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Can LCs ban public rallies?

By Vision Reporter

Added 20th December 2006 03:00 AM

THE recent decision by Kampala Central Division to ban a Forum for Democratic Change rally at the Constitutional Square has raised debate as to whether local leaders have the power to do so.

THE recent decision by Kampala Central Division to ban a Forum for Democratic Change rally at the Constitutional Square has raised debate as to whether local leaders have the power to do so.

By Carol Natukunda

THE recent decision by Kampala Central Division to ban a Forum for Democratic Change rally at the Constitutional Square has raised debate as to whether local leaders have the power to do so.

While Godfrey Nyakaana, the division chairman defends his decision saying it was to safeguard peace and security, and that he acted within the law, other leaders have said local councils do not have such powers.

“I’m not happy seeing hooliganism going on because of people with selfish interests,” Nyakaana said last week.
He was commenting on a recent event where Police used teargas to disperse a Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) rally at the Constitutional Square. FDC wanted to launch the sale of the party cards at the venue.

The police has consequently gone ahead to permanently outlaw all political rallies at the Square.

Nyakaana argues that the Local Government Act empowers him to act the way he did. “Administrative leaders are political heads of the area. I should ensure that there is peace,” he said.
Fred Ruhindi, the Deputy Attorney General says the law on the powers of local governments is clear enough. “Just read it and you will understand it,” he said.

So what powers do LCs have concerning rallies?
Local councils derive their powers mainly from the 1997 Local Government Act. The closest reference to control over public places is made under Section 31(3) of the Act. While it does not specifically talk about rallies in public places, the Act highlights that urban councils have autonomy over planning for their areas. The section reads: “Urban councils will establish, maintain or control public parks, gardens and recreation grounds on any land vested in the council and in connection with or for the purposes of that public park, garden or recreational ground.”

Citing Sections 26-31 of the Act, Moses Kalungi, the Makindye division chairman says they are mandated, by the law, to assist in maintenance of law, order and security.

Section 27(c) also makes lower local council executive committees responsible for the security of their areas. It reads: “An executive committee shall be responsible for the supervision of the implementation of policies and decisions made by the council and shall assist in the maintenance of law, order and security.”

In line with this, Nyakaana says that FDC did not seek his approval to hold their rally. “Even the president seeks approval from local area leaders when he visit a village. When I am approached, the executive committee sits to give permission.”

However, Nasser Takuba, the Kawempe Division chairman is neutral on the matter. “In the Act, the first function of the division chairperson is to be a political head, overseeing all political activities,” he says.

“But on the other hand, who owns that land? Is it Government property? Is it the people’s or the public? That is what we must agree on. If you are a political head and the land belongs to government, then you have no right over it,” Takuba argues.

Bernard Luyiga, the Makerere LC5 Councillor says a division does not have the power to ban rallies.

He further argues that the division has exclusive powers which could include revenue collection and license issuances. But Section 25(2) of the Act also mandates the chairperson of a division to monitor the general administration of areas under their jurisdiction.

The Act, however, mandates councils to uphold and safeguard the constitution, the district laws, council by-laws and other laws.

In view of Article 29(d) of the 1995 Constitution which guarantees freedom of assembly, McDusman Kabega, a city lawyer says it depends on the circumstances.

“The issue is subject to all other processes which anybody who wants to carry out a rally must go through,” he says, adding that a ban at a specific place cannot affect the provision.

Article 29(d) of the Constitution reads: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of assembly, and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed, to petition and freedom of association which shall include the freedom to form and join associations or unions, including trade unions and political and other organisations.”

But Erias Lukwago, Kampala central MP, and FDC laywer says: “It is against the Constitution and the Political Parties Organisations Act. The LC chairman has nothing to with political activities.

On first asking for permission form the division, Lukwago says: “Let him (Nyakaana) cite any provision that says that. If it is a question of permission, then since I am the district MP, he should also seek permission from me!”

Edward Ochom, the Police spokesperson says: “You must ask local authorities first. The issue is multi-dimensional because the authorities need to pay and arrange for people to clean up the area after the function. They also ask us to provide security because there may be a breach of peace. So that is why one must follow the right steps.”

Can LCs ban public rallies?

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