By Mary Karugaba, John Odyek & Umaru Kashaka
KAMPALA - After three months of acrimonious debate, Parliament on Tuesday finally passed the controversial Public Order Management Bill, 2011 amid protests from opposition members.
The bill seeks to regulate public meetings, specifies the duties and responsibilities of the Police and the organisers and participants during public meetings, as well as prescribe measures for safeguarding public order.
The bill says: “A person shall notify the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in writing about an intended demonstration or public meeting within three days prior to the event. The IGP can also authorise a Police officer to issue permission for a public meeting on his behalf on phone."
It also states clearly that all public meetings must only take place during day-time.
When enacted into an Act of Parliament after getting the President’s assent, the law will specify the procedure to be followed when organising an assembly, a procession or demonstration as well as the penalties and sanctions to be imposed on those who breach the law.
However, meetings of registered organisations, trade unions, social, religious, cultural, charitable, educational, commercial or industrial organisations, organs of a political party or organisation held exclusively for lawful purposes are allowed.
At the start of Tuesday’s proceedings, opposition MPs led by Nandala Mafabi (FDC) requested Jacob Oulanyah, the deputy Speaker to postpone the debate on the bill, saying they were not ready for the matter since it was not part of the issues to discuss according to the day’s business.
However, Oulanyah said the order-paper had been amended to include debate on the Bill.
“We had a meeting at mid-day and it was agreed that another order paper be issued. The order paper was changed on the directive of the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga,” he said.
Oulanyah’s explanation was rejected by the opposition legislators who turned rowdy and banged the clerk’s table, warning him against proceeding with the bill.
He ignored their pleas and called for the bill’s third reading, which is the final stage before it is passed by Parliament.
But this prompted the opposition MPs to interrupt the proceedings with several points of procedure and order. Chaos ensued.
As the House was thrown into turmoil, Oulanyah asked the minister of internal affairs to present the controversial piece of legislation for the third reading. Both the internal affairs minister, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, and his deputy James Baba were present.
But before any of them rose up, Oulanyah put the matter to vote and ruled “the ayes have it,” sparking off chants of, “Oulanyah shame!” and the like, from the opposition.
The deputy Speaker immediately went on to congratulate the House for having successfully passed the bill. But the opposition members remained standing, contesting the ruling.
Some gathered around the mace, a symbol of the Speaker’s authority. Five Parliament chamber attendants and the sergeant-at-arms dashed to protect it from the MPs.
MP Angelina Osege (FDC) tried to grab the mace but was restrained by the attendants.
Oulanyah immediately suspended her from the house for three sittings and ordered her out of the chambers.
But Osege ignored the directive and shouted at Oulanyah: “I will see who will win.”
She joins three other members: Odonga Otto (FDC), Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM) and Ibrahim Semujju Nganda (FDC) who were last week suspended from the House for three sittings over the same matter.
Outside Parliament, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi blasted the opposition for behaving like “wild animals” and said such behaviour will not be tolerated in Parliament.
“It is surprising that MPs can behave like this. This is the behaviour of wild animals. We cannot lead the country like this. We must find a drug for this,” he said.
Since its introduction, the bill has drawn condemnation from both local and international human rights and civil society organisations. Government has been accused of introducing a Draconian law meant to curb civil liberties.
The opposition has mainly been against clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10 which give discretionary powers to the Police to permit or disallow public meetings.
The clauses also mandate organisers of public gatherings to notify the IGP in writing.
Earlier in the day, the Democratic Party (DP) had threatened to go to the constitutional court for redress if Parliament approved the bill.
While addressing journalists at the party headquarters in Kampala, the party’s acting secretary general Micheal Bayiga, said the piece of legislation should not be passed because there is a petition restraining its debate in the constitutional court awaiting judgment.
“The opposition recently petitioned court seeking a court order restraining parliament from debating the bill on grounds that it’s unconstitutional since it contains some clauses previously in the Police Act which were nullified by court,” he said.
The Buikwe South MP argued that passing that Bill would mean restoring powers of police to prohibit but not to regulate public gatherings – an issue they describe as infringing on human rights.