Response to the EU on Elections

By Moses Byaruhanga

I read with dismay an article that appeared in one of the local dailies of Monday the June 8, under the headline: EU casts doubt on credibility of elections. In the said article, the Head of the EU Delegation in Kampala was quoted to have said that "The Constitutional Amendment Bill did not meet our expectations. The proposals presented are cosmetic and do not address substantial issues. Civil society, clergy and public made a number of very good suggestions which were ignored". Kristian Schmidt, the EU ambassador went on "what we believe is the objective criteria in selection of commissioners. They should be screened by the Judicial Service Commission or another independent body".
Schmidt, when you say that the Bill presented didn't meet your expectations what do you mean? Is it your personal expectations or those of the European Union? I think a law in Uganda should meet expectations of Ugandans and not those of ambassadors posted in Kampala. The civil society you are talking about, I guess, they are Ugandans who are represented in Parliament. Let their representatives speak. I have no problem with freedom of expression but it doesn't mean whatever is expressed in those freedoms has to be taken by the Government otherwise the governments and parliaments the world over would cease to exist because civil society will be the one taking the lead. Unfortunately, however, the world order is not organised like that. Over the weekend, I watched on CNN, civil society groups in Germany demonstrating to attract the attention of the G7 leaders. The response from the Germany police was tear gas! No African ambassador in Berlin came up to say that the police response was not to their expectations because, I believe, that was an internal matter in Germany. I have seen similar police response to civil demonstrations in many other Western countries. So when do civil society issues in those Western powers become national issues, if the demonstrations are crushed by police? Here in Uganda, when there is a demonstration, the Police is deployed to keep law and order, you get lectures from wherever about human rights, etc, that we are violating the right to expression but in western countries when police responds in a similar or a harsher manner, there is no comment. I think in Uganda, we are very far in observance of human rights including the right, if any, of ambassadors to attack the Government.

On the demand by the EU to amend the Constitution, in respect to appointment of the Commissioners at the Commission, I have consulted a lawyer, who is also an MP in the Ugandan Parliament. He told me that even if the Constitution were to be amended, the way the ambassador wants it that would not affect the composition of the Commission in place as our Constitution prohibits retrospective legislation. In other words, if you amended the Constitution on how commissioners are appointed, that amendment would affect the Electoral Commission that will come into force after the Kiggundu led Commission's term expires late next year. If this is the legal position in accordance with our Constitution, Ambassador Schmidt should calm down. The ambassador is quoted to have requested for the screening of the commissioners by the Judicial Service Commission or another independent body. Mark the words independent body. To ambassador Schmidt, the Judicial Service Commission is an independent body. I can't agree with you more. What now are we trying to cure? The Judicial Service Commission which is independent is appointed in the same way the Electoral Commission is appointed. So what brings about independence in these commissions? Is it the mode of appointment? If so, the Judicial Service Commission is appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament. If this makes the Judicial Service Commission independent, then why not the Electoral Commission which is also appointed by the President and approved by Parliament? The weak argument has been that, if the Electoral Commission is appointed by the President, since the President is free to be a candidate, then the Commission the President appointed will favour him/her. If that were to be taken seriously, then why trust the Judicial Service Commission, which is appointed by the same President. Can't that President in appointing members of the Judicial Service Commission appoint members who will favour whom he wants to be screened or appointed by the Judicial Service Commission to the Electoral Commission? I find this argument so trivial and cosmetic.

About a year or so ago, while on a Kfm talkshow, I had an argument with my friend, Sam Otada. He was fronting views on appointing the Electoral Commission. Among the views I found plausible and I told him so was giving independence of tenure to the Commissioners. That was lacking. I am happy to note that in the Constitutional Amendment Bill, there is a provision which says that in removing a commissioner, the President has to appoint a tribunal, which has to inquire into the matter and make recommendations to the President. This is more or less the same way a judge is removed from office, which gives independence to the judges. They cannot be removed anyhow. That was missing Ambassador Schmidt and it has been provided.

The NRM has carried various electoral reforms including: voting in the open but secretly. We provide a basin where one ticks the ballot but that is in the open and not in a room where one can easily stuff ballots, presence of candidates agents at the polling station throughout the voting and the counting of votes, counting the votes and the polling station in the presence of voters and the candidates' agents. This is fundamental because in the case the Electoral Commission announces different results, a candidate can add up the results from their agents from all the polling stations and protest against a biased Commission results. The tallying is also witnessed by candidates’ agents at the district and then results are sent to the Commission in Kampala for announcing. The Commissioners cannot change anything right from the polling station. What was remaining was identification of voters using bio metrical data like a thump print to avoid multiple voting. This we believe is being cured by the National IDs. We could improve on technology on transmission of resilient from say the polling centre to the tally centre at the district and from the tally centre at the district to the national tally centre at the Commission in Kampala.