Deputy be appointed to two five year terms and be Ex-Officios.
Ministers will not be appointed from among MPs should the Bill succeed, a proposal likely to rattle MPs with ambitions to ascend to Cabinet.
It also proposes an extensive structural change of the Electoral Commission, with the Commissioners being subjected to public vetting.