By Spy Uganda
The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, has tasked government to expedite the establishment of the Communications Tribunal.
The tribunal is mandated to handle complaints relating to the decisions of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) as provided under Sections 60 and 64 of the UCC Act.
“I remember when we were in COSASE, that was one of our recommendations but to date, it has not been done. It is a legal requirement – you are not working out of the law,” Among said.
She made the directive on Thursday, 09 December 2021 during debate on the statement by the Leader of the Opposition (LoP), Hon Mathias Mpuuga, on the shrinking civic space in the country, presented by Shadow Minister for Internal Affairs, Hon Abdallah Kiwanuka.
Anita urged the Committees of Internal Affairs and Defence to follow up on concerns that the LoP raised in regard to brutality by the security forces.
The Minister of Information, Communications Technology and National Guidance, Dr Chris Baryomunsi, said that government has completed formulating regulations to govern and guide the tribunal.
“Consultations are ongoing between our ministry and Judicial Service Commission and we shall be appointing the tribunal.
He added that while the tribunal is being established, the citizenry should seek redress from the Ministry of Information and courts.
“If you are dissatisfied with the decisions of UCC, there is also court. You cannot say that the channels are blocked. The courts are open so you still have space and because the tribunals are not in place this does not limit the space,” he said.
Hon Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM, Lwemiyaga County) also called for the constitution of the Non-Governmental Tribunal, saying that the absence of the body is a major setback in the operations of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
“The Tribunal would resolve some of the issues faced by NGOs. Currently the organisations are under the mercy of government and this leaves them in a state of uncertainty,” Ssekikubo said.
The Government Chief Whip, Hon Thomas Tayebwa, said that the multi-political party system is evidence that government has liberalised the civic space.
“We have a Leader of the Opposition who is highly recognised and enjoying privileges of a high-ranking officer even above a minister,” said Tayebwa.
He added that all political parties are funded by government under the national consultative forum.
“Recently we passed a supplementary of Shs 35 billion shillings to facilitate political parties to enable them carry out their civic activities,” he said.
In regard to the closure of over 50 a year ago on allegation of operating contrary to the law, Tayebwa said that government is holding talks with concerned parties to ensure coordination of government policy and activities of the NGOs.
“Any NGO that claims state interference should seek redress in the courts of the law. Nevertheless, NGOs must comply with the NGO Act and stipulated policies,” Tayebwa said.
He added that the media fraternity is expected to respect their code of conduct, while government deals with errant security officers who violate the law in handling journalists.
“Journalists in their course of duty have encountered occupational hazards. In situations where officers have errored, government has compensated victims and prosecuted errant officers,” Tayebwa said.
Hon Solomon Silwany (NRM, Bukooli Country Central) advised civil society to carry out their activities within the law.
“There is enough space for civil society. I strongly disagree with the statement that government has shrunk their space,” he said.
Hon Geofrey Okello (DP, Nwoya East County), however, said that the existing laws governing NGOs are unfavourable and need to be amended.
“The NGOs that were closed were not given an opportunity to defend themselves. The law infringes on the space of civil society, it doesn’t give the organisations space to grow,” said Okello.
The LoP called for equality in the application of the laws.
“We have made the laws. Let all of us subordinate our activities and actions in accordance with the law. If the NRM is moving across the country and conducting its activities, why should other parties be dispersed while conducting theirs,” Mpuuga said.
He also questioned why the Communications Tribunal has not yet been constituted and yet it is a constitutional requirement.
In a statement presented during plenary on 25 November 2021, the Opposition called for increased funding to the National Consultative Forum in a bid to empower it in fast-tracking its statutory mandate under the Political Parties Organisations Act.
The Opposition says enhanced funding will improve operations of the Forum and build capacities of Uganda’s political parties.