Parliament’s approving General Aronda as minister is an abuse of the 1995 constitution!

Posted on July 21, 2013

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A few years ago, Noble Mayombo, a serving army officer was appointed to chair the New Vision board and later was appointed a permanent secretary. I thought that that was strange and was a contradiction of the spirit in which the constitution of Uganda mandated the exclusion of serving army officers in politics.

A few weeks ago, President Museveni appointed General Nyakairima Aronda a minister. This led to intense debate with the consensus being that this appointment contravened both article 208 (1) of the constitution which provided that the national army shall be ‘non-partisan” as well as “subordinate to the civilian authority” and section 99 of the UPDF Act, 2005 which bars a serving army officer from seeking a political appointment read, “a serving officer or militant who desires to seek political office shall first resign or retire from the Defence Forces according to regulations made by the Minister.” In the phrase non partisan, the framers of the constitution wished to ensure that the army and army officers were not partisan to one side of politics. this was meant to avoid the errors of the past that many Ugandans agreed had contributed to the turmoil when the army was involved in politics in a partisan manner. It was agreed that the army needed to be politically aware and in a movement system, was allowed to participate in the constitution making process which ended with the passing of the 1995 constitution into law.

Since that constitution was passed, there is at least one precedent where a serving army officer Jjejje Odongo was appointed to a ministerial position. Parliament at the time which is charged with the oversight duty of approving nominations by the executive declined to approve the appointment until he retired and took up his cabinet position a year later. It is with surprise that the same parliament has now chosen to go against this precedent and approve the appointment of Gen Aronda. It is to be noted that President Museveni aggressively defended his misadvised decision and even threatened to go to court over the issue to seek its interpretation. I believe that this would have been the right thing to do.

In making its decision, the parliamentary committee on ministerial appointments used as justification the loophole provided to them by the ULS president when she opined that the presence of serving army officers in parliament an issue that should have ended when the country moved on to a multiparty system of government, may allow Aronda to be appointed a minister. Despite the disclaimers with which she accompanied this statement, its obvious that parliaments decision hinges on this statement. The reality is that whenever their is equipoise, then the issue should be put to the test by presenting it to the constitutional court. It must be noted however that while there may have been equipoise as to whether or not the constitution explicitly disallowed the president from appointing Aronda, the spirit in which the prohibition on serving soldiers serving in political positions needs to be considered rather than simply playing games with the law in a manner that could have extensive ramifications!

This presence of serving army men in parliament is an on going controversy that the 9th parliament has got an obligation to revisit and sort out as it is in contradiction of both the letter as well as the spirit in which the 1995 constitution was drawn. In suggesting that it is ok for the president to appoint a serving military officer who is a member of parliament to cabinet given that the president is allowed to appoint ministers from within members of parliament, they exploited a loophole within an ongoing as yet unresolved controversy. The soldiers present in parliament are supposed to be “non-partisan”. this contradicts the fact that as serving officers, they remain under the command of the CIC and are not on leave. The record shows that they sit with the government side and vote with government on all major decisions before parliament. The three previous army MP’s who have broken ranks with the government, namely Besigye, Bogere and Tinyefunza have all had bad endings.

Besigye as army MP wrote a paper criticising the NRM government. He was charged before the military court with “speaking in the wrong forum”. He was subsequently denied retirement which he sought voluntarily. He got around this by declaring himself a presidential contender who would be vying for the for the chairmanship of the NRM against the incumbent. Hon Mbabazi and Gen Tinyefunza reminded him then that he was trying to jump the queue. As it has since become apparent, these two gentlemen considered themselves to be ahead of Besigye in the queue and were just reminding him that his place was at the end of the line … behind them! Nevertheless he did jump the queue and stand in line for the presidency for now 3 times. He has since been beaten, imprisoned, charged with treason, charged with trumped up charges of rape all in an effort to deny him his right to stand for the presidency. If anyone had any doubts as to the thinking of the president of Uganda with regards to who has a right and who does not have a right to challenge him, one can see it in the way that Besigye has been singled out for special treatment by his government.

Colonel Bogere deferred with the governments position on the extension of term limits. For those who need reminding, the framers of the 1995 constitution in addition to barring serving military officers from holding political office, also agreed with president Museveni that the problem of Africa was leaders who refused to leave power. President Museveni at the time spoke for many Ugandans and Africans when he said this. He also touted himself as having fought dictatorship as well as life presidency both of which resonated in peoples minds. In the constitutional building exercise which took opinions from the grassroots from all over the country, many Ugandans wished to impose term limits on the presidency. colonel Bogere was dropped from parliament after he decided to abstain from voting on the lifting of term limits against his own conscience!

