By Joseph Senyonjo
The Regional Tier versus Federalism
The New Vision reported on July 3rd, 2004 that the Uganda Cabinet had proposed a regional tier system for regions that desire it. The districts of
The proposed regional tier system may at first glance seem to give way to de facto federalism. Indeed, while announcing the proposal, the government statement conceded one of federalism advocates’ major points: it pointed out that some districts are too small, and that the regional tier would enable them to pool resources.
Wherein lies the difference between Federalism and the proposed Regional tier? The fundamental difference lies in the conception and the spirit, as well as, the structural and constitutional underpinnings of the proposed system.
Structural and Constitutional Issues
There are two structural and constitutional issues that distinguish the proposed regional tier from genuine federalism.
First, the regional tier and the districts would essentially be mere agents of the central government. In genuine federal Systems such as those of the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and Australia, among others, jurisdiction is constitutionally demarcated among the three levels of government: Federal (central), State (regional) and local (districts, counties, cities) in such a way that none of the levels derives its fundamental powers from any of the others. None of the levels can arbitrarily infringe on the other’s jurisdiction. In the proposed regional tier these powers and privileges would be contingent on the central government’s goodwill. Worse still, the proposed regional tier would be dependent on the ability of the districts to work cooperatively with it while they, simultaneously, report to the central government. Federal systems have no room for the central government agents in local politics, at either regional or local levels, yet all Uganda’s districts have Presidential appointees, the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), charged with overseeing the districts.
Second, federal systems are designed to ensure national stability through regional checks on powers of potentially autocratic central governments. Consequently, federal regions are indivisible, that is, they cannot be broken apart. Their boundaries are inviolable. The Uganda cabinet’s proposed regional tier system, on other hand, stipulates that districts could withdraw from the regional tier by votes of two-thirds of the district councils. Such an arrangement would be a recipe for instability and disaster due to the inevitable acrimony among the different levels of government. The system would render the regional tier hostage to the districts since districts could threaten to withdraw from the system. In effect, the regions and the districts would be powerless to check on the excesses of the central government, since they would ultimately be consumed in petty power plays among themselves.
The Conception and the Spirit of the proposed regional tier
The proposed regional tier further falls short of federalism in that it was clearly conceived as a stopgap measure designed to contain Buganda’s federalism demands. The abiding spirit within the cabinet was clearly that of the unitary status quo rather than genuine empowerment of all Uganda’s people through powerful regions that would work in concert with the central government to address Uganda’s chronic under-development. If it were otherwise, the cabinet would not have ignored submissions to the Constitutional Review Commission from Acholi, Bunyoro, Busoga, and West Nile that also requested implementation of a federal system of government for Uganda.
The Example of the American Founding Fathers
When the U.S. ‘founding fathers’ started their campaign for federalism, they set out to educate the people on the benefits of federalism despite the fact that not all American regions at the time understood, nor appreciated the need for federalism. Some political elites from the various regions preferred a confederacy that essentially left most of the powers to the states with the central government having very little power; others preferred a unitary system. The founding fathers were far-sighted enough to ensure that the new constitution would be grounded on a system that would ensure its stability. They choose federalism-- over a both a confederation and a unitary system-- based on the fact that it ensured that all regions could advance many of their economic and political interests without interference, or veto of the central government, while simultaneously ensuring that the central government was powerful enough to guarantee the unity and harmony of the country. Federalism ensured that all of America’s regions had a stake in the integrity of the constitution since it empowered them to protect their interests.
Major components of a genuine Federal constitution
First, there would be a national federal constitution that gives equal powers and privileges to all regions while allowing for regional differences in administration within the bounds of the national constitution.
Second, there would be states / regions with capitals and regional constitutions.
Third, there would be elected regional legislatures in which all the districts, or counties, in each region would be represented. Kingdom regional legislatures could have upper chambers specially representing cultural interests such as clans, and ethnic minorities.
Fourth, the governors of the regions, including the Katikiro in Buganda, would be elected officials. In kingdom regions, the candidates for election as governor, or Katikiro, in Buganda, would go through a nomination process with the involvement of traditional rulers. The traditional rulers would be the constitutional heads of areas where they are wanted, but would not be involved in partisan politics.
Fifth, the national legislature would have two chambers: the lower house, representing constituencies, and the upper house, similar to the senate in the United States, representing each of the regions. While in the lower house more populous regions would have more seats, in the Upper House all regions would have an equal number of representatives to guarantee that all regions small or big have an equal chance to protect, or advance their interests.
Sixth, the federal equalization concept would constitutionally ensure that funds are redistributed -- via pre-established formulas -- to less privileged regions to help them achieve and maintain standards of living which are, at the very least, comparable to the national average. The federal government would help ensure that social services such as roads, schools and hospitals in less privileged regions are built up to a desirable national standard.
