By Patrick Jaramogi
Kampala, Uganda: The Attorney General William Byaruhanga and his Deputy Mwesigwa Rukutana on Wednesday had it rough as they were tasked to explain circumstances under which the constitutional amendment bill of the age limit was tabled and passed amidst controversies.
Chief Justice Bart Katurebe was bothered about the legitimacy and procedures of how the bill was tabled, discussed and amended. The Supreme Court on Tuesday began hearing a petition to challenge a constitutional court decision removing the age limit cap of 75 for presidential candidates. Last year five Justices of the Constitutional court led by Deputy Chief Justice Alphonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo, Remmy Kasule, Kenneth Kakuru, Cheborion Barishaki and Elizabeth Musoke delivered the judgment after court sessions that were held in Mbale. The controversial December 2017 constitutional amendment scrapped the presidential age limits and also extended terms of all political offices from five to seven years, and the reintroduction of the two presidential term limits. The Constitutional Court, by a majority judgment, upheld the amendment to the constitution that scrapped the presidential age limit from the constitution. The constitutional Court, However, declared as null and void the amendment extending from the term of Members of Parliament five years to seven years, and other political leaders. The court also declared as null and void the amendment to the constitution restoring presidential two-term limits.
In a rare twist of events, only Justice Kenneth Kakuru differed from the rest, declaring that the entire Constitutional Amendment Act 2017 was unconstitutional. During the petition on going at Supreme Court Chief Justice, Katurebe asked Rukutana what his thoughts were regarding the directive by the Inspector General of Police, to bar MPs from holding consultations outside their constituencies. The directive issued by Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP) Asuman Mugenyi curtailed MPs from consulting outside their constituencies. “Even the Constitutional Court ruled that that the Act was unconstitutional. And we are not appealing against that ruling,” responded Rukutana. If upheld, the amended bill will allow President Yoweri Museveni, now aged 74, to seek re-election for a sixth term in 2021. Lawyer, Male Mabirizi challenged the judgment when he rushed to the Supreme Court. During day two hearing of the petition at the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Katurebe, who is among the panel of seven Supreme Court judges hearing the petition said: “You are now beginning to worry me. Why was the bill tabled and hurriedly passed. Why was the rules of procedures suspended?” Katurebe asked. “There was nothing wrong about suspending rules of procedure. My conclusion My Lord is that Parliament acted legally by allowing passing of the Bill,” said Deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana. The Chief Justice put to task Rukutana to explain circumstances under which members of parliament were forcefully removed from Parliament. “I need to get this right. I have powers to order you out of this court. But if I adjourn and go for a break and some people come and forcefully remove me before I even return, is that in order? Why were the MPs ejected before the Speaker returned? Was parliament adjourned or suspended and what does the rules of procedures say?” Katurebe asked. Rukutana who seemed caught off guard retorted: “The Speaker named the Members of parliament and ordered that they leave the chambers before she adjourned the house. The house was suspended and the unruly members had to leave the house My Lord.”
On Tuesday, Kampala Lord Mayor, Elias Lukwago, who is representing the six opposition political leaders challenging the bill including Kasese Women Member of Parliament Winnie Kiiza, asked that the amended bill be nullified. The other petitioners include the Uganda Law Society. “The other element of our appeal is for the court to decide whether the president, who was elected before the constitutional amendment lifting the age limit cap of 75 years, should remain in office after clocking 75 years,” said Lukwago. Having seized power at the head of a rebel army in 1986, Museveni is the only president most Ugandans have known in a country where the median age is less than 16. In 2005, Museveni scrapped a two-term presidential limit which has allowed him to keep running for office. Young Ugandans have recently been energized by pop star-turned-MP Bobi Wine, who spearheaded protests against the age-limit amendment and has rapidly become a thorn in the government’s side.