MPs divided over reconsideration of sexual offenses Bill

sexual offenses Bill

By URN

Across section of MPs on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, have expressed reservation on the recently returned Sexual Offences Bill, 2019.

Last week, the Deputy Speaker, Anita Among asked the committee to reconsider the bill following its return by President Yoweri Museveni.

In his letter to the Speaker, Museveni pointed out that several offences regarding morality are provided for under the Penal Code Act.
 The President also noted that although the Uganda Law Reform Commission started a comprehensive review of all criminal related laws and presented proposed amendments to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament through the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister parliament didn’t consider them. 

Museveni also argued that instead of making piecemeal amendments, the Uganda Law Reform Commission should be given an opportunity to review all the criminal laws and propose comprehensive amendments for parliament’s consideration. 

However as the committee convened on Wednesday to start reconsidering the Bill, some MPs questioned why the President failed to return the Bill within the 30 days provided for under the Constitution.

They argued that any review of the Bill would attract constitutional battles.  

Dokolo South MP, Felix Okot Ogong raised the same concern during the plenary. Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, the Kira Municipality MP, said the committee has no mandate to reconsider the Bill since the timeframe within which it should have been returned had elapsed.  

The Deputy Speaker, Anita Among asked the Committee to advise the House on the way forward. In her response, the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee Chairperson Robinah Rwakoojo said that constitutional challenges about the Bill could be sorted by the General Counsel of Parliament. 
She said that there is no need for the committee to stop the Attorney General and Uganda Law Reform Commission from presenting their views on the Bill.

However, Ssemujju said that any attempt to process the Bill again would be futile and wastage of parliament’s time and resources.
Asuman Basalirwa, the Bugiri Municipality MP also noted that the President has for long been putting the House in a tricky position by returning Bills after the set 30 days.  
 He also blamed the Attorney General for not reminding the President on some of the constitutional dates.

Rwakoojo instead attacked Ssemujju for acting like Ogong’s spokesperson that raised the issue on the floor of parliament.
But Ssemujju maintained that the Committee had to deal with the constitutional matter first. Kiryowa Kiwanuka, the Attorney General, tasked MPs to present evidence indicating that the President returned the Bill after the expiration of the 30 days.

The MPs rejected the Attorney General’s argument, saying that their internal processes are not in the public domain and therefore cannot be relied upon. This forced Rwakoojo to defer reconsideration of the Bill.
Tabled by the former Kumi Woman MP, Monica Amoding, and approved by the 10th last parliament in May this year, the Bill seeks to criminalize a range of practices such as indecent utterances, gestures and touches to the sexual organs of another person.

It stipulates that a person who performs a sexual act with another person without their consent is liable on conviction, to imprisonment for life.  
The Bill also creates an offence for a person who transmits, transfers, sends, forwards, directs material of a sexual nature to another without their consent.

The framers of the law argued that whereas the Penal Code provides for a number of sexual offences, the provisions were outdated and did not reflect the evolving trends in social attitudes, values, and sexual practices.
They argued that the courts find a challenge in dealing with new forms of sexual violence and exploitation such as sex tourism, indecent communication, and child marriages among others.
However, President Yoweri Museveni said that the draft has a collection of provisions that are already provided for in other pieces of legislation.

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