Acting on a humble government request, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on Thursday recalled Parliament from recess to pass the Anti-Terrorism Amendments Bill, 2015. The Speaker had adjourned the House to June 23. The Bill presented to Parliament by Internal Affairs minister on April 30, expands existing anti-terror provisions to allow the authorities to confiscate funds and any property linked to terrorist activities.
The new Anti-Terrorism Bill that raises questions about balancing civil liberties against the need to combat terrorism and money laundering amends the Anti-Terrorism Act 2002 to give Internal Affairs minister more powers and also provides for the expeditious freezing, seizure and forfeiture of assets and property suspected to be linked to terrorist activities.
While the government explained that Uganda was under pressure from the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group and the Financial Action Task Force to ensure that the Bill is passed into law, some MPs questioned the intention of rushing the Bill as the government side insisted that it should have been passed like yesterday.
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP), Mr Wafula Oguttu, said the Bill seeks to fight “internal political wars” ahead of the polls and Mr Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo County) alleged that the Bill could be targeting former prime minister, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, a claim the government officials vilified as not only “fallacious” but also “pernicious”. The NRM MPs have accused the Opposition of politicising genuine security concerns in the country.
Although there was disagreement on the definition of terrorism, on who should confiscate the suspected assets and property linked to terrorism activities and on the controversial question of passing the Bill without ascertaining the quorum, both sides of the political divide, however, agreed on the thrust of the Bill. It seeks to update and enhance the provisions of Uganda’s anti-terrorism laws to harmonise it with the requisite international standards while improving Uganda’s counter-terrorism legislative framework and regime in order to enable Uganda respond effectively to terrorism threats and dangers.
Wafula Vs Ogwal
In the draft Bill, the government had given sweeping powers to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) yet the Opposition had wanted the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to be the one to freeze the assets connected to terrorism activities.
However, after negotiations were rejected by the LOP, the Attorney General, Mr Fred Ruhindi, and the Opposition Chief Whip, Ms Cecilia Ogwal, had apparently agreed that the powers be given to the board of the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA). After Ms Ogwal informed the House how they had clinched a compromise on the sticking issue, LOP and other Opposition MPs called for negotiations.
Then, Ms Ogwal stood to say something, apparently to put records straight “for historical purposes”. She explained how she met with David Bahati (Planning minister) and others. She said her plea to the government team was that they accept DPP instead of IGP and that she never at any one time said she was speaking on behalf of the LOP.
“I spoke as whip and a senior citizen and I acted on the consultation made by shadow minister of Internal Affairs. I’m a mature person and intelligent. I did not use the title of LOP, I stood as Opposition Chief Whip, and I was in 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Parliament. If I contradicted my shadow minister for Internal Affairs, he should put this on record, I want to leave this world clean and pure,” she said.
Row over quorum
However, before they walked out, protesting the decision to pass the Bill without defining terrorism and ascertaining the quorum, Opposition lawmakers expressed fears that the new Anti-Terrorism law could be abused by the authorities to suppress critical politicians and the media. Shadow justice minister Medard Ssegona and Mr Oguttu, who raised the issue of quorum, demanded negotiations before passing the Bill, but the NRM side came determined to pass the Bill.
Mr Ssegona complained that a lot of emphasis was been place on money yet the clause is not limited to money as it includes property. He also reminded MPs that they were legislating for individuals to enforce the law.
“We passed the Public Order Management Bill in good faith and police restrained Mbabazi because he did not inform them of his presence at a function although the organisers were cleared by police,” said Mr Ssegona.
Back to the proposed Anti-Terrorism law, he asked: “How about a person who survives on rent and we have included the word property.”
When it became apparent that there was no quorum, the Speaker ordered for a roll call and after counting, 118 members out of the required 125 MPs were in the House. She immediately suspended the House for five minutes and when the House resumed, Mr Ssegona moved under Rule 23 (4) and reminded the Speaker that she has a duty to ascertain the quorum afresh.
He said it was wrong for the Speaker to start from where she had stopped without ascertaining the quorum since some members who were counted as present did not return to the House.
Ssegona Vs Kadaga
Before Speaker could guide on the matter, the Minister for Presidency, Mr Frank Tumwebaze, raised a point of order, inquiring whether Mr Ssegona was in order to question the credibility of the Speaker in interpreting the Rules of Procedure.
Then Ms Kadaga said: “Don’t stampede me,” to which Mr Ssegona replied: “I have no regret to raise the point of procedure.”
But Ms Kadaga shot back: “Your tone was directing me, you cannot direct me.”
Then, Dr Lulume Bayiga stood to say something but was told he was not present when the two reports (main and minority) were being presented.
However, he insisted that he was coming from the Speaker’s Constituency (Kamuli) and that the Speaker knew what was happening there. After pleading, he was allowed to say something.
Again, Dr Lulume insisted that the Speaker should ascertain the quorum. The Speaker then softened and informed the House that she had asked those who were absent to identify themselves.
“Can the clerk ascertain the numbers,” she said. However, this time, the results were not communicated.
Jinja Municipality East MP Paul Mwiru again reminded Speaker to ascertain the numbers to which Ms Kadaga said: “We ascertained the quorum that’s why I suspended the House.”
Indeed, the Speaker did this but Opposition members insisted that she should have counted and counted again. Before leaving the chamber, the LOP again reminded the Speaker that rules require “we ascertain quorum. We would like to implore you that you ascertain whether we have the quorum in the House and if there is no quorum we implore you to postpone to Friday or Tuesday”.
This time, Speaker simply said “Clause Two”. The House later passed the Bill and Speaker said: “We are fully constituted and we have more than the necessary quorum.”
Minority Report by shadow internal affairs minister Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi: Criminalising “any act prejudicial to national security or public safety” as a terrorist offence without qualifying national security and public safety is unconstitutional and “causing serious damage to property” cannot amount to terrorism, this is open to political persecution. We cannot trade off civil liberties in the name of countering terrorism for when we do that; that is not protection, it is handing victory to terrorism.