Monday, September 21, 2009



By Sheila Naturinda
The Daily Monitor

Political leaders from the greater north, encompassing Acholi, Teso and Lango sub-regions, are split over President Museveni’s directive to have regional government’s established next financial year.

Some have viewed the President’s call, issued at a special sitting of Parliament on Tuesday, with cynicism and suspicion and say the timing betrays ulterior motives on the government’s part.

However, others have welcomed the decision, especially representatives of Bunyoro and Busoga sub-regions but say fresh discussion on the systems of government should be held.

These views were borne out in a series of interviews conducted by Sunday Monitor with key opinion leaders across the political and academic spectrum. “It (regional government) was welcome those days when it was brought up. People were hoping for a stronger negotiating power then because they were tired of marginalisation,” said Lands Minister Daniel Omara Atubo. “It however needs to be discussed afresh now to see if it is still relevant,” added the Lango politician.

Makerere University law professor, Joe Oloka Onyango was curious about the timing of Museveni’s directive and said he believes the decision was made to target Buganda Kingdom, which is currently at loggerheads with the central government. Museveni said it in his speech just to show Buganda that "I can easily hurt you if you want to think that you are big,” said Prof. Onyango.

In 2005, Parliament amended the Constitution to create Regional Tier governments as an alternative version to federalism, in a move that would shift power from unelected traditional leaders to elected central government officials. The provision, however, remained on paper, due in part, to Buganda’s strong opposition to it as Mengo, the seat of Buganda Kingdom, declined to abandon its quest for a federal system of government.

It appears Mr Museveni was inspired to rekindle debate on implementation of the regional governments following his government’s latest confrontation with Buganda Kingdom, which saw uprisings in several parts of central Uganda leading to the death of 24 civilians. The President subsequently proposed a raft of measures to bar cultural institutions from engaging in politics, the highlight of which is presenting a new law to Parliament to implement Article 246 of the Constitution which prohibits kings from political activity.

In drafting provisions for the creation of regional governments, MPs in the 7th Parliament agreed through Article 178, that there would be five regional governments; Buganda, Bunyoro, Busoga, Acholi and Lango.

Buganda would have Mengo as their municipality; Bunyoro would have Hoima; Busoga would have Jinja Municipality; Acholi would have Gulu; while Lira Municipality would be Lango’s seat.

Under the current legal regime, two or more districts may choose to cooperate to form a regional government to perform the functions and services of their own establishment. But the decision to join a Tier government can only be reached when the respective district councils approve it by a majority of two thirds of the members that seat in council. They act as a body corporate with powers to sue and be sued, and they also form a regional assembly.

However, there is also a provision for some districts that may not choose to endorse participation in the Tier governments and according to the Constitution, such would be paid an equalisation grant which shall be based on the incremental costs met by the central government in managing the regional government.

Oyam North MP Ben Wacha says he would have no problem supporting the creation of regional governments only if the government’s intentions are noble.
“But if it is just to be done because the President wants to remove powers from the kingdoms,” said Mr Wacha, “then I won’t support it.”

Sunday Monitor has learnt that several regional caucuses in Parliament will be meeting next week to debate President Museveni’s proposal and come up with coalesced positions.

Mr Fred Ruhindi, the deputy attorney general said on Friday that a Bill to implement Article 178 would “soon” be tabled on the floor of Parliament. He declined to state exactly when, but said the Ministry of Local Government was putting the pieces together.

Erute South MP John Odit says the government needs to conduct fresh consultations to assess the feasibility of implementing the Tier government proposal. “It now appears like a position of government because they feel it is saleable to them. We need serious consultations because it may not be needed anymore,” he said.

When the proposal was first presented to Buganda, Mengo flatly rejected the idea in a resolution read by the then Kingdom Attorney General Godfrey Lule after several hours of debate by its Lukiiko.

Buganda rejected the proposal on grounds that a regional government was no alternative to ‘federo’ and also having an elected chief executive to assume the title of Katikkiro (Prime Minister) was at variance with their cultural norms.

Soroti Woman MP Alice Alaso, a member of the Teso Parliamentary Group says the region hasn’t come up with a unified stand but adds: “Regional Tier is no substitute for federo.”

Chua MP and Chairman Acholi Parliamentary Group, Livingstone Okello Okello welcomed the idea and said regional government will go a long way in fighting corruption in the districts. “[But] if it’s for rendering the kingdoms useless, that is their business but we need it badly to fight the corruption at districts,” he said.

Under the current legal regime, regional governments will form a regional assembly and will have power to legislate on all matters within their jurisdiction. They will also be conducting the highest political, legislative, executive, administrative and cultural functions in the region.

However, Prof Onyango strongly believes the regional government will be powerless because the same central government that will give the powers will eventually take back. “It is just a promise,” he says. “The biggest problem we have here is that everything Mr Museveni does is a short term goal for strategically placing himself in a leadership position.”

Added Prof. Onyango: “We need a national conference to discuss and pave a way forward on what system of governance fits us in Uganda today. The tier system is also just a smokescreen which will never give the powers it appears to be in position to give.”

Similar views were held by Buwgeri MP Abdu Katuntu, who said, “We still need to ask our people again what they want. During the Odoki Commission, people asked for a federal system of governance. We haven’t seen any other scientific commission asking people’s opinions. So it would be unfair if we went for regional tier because it cannot be an alternative for the people’s federal demands. Busoga under the then VP Kazibwe promoted the regional tier but presently, my people haven’t told me what they want.”

Government chief whip in Parliament, Mr Daudi Migereko (NRM, Butembe), however disagreed with his Busoga sub-region colleague, saying, “Busoga is ahead of others in seeking regional tier governance. We have already signed all documents on the resolution for the same. It is very welcome and as Busoga has asked for it way back in time.”