As Uganda's Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee readies itself to scrutinise the Bill to remove presidential age limits, its composition, the time allotted to it, and the prevailing public mood all seem likely to make the journey ahead anything but pleasant, especially for its proponents.
The decision by the 23-person committee to start public hearings 20 days after it was referred to them on October 5, effectively scuttles its proponents’ plans to have it wrapped up before Christmas.
According to information from the ruling NRM party, the anxieties and excitement of the festive season would help drown out the agitation against the Bill.
The 45 days within which the Rules of Procedure require the committee to report back to the House elapse on December 5. The committee finds this period insufficient.
If an extension is granted, it will take the committee process into March 2018 because of the festive break, which usually runs from mid December to early February.
While the Rules of Procedure say a committee may continue to sit even when the House is adjourned, it is unlikely the legal committee will work through the festive season. Any insistence to do so will reignite questions about the urgency of the Bill, which sparked unsightly brawls inside Parliament chambers on September 26 and 27.
Equally, in spite of NRM’s numerical strength on the Committee, it starts out rather disadvantaged. At least three out of its 13 members have publicly opposed the removal of age limits. One seconded the Bill and therefore the Rules bar him from contributing to or voting on it.
According to the rules, committee decisions are by consensus. If that fails then a majority vote of members present obtains. If the votes are equal, the proposal shall be taken to be lost.
Now the sponsor of the Bill Raphael Magyezi plans to petition the Government Chief Whip Rose Nankabirwa and the Speaker of Parliament to reconstitute the committee in order to guarantee an “objective report.”
“Some members have already expressed their rejection of the Bill and they have gone on record in the media on that. So they should step aside from this committee…. I’m not ready to face the committee well aware that some members will not support me,” Mr Magyezi told reporters in Parliament on October 11.
Parliament rules allow the NRM to change its members on the committee. Yet the opposition says if they do so, it will only expose their panic and further work against them in the public eye.
“You see at the beginning they thought that this matter will be between the NRM and the opposition but then NRM MPs came out and opposed it. Now they don’t trust their own,” said opposition chief whip Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda.
Some NRM MPs both on and off the legal committee who are undecided say their position is dependent upon consultations with their constituents. This is NRM’s third major hurdle.
Formal consultations await the release of “facilitation” worth Ush20 million ($5,460). Yet a few NRM legislators who have attempted to tease out public approval for the Bill have either been stopped in their tracks or roundly told off not to remove the limits.