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Cabinet to debate Constitution change

Attorney General takes no-bail law and other proposals to ministers

Spurred by President Museveni’s resolute pressure, the Attorney General is finalising proposed amendments to the Constitution that would, among others, deny bail to suspects charged with corruption, rioting, rape and defilement, The Observer has learnt.

Over the past three years, Museveni has pushed for these amendments, only to be opposed by politicians across the political divide and human rights groups.

The critics of the proposed amendments accuse the president of seeking to legislate out of political expediency. This is particularly so because the president first mentioned the proposals at the height of walk-to-work protests; so, it was seen as an attempt to clamp down on political opponents, using the law.

Now, The Observer has established, the Attorney General will soon present the proposed amendments before the cabinet for approval. The deputy Attorney General, Fred Ruhindi, told us today: “We are working on the proposed amendments and they will be presented before cabinet very soon, before they are presented to Parliament for consideration.” Ruhindi further said the bill would also consider some amendments that were deferred during the 2005 constitution review exercise.

“The proposed amendments will include those that have been proposed by the head of state and those that were not passed in 2005, as well as some new amendments that will be considered as suggested by the general public,” Ruhindi explained.

Sources within the NRM have told The Observer that, among other proposals, Museveni wants Article 83 of the Constitution amended so that a Member of Parliament expelled from a political party automatically loses his or her seat. The president also wants powers to dissolve Parliament in case of a political impasse.

Whereas some of the president’s proposed amendments can be construed as an attack on individual rights and legitimate political dissent, Ruhindi says Museveni’s ideas will be considered and assessed within the confines of the law.

“When the head of state proposes an amendment, it is considered and the gist of democracy is that something is first debated and consulted upon before it is passed into law. This is not like the Idi Amin regime where an issue would be passed through decrees,” he said. But Peter Walubiri, a constitutional law expert, told The Observer that habitual constitutional amendments may end up breaking the foundation of its creation.

“The spirit of the Constitution serves as its foundation but if we keep on changing the foundation it will be more like changing the foundation of a building … which can end up destroying the whole structure,” he said.

In reference to the last amendments that removed term limits and the latest initiative, Walubiri said the Constitution should not be amended to serve individual wishes of the executive but, rather, to capture the common wishes of the citizenry.

“This is a sacred document that should not be taken to be a one-man’s paper, and if we are to continue with this trend, it spells doom for our democracy,” he said. MPs response

In 2011, a snap survey conducted by The Observer showed that 45 of the 70 NRM MPs surveyed were undecided on the issue. As debate on the controversial proposals gained momentum within NRM in 2011, the party caucus constituted a six-member team to examine them.

The team, led by the prime minister and NRM secretary general, Amama Mbabazi, also included former Attorney General, Khiddu Makubuya; Local Government minister Adolf Mwesige; deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah (Omoro county); Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East); and Elizabeth Kalungi (Woman, Kanungu).

Niwagaba told The Observer at the time that he does not support the proposals.

“As a member of the committee carrying out consultations, I would not comment as yet, but my personal position is that I don’t support the proposal, however much it is justified.” Katuntu speaks

The shadow Attorney General, Abdu Katuntu, welcomed the move to amend the Constitution. He said it is an opportune time for the country to make amendments in line with the principles of good governance and constitutionalism. “Although I do not support some proposals that will affect individual rights and the presumption of innocence, I welcome amendments that will put the nation on the right course of constitutionalism,” he said.

Katuntu plans to use this opportunity to propose amendments on behalf of the opposition. These relate to electoral reforms, land law, restoration of presidential term limits, and the composition of Parliament.

“The current electoral laws reflect a partisan element. We need them to be amended in such a way that is practical in a democracy that is under multi-party dispensation,” he said.

Katuntu added that the law on the appointment of the Electoral Commission should be amended to make the process neutral. On land law, Katuntu says the current law has made it hard for land tribunals to function. In support of the recommendations of the Constitution Review Commission chaired by Prof Fredrick Ssempebwa in 2005, Katuntu argues that the composition of Parliament should be reconsidered.

“You cannot have an army in Parliament. The army is a national body, it is not supposed to be in partisan politics and what is done in Parliament is partisan politics,” he said.

In a minority report, the Ssempebwa commission had advised that the police have not powers to authorise or prohibit rallies.

“In our view, the law should simply oblige the people intending to hold a public meeting to notify the police and the local authority of the area where the meeting is to be held. The role of the police is to maintain order during the meetings,” the minority report said.

The report also advised that ministers should not be MPs at the same time, and that a censured minister should not be eligible for reappointment during the tenure of the Parliament that censured him or her, as well as the subsequent Parliament.

Other proposals

It remains to be seen whether the amendments will include proposals from experts such as Ssempebwa’s call for the total abolition of the death penalty. On his part, Prof Joe Oloka Onyango of Makerere University recently told The Observer that to make the office of the Attorney General independent and effective, the Constitution should be amended to make it a non-partisan position.

“This office is supposed to give legal advice to all government agencies but when you look at the way it functions today, it’s more of an extended mouthpiece of the executive and this is so because the President is the one who appoints the bearer. So, there is a need to create it as an independent office,” he said.

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Ex-CBI chief backs death for Yakub Memon, seeks tough anti-terror law

New Delhi: Supporting death penalty for terrorists, former CBI Director Joginder Singh has accused Yakub Memon, hanged for his role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts, and his supporters of misusing India's liberal laws and called for an overhaul of anti-terror legislations.

