Just as we begin thinking that the government has finally listened to the peoples’ needs (going by Museveni’s first speech after being sworn in for his 6th term), we are entertained with yet another scene of drama. The government is said to be introducing yet more constitutional amendments. This has got nothing to do with food security. These are aimed at making it very hard, if not impossible for certain Ugandans to access their constitutional right to bail when they appear in court. Museveni’s intention is that people who are suspected of rape, murder and participating in demonstrations (riots) should not be able to apply and access bail until the mandatory days have passed. This will require that Article 23(6) of the constitution be amended to contain the new proposals. This will definitely call for repealing certain sections of especially the Trial on Indictments Act as well as the Magistrates Courts Act.
Meanwhile, the government has also drafted a bill (the Public Order Management Bill) which aims at making organizers of demonstrations to pay for losses suffered by the public during such demonstrations. The state Minister for Internal Affairs Matia Kasaija confirmed the fact that Museveni actually met NRM legislators of the incoming 9th Parliament over the matter. This bill will also contain clauses that require organizers of demonstrations to inform police at least one week before and to agree with the police on the routes and venues of such activities. The proposed law will also empower the relevant minister to declare certain places out of bounds for precessions and demonstrations.
The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the news was not anger. Actually, it was far form human rights. I thought for a second: will our MPs be so stupid to make such amendments? Can’t they really see that making such laws will be nothing less than digging one’s grave? It actually reminded me of one gentleman called Grace Ibingira. What do our NRM legislators consider as a procession? Will it be only one involving members of the opposition? Can’t NRM supporters demonstrate against Besigye and company? And how will the law be applied in such a situation?
I tried to answer those questions but I remembered that I was inflicting a worthless headache on myself. I will not write much. The proposals are still in infant stages. But I can bet my arm on this. If NRM legislators finally wake up to throw out such proposals, then I will certainly consider believing in miracles.
That said, I now would like to look at this from the legal, constitutional point of view. Does the Museveni understand the whole point behind the presumption of innocence? What then will be the significance of Article 28 of the constitution? I personally consider access to bail as one of the ingredients of a fair hearing. And even if the law was legitimate, are the three proposed offences the worst the country is facing? What about corruption, torture? My humble opinion is that the proposed law is not in good faith and it should be challenged in the strongest ways possible. Even if it is not thrown out at debate or voting level (for obvious reasons), it must be challenged in the constitutional court after it has been passed into law.
I cannot accept a situation where the government makes laws, not out of necessity, but aimed at certain individuals in the country. Laws are supposed to be universal in nature. Secondly, I am not comfortable with putting too much power in the hands of ministers. These are political appointees who cannot say no to what the president says. Will there be that point of balance? Is there any likelihood that the minister can ever make a judgment that does not put the NRM to the advantage? Now, if his/her hands are tied, what will happen next? I see more fights between the government and the opposition politicians who look more than willing to act against the police and minister’s orders. Does it solve the problem? I say NO. What we need are not laws against peoples’ freedoms. We need a responsible government. Period.
Now, my last word to the NRM legislators. The country watched you lie and change the constitution when you were bribed into scrapping the term limits. Your reports to parliament did not represent the peoples’ view-and you know that. You have gone ahead to pass laws according to the direction of the executive-the president in particular. You have not done your responsibility of checking the excesses of the executive. In short, you have put your party before the nation. I will not say we are watching you because we have always watched you. That does not put you to shame anymore. We just want to remind you that one who plays around with fire must not have a grass-thatched house.