Posted Sunday, May 2 2010 at 00:00
The government has reacted angrily to Washington’s warnings of early “damage” to the country’s organisation of next year’s crunch presidential election. Information and National Guidance Minister Kabakumba Masiko expressed disappointment to the report issued by U.S Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to the Congress which raised concern about police harassment of opposition politicians and heightened stifling of free media.
Ms Kabakumba concluded in a telephone interview with Sunday Monitor on Friday that the report offered “nothing new”, and suggested that its contents were the usual banter from Western governments.
“This Hilary am told was cleared to monitor our polls and we have said we have no problem with that,” said Ms Kabakumba, “the only problem we have is the method she used to monitor.”
In her first report appraising Congress on Uganda’s 2011 election preparedness, an assignment she will have to execute quarterly up until 30 days after next year’s election, Ms Clinton faults the government for taking “no action to further the independence of the Electoral Commission” and concluded: “[The] exclusion of key stakeholders from the appointment process compromised the [Electoral] Commission’s independence and will damage the credibility of the 2011 electoral process.”
Reacting to the report, Ms Kabakumba asked: “Is it a crime to renew the contracts when our laws provide for it? She [Clinton] should be informed that there is no where in our law that says parties should be included.”
President Museveni re-appointed EC boss Eng. Badru Kiggundu last year, including six other commissioners to a new seven year term, despite calls by the opposition for a disbandment of the current team to include their own representatives.
And that is a decision the President took despite a 2006 Supreme Court ruling which indicted Eng. Kiggundu and his team for messing up that year’s general election won by the ruling NRM regime.
The Opposition Shadow Attorney General Erias Lukwago described Ms Clinton’s report as “spot on” and said the absence of representatives of the opposition on the Commission would render it incompetent to conduct a free and fair election come 2011.
“That is the reason we are pushing for a constitutional amendment to reconstitute membership of the Electoral Commission,” said the Kampala Central MP.
He told Sunday Monitor that Parliament’s passing of three electoral law reform Bills would be in vain in the absence of an “independent” commission because “they can be directed to flout these good laws we have passed.
Parliament has busied itself the last couple of weeks scrutinising poll law reform proposals that largely hinge on the conduct of an election, passing three of four Bills presented by the government. The House has passed the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill, the Political Parties and Organisations (Amendment) Bill and the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill.
“The biggest issues for us to achieve real reforms are constitutional amendments,” said Mr Lukwago, before revealing that plans are underway to table a private members constitutional amendment Bill “at the earliest opportunity” to reconstitute the EC, restore presidential term limits scrapped in 2005, and to effect provisions that compel the military to “be subordinate to civilian authority.”
“We are consulting the Speaker’s Office so that we move this Bill anytime next week,” he added. When contacted, NRM deputy spokesman, Mr Ofwono Opondo, said: “These accusations are not new. It is you in The Monitor, local NGOs and local politicians who feed those people (Americans). Mr Olara Otunnu has been saying he has contacts in State Department and that he would influence them if certain things are not done. So we are not surprised.”
But opposition chief whip Kasiano Wadri denied that they were feeding US State Department: “Doesn’t America have an Ambassador here? Why should we feed them?”
On Ms Clinton’s query about the independence of the EC, Presidential political assistant Moses Byaruhanga said: “The issue is not the composition of the Electoral Commission but the people who are appointed to it. The constitution says people of high integrity not representatives of political parties.