Process to merge UHRC with the Equal Opportunities Commission starts as UNRA set to close shop

As part of the rationalisation of the public agencies by abolishing some and merging others, the Government is seeking the amendments of Articles 32, 51, 52, 53, 58 and 248 of the Constitution so that the two entities, which have been running independently come together to put an end to duplication of functions.

As part of the rationalisation of the public agencies by abolishing some and merging others, the Government is seeking the amendments of Articles 32, 51, 52, 53, 58 and 248 of the Constitution so that the two entities, which have been running independently come together to put an end to duplication of functions.

After about three months of Parliament’s blocking of the Executive from tabling the Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2023, which is aimed at merging the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), the proposed amendments have finally been welcomed by lawmakers.

As part of the rationalisation of the public agencies by abolishing some and merging others, the Government is seeking the amendments of Articles 32, 51, 52, 53, 58 and 248 of the Constitution so that the two entities, which have been running independently come together to put an end to duplication of functions.

While the functions of UHRC under Article 51 include investigating violations of any human right, visiting prisons and places of detention to assess the conditions of inmates, and recommending to Parliament effective measures to promote human rights; on the other hand, under Article 32(3) has the function of monitoring, evaluating and ensuring equality in the policies, laws, plans, programs, activities, practices, traditions, cultures, usages and customs of the organs of state at all levels; Statutory bodies and agencies; Public bodies and authorities, among others.

Public Service Minister Wilson Muruli Mukasa tabled the Constitutional Amendment Bill on Tuesday before Speaker Anita Among forwarded it to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee for processing ahead of the Second Reading of the Bill.

Before the tabling of the Bill, a section of lawmakers had insisted that the promise of the government to constitute a Constitutional Review Commission to deal with several proposed amendments to the Constitution be fulfilled first. Since the 10th Parliament, the government, in fighting against Constitutional Amendment Bills by private members, has promised to put in place a Constitutional Review Commission to traverse the country to get proposals on overhauling the 1995 Constitution.

MPs Asuman Basalirwa (Bugiri Municipality), Sarah Opendi (Tororo District) and Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) are among those who have been knocking on the doors of Parliament to be granted leave to introduce private members’ bills to table constitutional amendments.

“This item relates to the Constitutional amendment. This Parliament here has, in the past, stayed all matters related to Constitutional amendments and asked the Executive to first deal with the Constitutional Review Commission. My colleague Sarah Opendi sought leave but was shot down; Hon Niwagaba was also shot down. I don’t know whether we are proceeding well with the Executive, which when it comes to their issues, it is okay and when it comes to MPs, it is not allowed, stated Basalirwa before the Government Bill was tabled on Tuesday.

He was supported by Solomon Silwanyi, Bukooli Central MP and Geoffrey Macho, Busia Municipality MP who insisted that Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Nobert Mao should rise to the occasion and deliver on the promise for a Constitutional Review Commission.

Also weighing in on the same, immediate former Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mathias Mpuuga, said the action by the Executive to move Constitutional amendments just to deal with the merger of UHRC and EOC shows that it has breached the trust of the Legislature.

“I have listened to passionate submissions by Hon. Opendi for her desire to amend the Constitution. These Constitutional amendments actually check the core of governance, which is decentralisation. Now that we have accepted to go piecemeal, will the Attorney General give this House an indication in the interim of what is to come? Is the government intended to cause serious amendments to overhaul the constitution? asked Mpuuga.

Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka informed Parliament that Minister Mao has been carrying out the necessary consultations and has already listed over 70 proposals on which Articles of the Constitution should be looked at by the Commission once instituted.

“I can report without any fear of contradiction that my colleague, the Hon. Minister of Justice, has collected 73 proposals for amendment. He has informed the Law Reform Commission to look at them. Even the Hon. Mao met some MPs last week, and they were discussing some of the amendments, stated Kiryowa.

Merge or collapse agencies 

Meanwhile, the Government tabled the Arbitration and Conciliation Bill, 2024 whose objective is to give effect to the Government Policy for Rationalisation of Government Agencies and Public Expenditure that was adopted by the Cabinet on 22nd February 2021 and contained in Cabinet Minute No. 43(CT 2021). If amended, the Arbitration and Dispute Resolution as a corporate entity will be abolished, hence getting established as a department in the Ministry responsible for justice.

