Wednesday, May 25, 2011

2011 – 2016; Uganda under President Museveni, corrupt ministers and a partisan parliament.

Uganda dissolved the 8th parliament recently which political commentators described as one the worst in Uganda’s history. Judgment was based on performance, bills passed and the independence of the parliament from other Arms of Government like the executive. The 8th parliament was also characterized by a lot of drama that included some members of the house storming out of the house in protest and other opposition MPs locked out for turning the house into a boxing ring. Several bills weren't passed. The most outstanding bills included the Domestic Relations Bill which as been debated for several decades without being passed, and then; “anti gay bill” was introduced in the 8th parliament.

While some Ugandans, donors and the Civil Society are waiting to start rating the performance of the 9th parliament. I have already started doing my rating. I predict that the 9th Parliament will be the worst house ever. On May 24, 2011 President Museveni who was sworn in for his record 4th presidential term appointed two of the countries best lawyers Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi and Amama Mbabazi as his Vice President and Prime Minister respectively. The appointments were a surprise to many who were eagerly waiting to see who makes it to the next cabinet. If these two, Mr Ssekandi and Mbabazi were the only ones who make up the 9th house and cabinet, I am one of those that believe we would have a best house. Unfortunately, they will work alongside the parliament where ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) has 145 members, the opposition has only 50 members and 29 NRM-leaning independents. This is why I think the 9th parliament and cabinet will be the worst.

1. The (NRM) party has 145 members while the opposition has only 50 members. Still almost all the 26 independents are NRM supporters. To me, this means that the opposition in parliament will be an exact description the NRM calls them; the “shadow opposition” The opposition will again resort to fighting with fists and throwing shoes at NRM members to make their voices

2. The Leader of Opposition in the 8th parliament lost in the previous elections and will not part of the 9th house. Professor Ogenga Latigo was not only respected the NRM as an intelligent parliamentarian but he stood by his position throughout the 8th parliament and provided the best guidance the opposition needed. None of the current opposition members of parliament are any closer in quality to Professor Ogenga Latigo. I don't think the opposition will benefit much from their next leader in the 9th house.

3. The 9th parliament is still dominated by NRM members some of whom have been in parliament since 1996 and whom the whole world saw being bribed with app.$2000 each to scrap presidential term limits to allow president Museveni stand for his 3rd term. As soon the MP for Lyantonde’s Kabula county Mr James Kokooza was declared winner of the hotly contested elections, he called the press and announced that he going to table a bill in the 9th parliament that seeks to increase presidential term limits from 5 years to 7 years (Mr. Kakooza came to the limelight after spearheading the scrapping to presidential term limits from the constitution back in mid 2000s. He is back in style this time; huh!) If the bill is passed and President Museveni decides to seek reelection in 2016, he will be president till 2023; King Muswati style!

4. Most of the NRM ministers who have been implicated in big corruption scandals in 2007 and 2008 were members of the 8th parliament or held important cabinet posts. They are likely to retain their ministerial positions or be rewarded with new ministries for mobilizing masses to vote Mr. Museveni. What will happen to the ministries to which they have been rewarded?

5. The 9th parliament will not pass the Domestic Relations Bill which most Civil Society Organization and women right activists are calling for to be passed. Despite having the first female Speaker, it should noted that she subscribes to the NRM and is one of the top NRM cadres. The Domestic Relations bill which has for long been criticized by the Islamic faith and male parliamentarians on grounds that it will disempower them is likely not to be passed because the NRM will not comprise with the little support it gets from the Moslem community.

6. The 9th parliament is likely to pass more laws that impact human rights and freedoms of citizens. Mr. Museveni has already made it clear that he will ask parliament to amend the constitution to deny demonstrators bail for a period of six months. Civil Society organizations and the opposition have already objective the president’s strategy that seeks to keep in prison opposition members of parliament but I think the constitution shall be amended since NRM has the numbers in parliament

7. The Anti-gay bill: This controversial bill tabled by Hon. David Bahati in the 8th parliament is likely to be passed in the 9th parliament. Despite intense international criticism, the bill will be passed by the 9th parliament. The NRM caucus shall sit and decide to pass the bill and it will be passed in a couple of days despite the many human rights implications the bill will have a section of Ugandans and none Ugandans who have out and declared they are gay.

Can we make the 9the Parliament better?

This is what I think can make 9th parliament better more independent.

1. If the Speaker and her deputy who are both NRM cadres must put their party’s interests aside and serve the nation.

2. Parliament stops amending constitution interests of the ruling NRM party.

3. All bills stabled before parliament shouldn’t be passed until consultation with all stakeholders and partners are made.

4. The opposition must get a competent Leader of Opposition in parliament. This isn’t likely to happen because Besigye has also adopted Museveni style of appointing people to key Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party positions. So don’t be surprised if he also appoints his successor.