In an article in RSS organ "Organizer", the former CBI Director hit out at rights activists opposing death sentence to Memon, saying they did so for the sake of publicity.

He also made a strong case for change in anti-terror laws saying India was unable to fight extremists because the then Government in 2004 had repealed anti-terror laws in the name of vote bank politics.

"India has failed to tackle terrorism for the simple reason that all terrorism laws were repealed by the then Government in 2004, for appeasement, vote bank politics.

There is no effective law to deal with the terrorism in our country. It is rather overdue to change the policies, laws and approach, which has failed to deliver.

Yakub Memon case shows, how the terrorists use every opportunity, to misuse the liberal laws of India. Despite being slated to be hanged on July 30, he filed a case in the Supreme Court and to delay, sent a mercy petition to the President, which had been rejected," Singh said.

Coming down heavily on "the open and tacit supporters" of Memon, Singh urged the Government "not to bother about such people" saying, "Most Indians, irrespective of religion, will support the Government if it can convey it means business."

Singh also launched a scathing attack on activists arguing against death penalty for terrorists saying, "There are more unpaid advisers and so-called rights activists, than the problem, the country has faced.

Instead of ensuring good governance, such people are finding fault with everything. Since they can't criticise the judiciary, they egg the criminals to go on approaching apex court again and again to delay the cases. Obviously, it is for the purpose of getting publicity in the media."

The former chief of RPF, Joginder Singh quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who had on July 15, 1985 in a speech to the American Bar Association called for "starving the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity and asking the media to agree among themselves to a voluntary code of conduct, under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the terrorists' morale or their cause."

Arguing for the "bullet for bullet" policy against terrorists advocated by two former top cops including the then Punjab DGPs JF Rebeiro and KPS Gill, Singh said, "Even for dealing with terrorists, there are many bleeding hearts which are critical of the Bullet for Bullet Policy initiated by a former DGP and followed by his successor."

Former CBI chief while ruing that current laws demanded independent witnesses for everything said, "It foxes me as to how do you expect independent witnesses to be at the scene of every terrorist attack. The laws specifically say no confession made to the police, irrespective of the rank, is admissible in the court. Now the Police think twice before even dispersing the crowds lest they be accused of use of excessive force. We need to ask as to what comes first, rights of common man or the Rights of Terrorist?"

Another article in the "Organizer" argued that Yakub Memon's religion had no role to play in awarding him the capital punishment and that he paid for his deeds.

"While prime time discussions are trying to portray the Mumbai blasts verdict as a human rights issue, it is not fair in a secular democracy to debate one's religion after the Supreme Court has found him guilty and awarded him capital punishment," says the article.

Yakub Memon, a Mumbai-based chartered accountant and younger brother of Tiger Memon, one of the masterminds of the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts which claimed the lives of 257 innocent Indians and left over 700 injured, "paid for his deeds".

It added that people who argue otherwise are not well-wishers of Muslims in India.

The article also says that while murdering innocent people is not a part of Sharia Law, Sharia can punish persons for bad public behaviour, private behaviour and private beliefs and also murderers.

"Yakub Memon is not an innocent guy. He is involved in the massive killing of 257 odd people. When he did such a heinous crime, then why the Sharia Law was silent in such cases?

Muslims have always tried to take advantage of their religion, says the article.

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Kidnappers Getting Bolder

Over the last few years, the media had reported and warned over this scourge overrunning the entire nation but little seemed to have been done to stem the tide of kidnapping.

The militants in the Niger Delta started the trend by kidnapping expatriates working in the oil and gas sector and demanded millions of naira for their release. Many a victim died in the process and the government tried to arrest the situation. Some of the kidnappers were killed while others were arrested. The security forces too suffered casualties but the biggest problem is that nothing seem to have happened to the kidnappers that were caught.

Consequently, kidnapping has become to these heartless people, big business. Our laws seem ineffective and the House of Representatives is preparing to introduce a bill to curb the menace. The lawmakers even expressed support for capital punishment for anyone found guilty of the offence.

Not a few Nigerians have expressed the opinion that except stiffer punishment is meted out to such criminals, the trend will continue.

What began in the Niger Delta as a form of protest against unequal distribution of wealth has today snowballed into a situation that is threatening the very fabric of society.

We believe these kidnappers have turned abduction of innocent people into a booming business. Millions are paid to these abductors almost everyday to release friends, colleagues, wives, husbands, breadwinners and children among others. The business has become so lucrative in Abia State that most unemployed youths have turned to kidnapping for ransom.

Recently, a medical doctor was murdered by kidnappers even after his family had paid the N30 million demanded by his abductors. This is just one of several cases where kidnappers have killed their victims to prevent being identified after they are released.

In the last few years, Abia State has become a hotbed of kidnapping. Almost daily we have stories of abduction in that part of the country, the peak being the kidnapping of 15 children on their way to school. They have since been released unharmed.

To arrest the situation, the Abia State government, on 23 September, 2010, announced an amnesty to the kidnappers to lay down their arms and be part of government programme to provide them with work and the basic necessities of life. But they refused and last week, the government revoked the amnesty.

The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Anthony Agbazuere said on Friday while announcing the cancellation of the amnesty programme that: €œThey want to challenge the state, they will see the powers of the state, it is now a war situation.€

But can the state really stand up to these criminals? Will the Federal Government do something about this disgraceful act? Will both chambers of the National Assembly deem it fit to enact laws to deter the criminal-minded and the criminals themselves?

Will the government address the imbalance which, in the first place, created room for kidnapping? Will the judiciary expedite action on kidnapping cases? Will the police brace up to the challenge?

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