Notable among the prominent government agencies to be abolished is the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), which, having been one of the biggest consumers of the infrastructure development budget, would become a department under the Ministry of Works and Transport.

Other famous agencies set for dissolution and their functions mainstreaming into the mother Ministries if Parliament passes several Bills tabled on Tuesday include the National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADs), Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), Cotton Development Foundation (CDO), and National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U).

The National Population Council and the National Physical Planning Council are supposed to be mainstreamed into the National Planning Authority, while the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) would yield the function of registering Marriages to the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).

While amendments of the Acts establishing a number of agencies under the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries would lead to the abolishment of the Uganda Trypanosomiasis Control Council, others like the Agricultural Chemical Board and the Dairy Development Authority will have their functions mainstreamed under the Ministry.

Under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the agencies being mainstreamed include the Children’s’ Authority, Secretariat of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, Secretariat of the National Women’s Council, Secretariat of National Youth Council; and Secretariat of the National Council for Older Persons.

From the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, agencies to be affected are the National Planning Authority (NPA), which will take on functions of the National Population Council and National Physical Planning Board; Uganda Microfinance Regulatory Authority; Departed Asians’ Properties Custodian Board; and, Non-Performing Assets Recovery Trust.

Bukanga North MP Nathan Byanyima still held his guns against the speed at which the government seeks to rationalise different agencies without thoroughly looking at the implications of the process.

“I recall we had a Committee which I chaired concerning the same matter, but incidentally, the Cabinet ignored it. They are saying they have a report which informed them to come up with this [rationalisation]. I want the Hon. Muruli Mukasa to give this report to each committee.  We have been here longer. We sat here and hurried to privatise. We said we should not sell UCB (Uganda Commercial Bank), and someone said he would sell it on Sunday and he sold it on Sunday. Some of you, when you are sleeping, for us, we don’t sleep, we think about this country. Now, where are going, you want another UCB, another Uganda Airlines, you sold them when we were here. Hon Muruli, you were here, and Hon Butime (Tom, Tourism Minister), you were here, we plundered”, said Byanyima.

He insisted that the plight of the staff going to be laid off when the agencies are rationalised needs to be given much attention by Parliament by assessing the government plans to compensate them and whether the money is available in the budget.

Byanyima’s committee 

Banyima was the Chairperson of the nine-member Select Committee on the merger of government agencies, which presented its report to the House in May 2022, but it has never been debated pending a response from Minister Muruli. Other members of the Committee were Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri County), Charles Bakabulindi (Workers), Christine Apolot (Kumi District), Ann Adeke (Soroti District), Dan Kimosho (Kazo County), John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjia County), Patrick Nsamba (Kassanda north) and Tony Ayo (Kwania County).

According to the report, the Committee agreed with the government’s proposals to collapse some agencies and merge others but called for the retention of several others. Some of those proposed by the select committee for retention but have been named in the Bills for dissolution include the National Library of Uganda; UNRA, Uganda Meteorological Authority, UCDA; CDO; NITA-U and the Dairy Development Authority

“The tearing down of semi-autonomous regulatory agencies in the Agriculture sector, namely the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, Cotton Development Organisation, and Dairy Development Authority, will negatively affect Uganda’s exports to the international market in the exact manner that Uganda’s tea was affected when the Uganda Tea Authority was abolished. As a result of abolishing the Uganda Tea Authority, Uganda tea is sold by auction at Mombasa and at a cheap price and branded as tea from other countries. It will be reckless to throw away our national regulatory stamps, which have made our exports attract a premium price in the international markets”, read part of the report.

The Committee, while fighting for UNRA and Uganda Road Fund, report that mainstreaming of such agencies “will expose Uganda’s most valuable asset to risk” because Uganda’s road network is its most valuable asset and constitutes one of the largest assets in the country, valued at UGX 28.8 trillion at the time of the report.

To Top