Uganda’s Attorney General Fred Ruhindi last week tabled a bill seeking to give the Minister for Information and Communication Technology the power to control communications in any way the government sees fit.
The Uganda Communications (Amendment) Bill seeks to amend to the 2013 law. It seeks to remove the requirement for parliamentary approval of the regulations made by the minister .
The original clauses are highlighted.
Section 93 (1) The Minister may, in consultation with the Commission and with the approval of Parliament, by statutory instrument, make regulations for the better carrying into effect the provisions of this Act.
Section 93 (3) “Regulations made shall be laid before Parliament”
The draft bill would remove the requirement for Parliament’s approval in the event that the Minister wishes to make regulations. Additionally, the regulations would not need to be presented before Parliament after they are made.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has forwarded the Bill to the House Committee on ICT for scrutiny, and the committee is expected to meet the minister and other stakeholders to get their views before submitting its report to Parliament.
Critics of the bill have stated that it will, in effect, take away the Parliament’s oversight role, leaving the ICT minister with virtually unchecked powers in his docket.
Uganda’s Minister for the Presidency, Mr Frank Tumwebaze, supported the move, saying that lack of regulation has led to ‘irresponsible speech bordering on genocide promotion’. As a result, action was necessary to regulate the platforms where this ‘irresponsible speech’ was happening.
The move to curtail freedom of speech, as Minister Tumwebaze contends, is necessary because while citizens have as much freedom to speak, they do not have the right to do so irresponsibly.
However, it is not clear why the amendment to remove the requirement for parliamentary approval was necessary.
Opposition MP Kassiano Wadri contends that the amendment would open a door for the Government to bypass Parliament and censor free speech.
“The decision to grab the power of Parliament is intended to instil fear in the population because President Museveni wants to be a big brother. Parliament is there as a checking mechanism, and removing this mechanism will lead to a dictatorship.”
The amendments came soon after the Uganda General election on February 18th, when Ugandans were unable to access social media platforms and mobile money services as voting got underway.
The blockade lasted for two more days, during which Ugandans were forced to use cloaking mechanisms to bypass network restrictions.
The Government later explained that the social media platforms and mobile money services had been temporarily blocked over national security concerns during the election period.
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