5. And, the anti-gay bill should not even be tabled before parliament for debate as it appears now. Clauses that impact the rights of gays must be addressed first or the bill be thrown out.

Ahabwe Mugerwa Michael

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily present the views of ICOD Action Network or staff. All views herein are ideas of the writer.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Criminal Liability for the Transmission of HIV/AIDS is Counter- Productive:

The HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill 2009 has been tabled for the 1st reading in Parliament today. Among others, the Bill provides for criminal penalty for risk and intentional transmission of the virus. If enacted, the proposed law would require mandatory disclosure of one’s HIV status; failure of which would be regarded as ‘criminal’ and attempting to or, intentionally transmitting the virus. Failure to use a condom where one knows their HIV status would constitute a criminal offence making them liable for prosecution.
Given the history of this country and it’s undoubted, contribution to the HIV struggle that was all inclusive of local communities, religious institutions, civil society, private sector and Development Partners; why would government or any progressive citizen consider this proposed law as an effective tool of responding to the epidemic now?
It was a call to all Ugandans for a united effort, openness in addressing the epidemic, clear and consistent messages, and stewardship by his Excellency the President that reduced incidence levels and won the country global recognition. Disappointingly now, some Government leaders, perhaps frustrated by stagnant prevalence rates, are instead considering a punitive law with a veiled hope that it would prevent and control the epidemic.
Instituting criminal laws to punish persons who may or may not transmit HIV virus poses a danger to the consolidated effort and lessons learnt over time. It is difficult to see the rationale underlying the intended legislation. In strategic terms, this bill is likely to have a counterproductive effect by stalling ongoing efforts at best and increasing infection rates at worst.
The Civil Society HIV Bill Coalition is troubled with some provisions in the proposed legislation and this is why:

1. The law when enacted will drive people underground; in the face of possible prosecution and forced disclosure, most people will hide away, there would be no reason to take an HIV test in fear of prosecution.

2. It shall be counter-productive - as people shun HIV services and treatment for all possible fears that arise with the provisions of the law, prevention and control cannot be achieved. Taking an HIV test is the beginning point for both control and prevention, however the Bill will deter this effort by empowering medical practitioners to release test results to third parties.

3. It will indiscriminately harass women – most women get to know their HIV status before their male counterparts as they interface with medical facilities more often. Giving them an extra burden to disclose their status mandatorily as a blanket requirement may subject them to violence, abandonment and abuse as they are usually blamed for bringing the virus. In our societies, women cannot easily negotiate sex nor condom use, yet failure to use one while they know their status will warrant such a woman punishment for intentional transmission of the HIV virus.

4. May breakdown families who are already vulnerable. Opening a window for prosecution will encourage family breakdowns where one partner who gets to know their status, blames it on the other and files a case in court. Intentional transmission may never get proved, but the family structure will have been distorted, partners desert each other with the consequent burden born by the poor orphans. HIV status is bad enough for the children but humiliating and sometimes vicious litigation between parents tears their lives apart.

5. Is not situation-specific or realistic: the conditions for this law to operate are not realistic, it is extremely difficult to prove who infected the other and therefore it is to no effect. The judiciary in this country is very much strained and it takes long to pass judgment. How many lives would be destroyed if it takes an average 5 to 7 years to get judgment? Worse, the Police force is ineffective and is known to fail to comprehend and prosecute cases of this nature.

6. Selective prosecution: The bill targets the 20% of Ugandans that have tested and know their status and presumes that some of those knowingly and intentionally transmit HIV. What about the rest of the population who do not know their status yet transmit and cannot be found in the ambit of this law? This is unfair, obnoxious and unreasonable and cannot possibly be regarded as an efficacious law.

7. Increased stigma and discrimination. The moment HIV is construed with criminalization and then people go into hiding, those living with HIV will suffer societal victimization since they would now be regarded as threats to public health. As a nation, we can still do better since on this one, we are all in it together.

The fears and risks mentioned above are shared by stakeholders across the spectrum – medical/health workers, human rights activists, Persons Living with HIV, agencies working in this area and the SADC region.
Despite efforts by the Civil Society Coalition to point out the pitfalls in the Bill to, the issue of criminalization has remained.

An effective national legal response is that which is designed to meet specific needs of the country, those that target particular situations that make people vulnerable to HIV and its impact and, use of particular strengths of the country’s people, institutions and experience. An effective response must address the epidemic’s likely consequence on individuals, families and the society’s over all development plans.

Prevention of HIV should be a shared responsibility of those who are positive and know their status and those who are negative or sero-bllind.
This is an urgent call; that if indeed the intention of this bill is to prevent and control HIV, members of Parliament should delete provisions that attract criminal liability.

(This statement has been issued by the joint Civil Society Coalition advocating for an appropriate HIV/AIDS legislation)


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