General Sejjusa previously known as Tinyefunza is the latest Army member of parliament to break out of the straight jacket. He is currently in exile in the UK and just last week gave an interview to VOA denouncing his former comrade and boss. In exchange, the government in Kampala have declared him a traitor and arrested his aids who they have charged with treason for failing to report his “subversive” activities. Gen Sejjusa has confirmed that under the NRM, the president uses the army as a “prison” for ambitious army officers who may harbour political ambitions by denying them the right to retire or resign from the military!

In 2006, on one of the most shameful days in our history, parliament agreed to pass an amendment to our constitution which allowed the incumbent to extend his rule todate. The way things look, he is well set to re-stand in 2016 which will extend his rule beyond 30 years and cement his place in history as having eaten his own words and went on to be like the men he said were the problem in Africa! And all of this was in exchange for a mere 5 million shillings! Oh how cheap Ugandan MP’s are! Is it any wonder that they have once again let down Ugandan voters who elected them to safeguard the constitution but they have instead allowed the president to rape it on their watch!!!

More than 70% of Uganda’s population were born after 1986. Many Ugandans therefore may not be familiar with the background to the prohibition of serving army officers participating in government. But if you are like me and many others who grew up in an environment dominated in a negative way by the military, then you would understand very well why Ugandans made that choice and wished to distance soldiers from politics.

Between 1986 and 1995 both the Human rights commission under the late Mulenga as well as the the Odoki commission both found that many of the previous human rights abuses had been contributed to by a fusion of the state and a partisan army. They recommended that in future, the army be separated from participating in partisan politics. this was taken up and confirmed in the grassroots constitutional building exercise and built into the constitution. The remaining contradiction is the presence of supposedly non partisan serving military officers in parliament whose only purpose if to boost the government numbers at voting time.

As an adolescent growing up, my father was intimately involved with the grassroots constitutional building exercise. Not only did I have debates with him on the issues in the constitution, but I also got copies of the white papers and other documents used in the constitution building exercise. He went around consulting and teaching people about the new constitution. He took his civic rights seriously and ensured that while I was not of voting age, i was familiar with the process and read the documents! i am therefore familiar with the process as well as the spirit and arguments through which the army was locked out of partisan politics.

There has been an attempt to justify the presence of the army in parliament as a special group. One wonders why other groups like doctors, policemen, teachers etc don’t also have their own representatives in government! In parliament we have soldiers, workers, disabled, women and other special representation groups who for the vast majority vote with the ruling party but have little function that is obvious beyond extending the patronage system in exchange for votes!

The bottom line is that in appointing Gen Aronda to a cabinet position without requiring him to resign his army position or take leave (a loophole that could have been explored), the parliamentary committee on cabinet appointments abused the spirit as well as the letter of the 1995 constitution. Their approval subverted the aim of the people when they passed the prohibition on serving army officers being appointed to partisan political positions. If a formal constitutional amendment needed to be made that is if a case could be made for it which i doubt in my opinion, then they should have referred the matter to the constitutional court for interpretation! This means that both parliament as well as the ULS have let the Ugandan voters down!

In light of recent events, one has got to be fearful of what the incumbent is likely to do with his new found powers. This is in light of the fact that he has previously resented the curbs of parliament on his powers. He as well as General Aronda have both suggested that the army “could take over” and make parliament obsolete in order to override parliament and its restraints on the presidents excesses!! As a matter of fact this whole problem stems from that statement as well as subsequent events that suggested ongoing military activity that Gen Sejjusa now suggests was instigated from within with the aim of the army taking over! What is to prevent President Museveni from appointing more soldiers to cabinet and increasing the militarisation of Uganda’s politics? the framers of the 1995 constitution diagnosed the problem as being Uganda’s past militarisation of politics and inserted clauses into the article to prevent this. this has now been subverted and opens the doors to a return to open militarisation of government in Uganda.

Say goodbye to the pseudo democracy you have been used to seeing and welcome to the new world where soldiers can now be appointed to anything and everything at the visionaries whim. Forget about civilian rule and oversight! The coup that President Museveni and General Aronda talked about is already here! If you expected to see tanks in the street, stop waiting. The result is the same as my mother would say! what Museveni implied in threatening to overthrow parliament was to install a military government that would let him do whatever he wanted without having to submit to the law! Thanks to the Uganda Law Society president Ms Ruth Sebatindira, and while Ugandans were sleeping aka “twebaka kutulo”, he has achieved exactly that without having to put up with the AU, UN and any western government even realising there has been a coup right under their noses!

But of course its not too late to petition the courts to rule on this matter even though our politicians have decided to once again sell the country! That’s assuming of course that Uganda still has any lawyers worth their salt outside the Uganda Law Society!

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Neither am I a politician! In writing this opinion, I only exercise my civic right to hold my own opinion. I welcome that of any other person who has a similar or differing opinion.

https://www.facebook.com/notes/drew-ddembe/parliaments-approving-general-aronda-as-minister-abuses-the-1995-constitution/10151500855412681