Professor: MPs removed term limits, don’t trust them on age limit

Prof Ssempebwa

The Constitution has lost almost all its original checks and balances and now requires an entirely new review process or national dialogue to have countrywide consensus, Prof. Frederick Ssempebwa, a former chair of the Constitutional Review Commission has said.

Prof. Ssempebwa, who appeared before the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, said the current process to amend the Constitution cannot be left to Parliament, even though it comprises elected people’s representatives, as MPs are only pushing for 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 adding that “The Constitution should not be amended based on party loyalties; we now distrust you (MPs) because your positions have hardened.”

The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee chaired by Hon. Jacob Oboth (Ind., West Budama South) is currently receiving views about the Constitution (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill, 2017, which seeks among others to delete Article 102(b) providing for lower (35years) and upper (75years) age limits for presidential candidates.

Ssempebwa wished for the days of the no party system where MPs and individuals debated more in the interest of the country than party loyalties.

Ssempebwa 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 (1988 – 1995) needed to be consulted again during the new process.

He however faulted the current consultations, which he said, only targeted the knowledgeable people and was restrictive as MPs already had their positions on the Constitution (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill.

He said selling party positions to the population, locking out some people and donning various colours for and against the proposals was not useful or helping the consultation exercise.

“The consultations should be free and include sensitization of the population about the reasons for the amendments; and the positive and negative possible effects of the amendments,” he said.

The Constitution (Amendment) (No.2) Bill, 2017 seeks to amend the Constitution to provide adequate time within which to hold presidential, parliamentary and local government elections; to alter eligibility requirements for persons standing for President or District Chairperson; and to increase the number of days within which to file and determine a presidential election petition; and to increase the number of days within which the Electoral Commission is required to hold a fresh election where a presidential election is annulled by court.

Ssempebwa said that stringent timelines for filing presidential election petitions, having court dispose them of and holding of a fresh election in case of a presidential annulment were included in the law due to the need for orderly succession in government.

He said that there was fear of dire consequences if a new president did not quickly receive the instruments of power.

Ssempebwa also rubbished arguments by mostly persons in support of the removal of age limits from the Constitution, arguing that all the other countries quoted 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 region, which have and follow term limits but have no upper age caps; and the UK, without age and term limits, uses its strong political party and parliamentary systems to change non performing governments.

He said that there would be no need for upper age limits for the president, if Parliament had not removed presidential term limits in 2005.

Prof. Frederick Ssempebwa, a constitutional lawyer, chaired the Constitutional Review Commission in 2004 that recommended the removal of presidential term limits from the Constitution.

He however wrote a minority report rejecting this particular proposal.