RESPONSE TO SARAH BIREETE ON POWER OF THE PRESIDENT VS WEAK INSTITUTIONS


In an article titled “Uganda’s problem is weak institutions, not the powers in our constitution” published in The Daily Monitor of 8 September 2014, Sarah Bireete, disagrees with my contention that the problem of Uganda is the immense authority bestowed on the Presidency by the National Constitution. She counter-argues that Uganda’s problem are weak institutions and recommends their strengthening. Sarah rightly notes that nowhere in the constitution is the president empowered to appoint public officers on his own, but upon the recommendation of appropriate statutory institutions and the approval of parliament. What she did not say is that the Parliamentary Acts that create those statutory institutions, also mandate the President to appoint the commissioners of those institutions, i.e. appoint his/her own “checkers”. So, WITHOUT BREAKING ANY LAW, President Museveni nominated ONLY NRM cadres who lost elections, as commissioners and board members of all statutory institutions, and they were all (except Hon Nantaba) duly approved by parliament. I meet them every day, most being former colleagues in parliament, and when I ask, “Hon. did you make it back to Parliament?” The standard answer is “No, I lost the election but Mzee helped me, am on this commission, that Board, RDC, ambassador, minister, Chairperson of this / that, Presidential Advisor…..” Tell me Sarah, which of these people would upset the president by rejecting his nominee when he gave (and can un-give) them the job they so desperately need? In not standing up to the president they are not weak, stupid, sycophants or intimidated, it’s old fashioned, commonsense, self-preservation.
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In case parliament rejects a presidential nominee as happened to former Kampala Mayor Nasser Ssebaggala, the president just replaces him / her with another NRM cadre of requisite qualifications which parliament cannot challenge, ultimately rendering parliamentary approval of no consequence! Of consequence though, is that the entire executive, judiciary, public service and 20% of the legislature (10 soldiers, 80 ministers) are made up of NRM cadres appointed by the president and approved by parliament!

Sarah argues like an academic, I argue like an analyst. Academics stop at facts and figures; analysts go further and examine causes, consequences and effects. The cause (or source) of presidential authority in Uganda is the constitution, the consequences are patronage, influence and power, while the effects are impunity and dictatorship – all invisible forces, yet no one can deny their impact on the quality of governance. This is not unique to Uganda. Israel’s lobbyists in the USA may not have constitutional authority but they wield undocumented influence and power – hence the USA’s irrational policy on the Middle East, down several Presidents, where Israel gets away with everything, with impunity. Never under-estimate the far-reaching effects of patronage, power and influence, undocumented they may be, but they can be more lethal than book authority!

The opposition in Uganda can’t engage in peaceful political activity because Parliament passed the draconian Police Act, Political Parties’ And Other Organizations’ Act and Public Order Management Act. When their turns come, the Electoral Commission doctors election results, Bank of Uganda releases public money through the back door and the judiciary doctors judgments. Sarah argues that these institutions need to be strengthened in order to give us better value for money, but is it for lack of constitutional mandate and technical know-how, that they so abuse public trust or is it not the undue influence exerted by their appointing authority?

The constitution provides everything the institutions need to operate effectively, the only impediment they face is the power and influence of the presidency, trim it, and the institutions will be ok!

Beti Olive Kamya

PRESIDENT OF UGANDA FEDERAL ALLIANCE

CHIEF PETITIONER FOR A NATIONAL REFERENDUM TO TRIM PRESIDENTIAL AUTHORITY

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