Parliament has passed the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2019 with a call for punishment of returning officers involved in election malpractice. Members of Parliament supported an amendment to section 30 (1) of the Electoral Commission Act that prescribes punishment for individuals appointed as a returning officers who ought to be of high moral character and integrity.
While presenting amendments to the Bill on Thursday, 05 March 2020, Hon. Veronica Bichetero said the proposal by Government to allow the Electoral Commission to appoint returning officers leaves out action against officers who participate in election malpractice.
“The Committee notes that various Courts of law have found that returning officers have abused their positons and mismanaged the electoral process… in spite of those Court pronouncements, those returning officers are still retained in the service and merely transferred to other electoral districts,” said Bichetero.
According to a report on the Bill by the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, there is need for the law to specifically provide for the removal of a returning officer if he or she has been mentioned in an election petition judgement to have participated in election irregularities.
Committee chairperson Hon. Jacob Marksons Oboth said there had been court cases where some returning officers had been found guilty of electoral malpractices but that no provision in the law held them accountable.
“If a presiding officer finds that criminal charges can be preferred against such a person, we do not have anything in the law for that. This amendment will make sure that those found liable for an election mess can be punished by the law,” said Oboth.
He added that the Electoral Commission did not have powers to remove the officers from their positions even when found guilty, but rather re-deployed them to other stations and said the new provision would catch such officers.
Bugabula South MP, Hon. Maurice Kibalya said many returning officers often took advantage of immunity from court punishments in electoral petitions to engage in malpractice in favor of some candidates.
“Some of us went to the extent of bringing a mattress for a returning officer who wanted to hide because we got information that he had received his ‘thing’ and was looking for the quickest way to announce one of the candidates as a winner,” Kibalya said.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, however, did not allow for provision of penalties saying, “this matter involves the judiciary and we cannot determine for them the proportion in which compensation will be determined; that is their work”.