Previous Electoral Commission members at Namboole National tally centre. (Observer Newspaper Photo)
By Faridah Lule.
Commenting on the recent EC appointment, Presidential press secretary, Don Wanyama, remarked, “The President is implementing some of these proposals before they are even actualized into law. He was actually under no obligation to name someone at the level of a judge but there he is; implementing their resolutions.”
Mr. Wanyama it looks like the president is doing us a favour, don’t forget Article one anytime you want to defend the actions of the president. Uganda should be Consistent with the Durban Declaration Principle that obliges member states to establish impartial, all-inclusive, competent and accountable national electoral bodies, and the President should be aware of the current controversy surrounding the appointment of the current Electoral Commission.
Changes orchestrated by the multi-party dispensation as well as the track record of the institution of the EC make the review of the body inevitable.
In order to ensure the independence of the Electoral Commission and to keep it insulated from external pulls and pressures the Commissioners must be hired through a transparent, public appointment process that enlists wider stakeholder consultation and a more inclusive approval mechanism that instills public confidence in the capacity of the commissioners, and their ability to operate autonomously and professionally.
This kind of process should be able to fulfil principles of a merit-based selection dependent on a competitive application process. The current Ugandan experience according to the Constitution, Article 60 (1), is that, all seven (6) Commissioners are appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament.
This appointment process does not safeguard the commissioners from any potential influence from the incumbent authorities, who many times have a direct interest in the result of an election.
It is critical that laws relating to the appointment of commissioners inherently carry safety valves against any possible manipulation of the Commission by a single appointing authority.
In Kenya for instance, the recruitment process is handled by a specialised Selection Panel.
The Panel is formed by a total of seven representatives drawn from the offices of the President, Prime Minister, Judicial Service Commission, the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board and the Association of Professional Services of East Africa. Nominees to this panel are vetted by the National Assembly before they take on their responsibilities.
Once the National Assembly has approved the nominees, they will then constitute themselves into a Selection Panel which will from then, the appointment process, responsibilities and duties of the Selection Panel that interviews the IEBC Commissioners is well articulated in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act No. 9 of 2011.
In accordance with the law, the Selection Panel invites applications from qualified candidates from the public from which it shortlists individuals to be interviewed. Shortlisted individuals undergo a public interview process from which three individuals are selected for the position of chairperson, and thirteen for the Commissioners’ positions.
The names of selected candidates are then forwarded to the President. The President then chooses one name out of the three candidates nominated for the position of Chairperson and eight names from the pool of thirteen names proposed for commissioner appointment.
The President forwards the nine names to Parliament for vetting and approval or disapproval. But as an interested stakeholder in elections, it may not even be necessary to refer the names of the successful candidates to the President; the Select Committee can resolve the process and forward the final exact names of successful candidates to Parliament for vetting and approval or disapproval.
Such a recruitment procedure is not only participatory but also dispels any would be ‘claims of bias', and favouritism by the appointing authority’.
Beyond identifying a professional team, this process strengthens the credibility and legitimacy of the Commissioners and portends well with Public‘s trust in the institution of the EMB, Uganda must, therefore, review the currently set apprehensively reviewed if its image and credibility are to be redeemed. CCEDU proposes a more participatory and transparent process of appointment of the members no matter the government’s actions the campaign will still go on; together we will make a difference.
The writer is the Project Associate - Election processes, at Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy Uganda. (CCEDU)