In conclusion, unlike the proposed regional tier, or the 1962 constitution, a genuine federal system for Uganda would encompass all of Uganda’s regions. The architects of the system would have to transcend a 1962-like semi-federal arrangement, which many Ugandans mistakenly believe is representative of true federalism in a Ugandan context. The 1962 arrangement was not a genuine federal arrangement for Uganda. Under the arrangement, one region was heavily favored, because it was sophisticated and organized enough to strongly negotiate for a certain level of self-determination, while most other regions were content to cede much of their power to the central government. The system was so imbalanced that it exposed Buganda, the only true federal region at the time, to envious talk of being a state within a state.
In Federal Uganda all the regions would have equivalent constitutional powers to raise and mobilize resources locally, nationally and internationally, without undue interference from the central government. There would be elected regional assemblies and governors, along with special accommodation for the role of cultural leaders. Once empowered, by the federal constitution, all Ugandans regions would jealously guard it against encroachment. The Ugandan nation-state would for the first time in its history gain legitimacy in the minds of all Uganda’s people -- leading to lasting stability and prosperity.
Long Live Federalism!
Visit www.federo.com, and check out the report that Ugandans in the Diaspora presented to Constitutional Review Commission regarding federalism.
By J. Senyonjo
This latest agreement between Mengo and the government [as reported in the Monitor] reflects the politics of expediency, as opposed to genuine, stabilizing solutions to politically contentious issues. Unfortunately, our leaders do not seem ready, or willing to emulate the long-term vision of great nation builders elsewhere who produced documents and agreements that transcended their own time.
I agree with Mr. Kibuka [and others] that this agreement is grossly inadequate, and even inimical to the federal cause. It could do to the federal cause what the 'no party', movement politics has done to Political parties, that is, it may be very difficult to achieve genuine federalism in the future once this proposed agreement is enshrined in the constitution; it could have much the same impact as the flawed 1962 semi-federal arrangement [which was not truly federal] that made it difficult for many people in Uganda today to understand, and appreciate the need for genuine federalism, embracing all of Uganda’s regions.
It is yet another example [like in the case of movement politics] of our leaders ignoring world-class models of governance [evolved over centuries], with the belief that they are inventing something new. They do not seem to realize that the issues that they are grappling with have been dealt with by other countries centuries before, and that the models of governance that evolved took into account a lot of experience of power and economic dynamics in the political systems the features of which they are attempting to implement.
On the face of it the agreement between Mengo and the government seems like a move in the right direction, but in reality it is a rather expedient compromise that mainly serves the interests of the negotiating parties without due regard to genuine federalism, or even long term constitutional stability. It seems both parties to the negotiations wanted to be seen as having delivered something even though what they have delivered could spoil the ultimate goal of federalism, accountability and good governance.
The good parts of the agreement concern the elections of the Lukiiko and the Katikkiro. The offending parts as Mr. Kibuka pointed out include the fact that the regions would essentially be under the President's office [notwithstanding the separation of policy and non-policy matters]. This arrangement is contrary to federalism, and is utter mockery. The already powerful Presidency has been made even more powerful. The central government, which never wanted to cede control, has managed to get a modified version of what it always insisted on, the regional tier that is a mere agent of the central government. If any one had any doubts, one just has to consider the report in the Monitor that the President may take over the administration of any region, which basically means that the regions are accountable to the President [they should be accountable to the national constitution], and that essentially they do not have any truly autonomous powers. That is not federalism.
Another major flaw of the agreement is the fact that, according to the Monitor's report, the regions would not raise any direct taxes. This arrangement would handicap them, and make them no more than glorified LC5s. The lack of independent taxation powers by the regions may in time serve to undermine their very existence and support because the people will expect them to deliver more than they possibly can without independent sources of revenue raised through collecting pre-determined percentages of major tax revenues raised from within their environs. Lack of an independent capacity to raise major tax revenues [levies, mentioned in the agreement, cannot be considered adequate] is likely to diminish regional economic initiative and innovation, two of the greatest benefits of federalism.
Worse, financial dependency is likely to produce perennial tension between the central government and the regions; the central government is likely to blame any lack of development and progress on the regions and their leaders, while the regions may blame the lack of adequate funds from the central government for their lack of achievement. In other words, this is an arrangement that would make accountability not better, but rather, worse. It is also likely to intertwine the fortunes of elected regional leaders with those of the sitting President in a quid pro quo kind of way since the regions would fall under the office of the President [and may consequently result in the isolation of cultural leaders]. It is a recipe for disaster.
