1. As you may be aware, the Public Order and Management Bill (POMB), 2011 was recently passed and now awaits assent by His Excellency the President, after which it will be an enforceable law in Uganda. While such processes regarding the bill are still underway, Government is seeking to highlight its core aspects to help the public understand it better. This is because the NRM Government realizes that new laws such as the POMB are better enforceable, if they are well understood by various stakeholders and the general public.
2. To put the POMB into context, on 27th May 2008, the Constitutional Court made a ruling in Constitution Petition No. 9/06, Muwanga Kivumbi vs Attorney General, annulling Section 32 (2) of the Police Act. This section empowered the Inspector General of Police to prohibit public assemblies or demonstrations where the assemblies or demonstrations posed a likelihood to the breach of peace. The Court found that the powers given to the Police in this section were discretionary, prohibitive and not regulatory. The Police therefore no longer has the power to prohibit a procession or an assembly even if it was likely to degenerate into violence and disorder.
3. It should however be noted that whereas Court annulled Section 32 (2) of the Police Act, Section 32 (1) was retained and it gives power to the Police to REGULATE and direct the conduct of assemblies and processions in public places. Thus, the POMB does not prohibit public gatherings but seeks to regulate them for the greater public interest and common good of all.
4. As members of the “fourth estate”, I hope you will be Government’s partners in disseminating this Statement and the contents of the POMB which I will highlight shortly so that any gray areas there-in are explained and clarified for every citizen and stakeholder to appreciate.
ISSUES IN THE POMB.
5. Broadly, the POMB is intended to regulate public meetings and to provide for the duties and responsibilities of the Police, the Organizers of public meetings and the people who participate in them, taking care of those who may be affected by such meetings. The term regulate as defined in the Bill, is to ensure that conduct and behavior conforms to the requirements of the Constitution and the law. Thus, I need to emphasise here that the Bill does not require of organisers of such public gatherings to seek for permission to have them BUT rather spell out modalities for managing their conduct.
6. Indeed, the Bill guarantees the right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and unarmed as granted by the Constitution and the law. It emphasises the responsibility for security and public safety in excercising the fundamental rights and freedoms. The Bill also lays out measures aimed at safeguarding public order without compromising the principles of democracy, freedom of association or assembly and freedom of speech. It also provides for the Police to protect the persons and the property of the persons engaged in demonstrations, processions, assemblies or public meetings and other members of the public affected by the meeting.
7. The Bill enjoins us to observe the fundamental rights and freedoms of others who may not be participating in such public meetings and demonstrations in exercise of their rights not to participate. For instance, it requires of organizers of public gatherings to manage them such that they do not disrupt economic activities of others, say market vendors, along highways and activities in central business areas of urban centers.
8. For spontaneous gatherings involving public figures like members of parliament or religious or cultural leaders are often mobbed by their constituents whenever they go visiting. Here the requirement of notification will not apply for such unplanned unscheduled or unintended gatherings. The only consideration for law enforcers is to check that the gathering is not in a place that is already booked or is not suitable for traffic or crowd control.
9. The Bill also seeks to ensure that even when public gatherings are held, acceptable levels of civility are guaranteed. This is cognizant of the possibility of a gathering, which may have been intended to be peaceful getting charged and spiraling into violence, loss of lives and needless destruction of property. Those of you who witnessed the 2007 “Mabira riots” in Kampala concur with me that public gatherings, if not properly regulated, can indeed degenerate into chaos, loss of lives and damage to property. On several occasions, the “walk-to-work” protests of 2012, after being joined by criminal minded elements also tended to degenerate into chaos, disruption of business activity, destruction of property and cases of outright looting! It is such unintended and costly incidences, that the POMB seeks to address so that organizers and participants enjoy their right to public gatherings, but to also have safe-guards that ensure civility and order for everyone all around.
10. The POMB is also intended to have orderliness particularly at popular venues for hosting public gatherings like play grounds and open parks or gardens. The requirement to notify the Police when fulfilled, will ensure that a possible clashing of such gatherings with potential for conflict is avoided. This is because Police who receive documented notifications of intention to host gatherings on a first come, first served basis, would be in position to advise on whether or not a particular venue is available on a given particular date and time. Ordinarily, if the venue is available, the proposed gathering would be held while an alternative venue or date and time would have to be sought if the venue in question is already booked and not available. This is particularly required, for instance during campaigns when schedules of competing candidates must be harmonized, in order to avoid possible clashing at venues.
11. I need to emphasise here that the realm of the POMB does not encompass private gathering like funerals, parties, nightclubs, weddings and prayer sessions in places of worship! Such gatherings are exempt from the ambit of the POMB. However, for purposes of security and orderliness, it is only advisable that organisers of such gathering put in place sufficient security measures, including engaging the Police. Indeed, I have noted that some organisers of private functions are already undertaking such security measures. It has become more or less a standard requirement to address such security concerns at private functions by involving law and order agencies. This is important so as to ensure that tragic incidents like the one at Kyadondo Rugby Club where dozens of lives were lost in a terror attack in June 2010 do not re-occur in Uganda.
12. It is true that the Constitution under Article 29(1) (d) provides for the right to assemble and demonstrate. However, this right is qualified and not absolute. This means that as an individual seeks to enjoy and exercise this right, they ought to put into consideration the rights of others. As we enjoy our rights, we should not inconvenience or trample on the rights of others. It is the Constitutional duty of the Police to ensure that any one excercising their rights and freedoms does so peacefully and unarmed. Article 43 of the Constitution provides a general limitation to the fundamental and other human rights and freedoms. It provides as follows:-
13. 43 (1) In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest. Therefore, POMB forms part of the legal framework in which this Constitutional provision is operationisable, in as far as public gatherings are concerned.
14. We have a separate document with the specific legal provisions for the issues I have elaborated here. Copies of that document are available for you to review further and internalize. I thank you so much for listening to me.
Hon. ( Amb) James Baba
MINISTER OF STATE FOR INTERNAL AFFAIRS