Government has extended the term of the current Local Council (LC) one and two leadership for another six months. Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka made the communication on the 26th of July 2023 while interfacing with the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee that is scrutinising concerns over the pending LC polls. Addressing the press at the Uganda Media Center, the Minister for ICT and National guidance Dr. Chris Baryomunsi stated that the cabinet yesterday resolved to extend the term of office by 180 days. This proposal was raised by the Attorney General and was shortly adopted with the newly
The term of office of over 81000 LC officials expired on 10TH July 2023. However due to lack of finances to conduct fresh elections, the current officer bearers are thus pushed to continue to perform their duties under the newly prescribed special arrangement. The LC I and LC II leaders were elected in 2008 across 10,595 parishes and 70,626 villages, marking nearly 17 years since the last elections were held under the ruling National Resistance Army/ NRA/NRM government.
The decision arguably stems from the Third Schedule of the Local Governments Act Regulations, gives the Minister of Local Government powers to draft regulations for the implementation of the Act. The Minister of Local Government also has powers to amend the schedules to the Act. This leading to the The Local Governments (Amendment of Third Schedule) Instrument, 2023
“11A. Extension of term of administrative unit councils The Minister may, by notice in the Gazette and in a newspaper of national circulation or other media, with the prior approval of the Cabinet, extend, renew, reinstate or validate the term of office of administrative unit councils from five years for a further period not exceeding one hundred and eighty days at a time, notwithstanding that the term may have expired, where— (a) Uganda is in a state of war; (b) a state of emergency has been declared under the Constitution; (c) any district or part of a district has been declared a disturbed area under the Constitution; or (d) it has become extremely difficult or impossible to conduct elections for the administrative unit councils.’’
The amendments include, that with prior approval of the cabinet, the minister can extend, renew, reinstate, or validate the term of office of the administrative unit councils from five years for a further period not exceeding 180 days at a time. Notwithstanding, the term may have expired.
The law requires the Minister, after the cabinet approval, to lay before parliament a statutory instrument. The parliament may amend or revoke the statutory instrument; and “if no amendment or revocation is effected within two weeks of its being laid before Parliament, it shall be deemed to have been approved.”
Attorney General also informed the committee stating that the logic behind this decision was based on giving the government Flexibility to look at a number of things surrounding the elections including how to effectively conduct the polls. Section 175 of the Local Governments Act gives the Minister of Local Government powers to draft regulations for the implementation of the Act. It is also argued that the act is not in breach as it is well within the law, The Minister of Local Government also has powers to amend the schedules to the Act. Thus the statutory instrument will act retrospectively. Dr Baryomunsi stated that the extension shall work retrospectively to validate any actions taken during the time of expiry of the LCs term.
Critiques and resolutions
Question of legality: This becomes a contentious matter on the legality of this operation. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that there is no legal provision that allows the term of the LC’s to be extended without an election. John Kikonyogo argues that there is no provision in any law governing the country to extend the term in office for the Local Council. Thus the LC’s will be operating illegally unless the Parliament comes up with an Amendment of the Local Governments Amendment Act of 2015 in order to legalize their actions.
Looking at Article 99 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda under subsection 5 which is to the effect that ‘A statutory instrument or other instrument issued by the President or any person authorised by the President may be authenticated by the signature of a Minister; and the validity of any instrument so authenticated shall not be called in question on the ground that it is not made, issued or executed by the President.’ By issuing such instrument, the President shall be altering the law. Constitutional Lawyer Ivan Bwowe argues out that whatever mandate that has been given unto them by the law ceases to exist upon the expiry of their term and so the only rightful solution is for the government to look for money to mobilise these polls.
Public interest. It can have a significant impact on public interest. When only a select few individuals are making decisions, it can be challenging to ensure that the best interests of all members of society are being considered. This can ultimately lead to a lack of progress and innovation, which can have serious consequences for society as a whole. When a leader stays in power for an extended period, they may become more focused on maintaining their position of power than on serving the public.
Looking at the Regulation 11 of the Third Schedule of the Local Governments Act, it is to the effect that ‘The Minister may, with the prior approval of the Cabinet, extend the term of office of a local government council or a number of local government councils from four years for a further period not exceeding six months where—(a) Uganda is in a state of war;(b)a state of emergency has been declared under the Constitution..’ It is hard to picture this situation as an emergency considering that the LC’s have served for 17 YEARs without elections, More so the Electoral Commission prepared and executed a well strategized Election Road map in 2022, this only indicates that the Government ought to have prepared prior for this.
This shows a lack of transparency and accountability, which can be especially problematic in a democratic society in Uganda. When leaders are not held accountable for their actions, they may be more likely to engage in corrupt or unethical behavior. Leaders may extend their stay in power by changing laws or manipulating the political system to their advantage. This is particularly problematic because it can undermine the democratic process. When the political system is not functioning properly, it can be challenging to ensure that the best interests of the public are being served.
Government is lazy. The proposed extension was challenged in parliament with opposition politicians accusing the government of sleeping on the job. According to FDC spokesperson John Kikonyogo, he argues out that not only has there been no preparations for holding elections to choose new leaders but that the government refuses to find means of providing money to carry out these elections and with such they resort to extension of the term. He gave an example of Electoral Commission giving the same reasons of lack of resources to conduct the women council elections. Lack of funds are resources can be out rightly viewed as a vague problem that should be handled by the Government. It portrays an embarrassing lay out of the Government system with open financial indiscipline on handling public interest matters.
Question of Competence of the LC officers. The main concern among members of the public is the validity of the documents that were endorsed by the officials occupying those offices. The opposition and specifically the Leader of Opposition in Parliament cautioned that documents endorsed by LCs whose terms expired may be challenged before the court. It is a question of transparency and honesty.
In Conclusion, This operation shows an open stir of political governance indiscipline and inconsistency in the Rule of Law. It is essential to ensure that the government and its political leaders be held accountable for their actions and that the democratic process is functioning properly. The law ought to be followed and appreciated.
No information contained in this alert should be construed as legal advice from Centre for Public Interest Law or the individual authors, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.
By Alinda .S. Rachel
CEPIL Legal Assistant