By Henry Sekanjako and John Odyek
MPs are split over a proposal for spouses to share property equally in the event of the dissolution of their marriage or relationship.
This emerged Wednesday as debate over the controversial Marriage and Divorce Bill, 2009, started. The Bill was tabled over three years ago but shelved.
Upon the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, mentioning the Bill, there was excitement from the MPs, especially the female ones, who chanted: “Our Bill, Our Bill. It should be passed today.”
Kadaga then called out the constitutional affairs minister, Kahinda Otafiire, to introduce the Bill to the House.
However, a hesitant Otafiire delegated the task to Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi, who introduced the Bill to the House that was packed to capacity.
Chairs had to be improvised on the floor of the chamber to accommodate the large number of MPs that turned up.
MPs, mainly Muslims, tried to oppose the introduction of the Bill, saying it was against the Muslim faith, which allows the marrying of more than one wife.
“The minister should first tell us what happened to the Muslim Law, which was addressed to the Government by the Muslim community,” said Latif Ssebagala, the parliamentary Imam.
The minister, however, said the Bill exempts the Muslims.
Several MPs supported the clause that provides for the sharing of property for a partner who has cohabited for over 10 years, while others opposed the idea.
“You use someone’s daughter for 10 years and you ask her to walk away with nothing! How would you feel if it was your daughter?” asked John Byabagambi, the state minister for works.
The Bill states that matrimonial property, such as the matrimonial home, household items acquired before or during the marriage, be equally shared on dissolution of the relationship.
The MPs noted that legalising the sharing of family property between the two partners would lessen murder cases where women kill their husbands to acquire property.
“Most women have to wait for their men to die, before they can share property,” said Ronah Ninsiima, the Kabale district Woman MP.
John Amos Okot (Agago) said the Bill, equating cohabiting to a marriage is illegal under the Penal Code and attracts a penalty of 10 years imprisonment. “In Christianity, cohabiting is a sin. It is fornication, we should not promote sinful acts,” Okot said.
“Those cohabiting should be encouraged to formalise their relationships,” he added.
Kassiano Wadri (Terego) said: “Many women earn salaries but men don’t see where they put the investment. Upon dissolution of marriage, men should also share the investment women have made.”