Magyezi’s Bill that was never ‘private’

Magyezi's Bill that was never 'private'
Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi recently tabled the 'Age Limit' Bill for First Reading on the floor of parliament. Courtesy Photo.

President Yoweri Museveni’s revelation on Friday that he supported the age limit bill was the climax to a badly kept secret about the move engineered by Igara West Member of Parliament, Raphael Magyezi.

Museveni, while meeting the ruling NRM party caucus, told the legislators that he was indeed in support of cabinet which gave MP Magyezi a go ahead to table a private member’s bill seeking repeal Article 102(b) of the constitution.

Museveni reportedly talked tough, asking those opposed to the Magyezi Bill to walk out of the meeting and warning those that stayed to either endorse the bill or follow their “rebel” colleagues.

Article 102(b) bars anyone below 35 and above 75 years of age to hold the office of President. Magyezi’s bill seeks to remove the caps with many observers saying it is meant to open the door for President Museveni who will be above 75 in 2021.

It is the speed at which the Raphael Magyezi’s Bill has moved through parliament with full support from cabinet, a rare thing for private member’s bills, that has raised questions whether it was initiated by him.

Until Friday, when he finally opened up, he had on several occasions appeared to distance himself from the debate leading up to the controversial tabling of the bill in parliament last month. At least 24 of the MPs opposed to the bill were arrested inside the Parliament Chambers, when security forces raided the Chambers to enforce a suspension ordered by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. Shortly after, Magyezi moved the motion followed by tabling of the bill five days later.

Museveni had described the discussion as “diversionary” and those involved in it as “idle”. But sections within the ruling NRM party, the Opposition, civil society and religious leaders always suspected that Magyezi may have been used as a proxy to initiate the bill that seeks to lift the presidential age limit caps from the Constitution.

Questions also emerged over why cabinet resolved to back Magyezi to table a private member’s bill rather than tabling a government bill which Justice Minister Kahinda Otafiire had promised to table. Just a day before security forces raided parliament on September 27 and forcefully evicted the suspended MPs, Busiro East MP Medard Sseggona accused Otafiire of abdicating his responsibility and therefore causing a crisis.

Kalungu West MP Joseph Sewungu, an opponent of the age limit bill notes that under parliament’s rules of procedure, Magyezi’s bill is a private member’s bill but in reality, it is a government bill. He says that Magyezi had the full backing of President Museveni.

Sewungu questions how the bill was fast-tracked through the legislative process; gazetted tabled on the floor of parliament for first reading. According to parliament rules of procedure, an MP is provided 45 days from the day he or she presents a motion and granted leave to present a bill on any matter.

Following the approval of a motion seeking to present a bill under Rule 106, Magyezi was granted leave of parliament on September 27. He only needed five of the 45 days to prepare the bill and table it on October 3.

The Process

Between the date when Magyezi was granted leave and the actual tabling of the bill for the first reading, the printing and publication of the bill in the Uganda Gazette was supposed to be carried out by the Clerk to Parliament according to the rules of procedure.

Following the publication of the bill in the Gazette, Magyezi was supposed to acquire a certificate of financial implication dully signed by the Minister of Finance to accompany his bill at the first reading. All these were ready in a record five days.

The bill’s first reading was done in a one-sided House composed of the majority ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party legislators after the majority of MPs opposed to his bill had been suspended. The suspension prompted the remaining opposition MPs led by Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza to storm out of the Chambers.

Kiiza says that Magyezi’s bill ceased to be private alleging government machinery was behind the proposal.

“Otherwise this motion and the bill should have been brought by government. We tried to pin the justice and constitutional affairs minister and possibly the attorney general to see whether they can’t just table the bill as a government bill,” said Kiiza.

She alleged that President Yoweri Museveni knew the controversy the bill would generate, the reason he chose to play his games behind the stage.

“When you see the speed at which Magyezi’s bill is going, when you see the kind of money they want to involve into this matter and then you begin asking yourself, where has Magyezi gotten the money?,” Kiiza questioned.

LOP Kiiza also cited the heavy security that has been provided to MP Magyezi.

