By Max Patrico Ocaido
The committee report on the Constitution (Amendment) (No.2) Blll, 2017 that among others intends to scrap presidential age limits has leaked.
The exclusive report obtained by the Kampala Post was prepared by the committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and is set to be presented on the floor of parliament on Thursday, according to inside sources.
This Bill also dubbed Age limit Bill was read for the first time on the October 03, 2017 and subsequently referred to the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for scrutiny.
The committee that is chaired by Markson Oboth Oboth, West Budama South MP last week concluded their 3 day retreat in Kigo to prepare the report and it is from this report’s observations and recommendations that parliament will use to debate the Bill when it is brought back for its second reading.
According to the 105-page report, the committee recommends the amendment of all articles in the constitution as proposed by the mover of the Bill, Raphael Magyezi(Igara West County).
The articles to be amended include; article 103(3), (7) and 104(2), (3) (6) that talks about the election of the president and challenging of a presidential election respectively. The other amendments include article 102(b) and article 183(2)(b) to scrap presidential and district chairpersons age limits respectively. Article 183(2)(b) states that, “A person is not qualified to be elected district chairperson unless he or she is at least 30years and not more than 75 years of age” while article 102(b) states that, “A person is not qualified for election as president unless that person is not less than 35years and not more than 75 years of age.”
Why legal committee wants age limit scrapped
In its justification to delete paragraph (b) from article 102 which bars persons below the age of 35 years and the age of 75 from standing as candidates in a presidential election, the committee report issues 5 reasons why the article in its current form should be amended.
The report says that article 102 (b) is contrary to spirit of objective II of the National objectives and directives principles of state policy and article 1 of the Constitution of Uganda.
“The 1995 Constitution of Uganda, in objective II of the National Objectives and Directives Principles of State Policy imposes obligations on the state to among others, be based on democratic principles which empower and encourage the active participation of all citizens at all levels in their own governance,” Legal committee report reads in part.
“Article 102 (b) threatens democracy since Article 1 grants the people of Uganda the right to determine who leads them and how they are ruled. Therefore restricting their choice on account of age would deny them the opportunity to fully exercise their freedom to decide who leads them.”
The committee also argues that article 102 (b) of the Constitution has the effect of marginalization against the youth and elderly by limiting them from offering their candidature for President.
“Indeed, removing the age restrictions in article 102 (b) is not only a command of article 32 of the Constitution but it will also enhance and equalize the opportunities available to all other Ugandans as far as offering their candidature for the office of President are concerned with those currently enjoyed by the youth and elders,” Oboth Oboth’s report adds.
The committee in its report also states that article 102 (b) is contrary to international best practices in as far as it imposes age restrictions on presidential candidates contrary to international legal instruments and evidence from other countries. The committee cites countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, US, UK, Canada etc that do not have upper age limit.
The committee in its report further observed that article 102 (b) is redundant in light of article 107 (1) (c) of the Constitution.
“It is important to remember that the justification for imposition of an upper age restriction was to protect the office of the President from a senile president under the assumption that persons above 75 years of age have higher chances of being senile. Basing on the above, the Constitution, in article 107 (l) (c) provided for a possibility of removing a seating President based on mental and physical incapacity,” the report reads.
The committee also observed that article 102 (b) is not in harmony with articles 80, 104 (7) and 109 (5) of the Constitution. Article 80 deals with qualifications of a Member of Parliament which has no age limit, while article 104(7) and 109(5) allows Speaker of Parliament to perform the functions of the office of President in the absence of the President and Vice President.
Committee fears after scrapping age limit
Whereas the legal committee welcomes the proposal to amend article 102 (b) in its report, the same committee fears the future repercussion that may befall the country saying that “the Bill leaves a lot to be desired and might lead to confusion.”
“If the proposed amendment is passed as it stands in the Bill, it will create confusion as to who qualifies to stand in a presidential election owing to the fact that it allows any person irrespective of age to stand for such an office,” the committee report reads.
The report adds: “There are two possible scenarios the current proposal in the Bill creates. The first scenario is that any person would be eligible to stand in a presidential election irrespective of their age.
This scenario will create an absurdity in the sense that even persons who are not eligible to vote can stand in a presidential election. The second scenario is that only persons who have reached the age of maturity as prescribed in article 50 would be eligible to offer their candidature in a presidential election.
“This ambiguity will result in confusion and difficulty in enforcing the provision. In order to remove ambiguity from the proposed amendment, there is need for the provision to specifically provide the age of eligibility for election as president instead of leaving it open,” the report noted.
Committee wants lower Age Limit maintained
To cure the confusion that will result from ‘zero age limit’, the committee recommended to set a lower age limit in accordance with article 59 which grants a right to a person of 18years to vote in any election in Uganda.
“The age prescribed in article 102 should be reduced from 35 years to 18 years and for the upper age restriction to be removed,” the committee recommended.
Meanwhile, the committee also fronted the same justification for scrapping age limit for district chairpersons, meaning that any person who qualifies to be a member of parliament can equally contest as district chairperson. The Committee observed that the draft constitution which the Odoki Commission submitted to Parliament didn't contain proposals for the qualification of the District chairperson.
According to the draft Constitution, Clause 207 had created the office of the District Chief Executive who was supposed to be elected from amongst the members of the council.
The Committee notes that the provision establishing the office of the District Chief Executive did not prescribe the qualifications of such a person. The Committee observes that since the District Chief Executive was a Member of the Council, he or she had to qualify for election as a Member of the Council. In that regard, the Committee found that clause 204 of the draft Constitution imposed only one condition for election to the District Council and it required that such a person had to be a citizen of Uganda.
Restoration of presidential term limits
According to the report, the committee has also recommended for the reinstatement and entrenchment of article 105(2) on presidential term limits in the Constitution that was scrapped off in 2005.
It should be remembered that during the various meetings the committee had with stakeholders a number of them proposed or recommended for the re-instatement of presidential term limits.
The committee’s decision to reinstate term limits is informed by the fact that even among countries without age restrictions as a qualification for election as president, most of such countries have got term limits on persons seeking the office of president. Such countries with term limits include; Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Algeria, Angola, Kenya, Senegal, Niger etc.
“In supporting this amendment, the committee is persuaded that term limits prevent arbitrary and violent rule often associated with lifelong presidencies from occurring,” the report noted.
Extending Presidential term tenure
The committee has also recommended the extension of presidential term tenure from the current 5years to 7years with a justification that some stakeholders argued that 5 years is a short time for a president to implement all his/her manifesto.
“The Committee therefore recommends that the term of office of the president be extended to seven years but the legal processes prescribed in the constitution pursuant to which such an amendment can be legally made be complied with,” the report says.
Whereas there have been media reports that MPs are also considering to extend their tenure from 5 to 7years as per alleged committee recommendation, Committee does not mention a thing about parliament but only office of the president.