Revenue raising [and sharing] capacity by federal regions is the linchpin of genuine federalism, without which you get the chaos and circus currently found in Nigeria [and which Nigerians are discussing correcting through a national convention]. Interestingly, the current agreement between Mengo and the government does not [as reported] seem to put regional investment and economic mobilization under regional governments, which essentially means that the regions would also be handicapped in terms of creating economic opportunities for their people. They would continue to rely on the goodwill and initiative of the central government in bringing investment and economic opportunity, thus negating their very existence. The government's smart operatives understand that this agreement does not grant federalism [thus the resistance to using the word federalism in describing the agreement] and that it may forever kill prospects for genuine federalism in Uganda; so it would seem that, by all intents and purposes, Mengo has been out-witted yet again. To be charitable, Mengo’s negotiators probably viewed the agreement as an incremental step, which essentially leaves the problem for others to address, while risking ruining the goodwill and trust that the people invested in them. Unfortunately, for Uganda, incremental measures, followed by renewed demands for genuine reforms [inevitable in this case] are dangerous for constitutional stability and the rule of law in ethnically diverse, and politically contentious countries such as Uganda.
The whole deal is a top-down solution that is contrary to a preferred approach of involving all regions in a national convention [once federalism is endorsed in parliament] to iron out the details of regional governance mechanisms. In the United States, the federal constitution was a result of a constitutional convention, and followed a drawn out process of educating the different regions about the benefits of federalism. It was not an agreement among a few people, or regions, and consequently its legitimacy is not questioned.
The Role of Parliament
Perhaps the best outcome of the agreement is the fact that the government seems to have accepted the need for some arrangement resembling federalism. It is now the duty of our parliamentarians to insist on a world-class model of federalism for Uganda that encompasses all regions [not all only for those who want it] in order to ensure constitutional equity, balanced economic development and better accountability. The desired model should genuinely empower all the regions while ensuring that regional disparities are addressed through substantial equalization grants. In addition, parliament should ensure that regions in the North get special government funds [beyond federal equalization grants] to help them recover from years of civil war.
Parliamentarians should call on taxation experts from federal countries such as the U.S.A., Germany and Canada to help them make sense of how to balance central government taxation with regional taxation [without over-burdening tax payers and investors], and to inform them of the appropriate tax collection mechanisms that ought to be employed. Parliament should nullify the proposal to put the regions under the office of the President, for the sake of long-term constitutional stability, and check and balances on the power of the President and the Central government. Legislators should also streamline the number of central government ministries since the regions would carry out a lot of their responsibilities. The FedsNet document that we presented to the Constitutional Review Commission, found at www.federo.com, dealt with the issue of Ministries, and is a good reference point. If Parliament gets federalism right in Uganda, our country is likely to become a shining example in Africa in terms of the unleashed economic potential in the regions, stability, and cultural dynamism.
The Role of Political Parties
It is pity that opposition Political parties have not come up with policy statements on the issue of federalism, which the public could compare, and contrast with the current agreement between Mengo and the government. In any country with serious political institutions the debate [in the court of public opinion] would not have been left to two parties on an issue of such national importance as federalism. Federalists on FedsNet have long feared that the opposition parties risked being sidelined on the issue of federalism if they did not insert themselves fully and aggressively into the debate. If they consistently made proposals on federalism part of their calls for reform, the public and MPs would be armed with alternative views of what federalism is. However, it is not too late. As the parties prepare for political competition in 2006, they should teach the population about genuine federalism and how it differs from the current agreement. The FDC, the UPC, and the DP should lobby their MPs to do justice to the people of Uganda in as far as the issue of federalism is concerned. If they accomplish that they will earn the respect and admiration of all Ugandans.
For God and Our Country.
By D. Jjingo
While the recent Government/Mengo consensus does not constitute the ideal federalism we might have envisioned, it is my strong belief that it shall sow the seeds of full federalism.
My own conviction, which I know some here might not agree with, has always been that in any country, proper and perfect institutions and systems (e.g. federo) are built overtime and cannot be achieved overnight. It is unrealistic, and politically unpractical (especially given Uganda's political mosaic) for anyone to assume that now or in the future, it would have been possible to get "perfect federo" without accepting to start the journey at a certain level of consensus, and then building on that to eventually achieve the ideal system.
The simple practical truth is that in situations like these, if either or both sides stuck to their rigid positions (even though those positions may be right), no progress is ever made.
Many will agree that this arrangement is not going to remain static. Of course it will evolve, and I think Mr. Katende in his address to the Lukiiko alluded to this when he said that this was only the beginning! Therefore accepting to start at this level does not in any way mean that Mengo has thrown its belief in full federalism to the bin, no, not at all. They have only been realistic and practical enough to know that they need to start somewhere.
It goes without saying that I don't agree with the insinuations that Mengo's negotiating team has been bribed, or that by taking one other step in pursuit of Buganda's interests, they have endorsed kisanja in any way.
I share the political realism and opinion of the Katikkiro, his negotiating team, the Bataka, the Lukiiko, MPs and Buganda District chairmen that this consensus is reasonable ground to start the journey towards full federalism.
May the debate continue.