A section of the ruling NRM party MPs opposed to the lifting of the presidential age limit have also raised questions saying that the bill seeks to change the Constitution to benefit only President Museveni. Patrick Nsamba Oshabe, the Kassanda North MP cites dubious mechanisms being used to pass Magyezi’s bill.

James Kaberuka, the Kinkiizi West MP also suspects that Magyezi has been working working on behalf of President Museveni.

MP Magyezi, however, insists that his bill is a private member’s bill having been moved by him and seconded by back bench members. The MPs who seconded the bill include the Kyaka South MP Jackson Kafuuzi, Jinja West MP Moses Balyeku and Amolatar Woman MP Doreen Amule.

Magyezi acknowledges the unusual support his bill is enjoying from government, compared with other private members’ bills, describing it as very normal.

Magyezi also told this publication that perhaps government would have at a later stage come up with some of the proposals in his bill and that since he has already tabled the proposal, it eases government’s work and that explains the support.

Asked about the kind of atmosphere in parliament prior to the tabling of his bill, Magyezi said that his role was only to request for a conducive environment to table the bill.

He also noted that the atmosphere outside parliament and the different interpretations of his bill are not under his control.

Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa says that MP Magyezi is not being used as a proxy for government to present the ‘age limit’ bill. She however notes that Magyezi’s bill happens to carry views which are shared by other people.

Prior to the tabling of Magyezi’s ‘Age Limit’ bill, cabinet ministers came out to declare their support for the private member’s bill.

Asked why government is showing a big magnitude of interest in a private member’s bill, Nankabirwa said that Magyezi’s bill is not unique.

Private Member’s Bills

Article 94(4) of the Constitution and Rules 110 and 111 of the Rules of Procedure provide for the Private Member’s bills and the procedure to follow when tabling them. The constitution requires that the member moving the private member’s Bill be afforded “reasonable assistance by the department of Government” whose area of operation the Bill affects and by the office of the Attorney General.

From this, one would conclude that the support Magyezi’s bill got from government is normal. This until one looks at how government has treated other private member’s bills before.

In 2015, Members of the ruling NRM party blocked a request by the then Buikwe South MP, Dr. Lulume Bayiga, to table a private member’s bill on Presidential Transition. The Bill sought to, among other things, make provisions for the procedure and ceremony for the assumption of the office of the President.

However, the majority NRM MPs denied Dr Bayiga a chance to present the bill while the then deputy Attorney General, Fred Ruhindi and then minister for Lands Daudi Migereko, argued that the issue was under discussion within the membership of Inter Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD).

Speaker Kadaga’s attempt to convince the MPs to grant Bayiga audience was ignored as they challenged her to stick to the rules of the House. By use of numbers, Bayiga’s proposal was muzzled. Ironically, it was Magyezi, now fronting the age limit Bill, who said that the majority had said no and that was it.

“What we are considering is a request to grant permission and that can be done by the majority. If the majority has said no, then be it,” Magyezi said then.

Similarly, Workers’ MP Sam Lyomoki’s efforts to table two Private Member’s bills on labour’s worth proved futile in 2006 after the then State Minister for Labour, Mwesigwa Rukutana, insisted that the Employment Act 2006 passed by the 7th Parliament, addressed all the issues.

One of Lyomoki’s bills, the Income Tax Amendment Bill sought to have the taxable income increased from 130,000 shillings to 235,000 shillings. The other bill, The Public Service Negotiating Machinery Bill sought to negotiate salaries of workers before incorporating them in the budget every year.

Just recently in the Ninth Parliament, Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze’s proposed Alcohol Control Bill died after the government side proposed that the MP works together with them to come up with another bill.

The proposed Minimum Wage Bill by Worker’s MP Arinaitwe Rwakajara was also delayed to appear on the floor of Parliament for years due to the financial implications involved with it that government did not agree with.

In 2015, Ayivu County MP Bernard Atiku’s Children Amendment Bill was passed after a long struggle with government which at some point tabled the same bill after he had presented his. Both bills were sent to the Gender Committee before which it was agreed to proceed with the one tabled by Atiku.

The above cases would make Magyezi’s bill unique. The bill is currently before parliament’s legal committee chaired by West Budama South MP Jacob Oboth-Oboth which was tasked by Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, under rule 113 of the Rules of Procedure, to consider the bill and report back to parliament within 45 days.