By Banturaki Bernard Paddy
In very recent times, Uganda has been rocked by quite a number of natural catastrophes that have claimed a number of innocent lives.
Year after year, devastating landslides are registered in the mountainous areas of Uganda, with Buduuda fast becoming the annual regional epicenter landslide catastrophe.
River-bank breakages in the Rwenzori Region are becoming a normal occurrence attracting treks of national leaders to offer sympathies on an annual basis as if it is a matter annual cultural pilgrimage.
With the increasing destruction and depletion of the vital aspects of natural environment, episodes of these disasters are yet to announce their frequency; each episode registering its fair share of increase in human destruction and social disruption.
The most painful issue is not that these disasters occur. Disasters will always occur anywhere and at any time. However, it is very disturbing that a supposedly progressive society like ours can be completely unprepared for seasonal or annual disasters!
Could our continued lack of preparedness for natural disasters in Uganda have its root in our failure as a nation to comply with both the letter and spirit of our national constitution?
Article 8A(1) of the constitution of Uganda is instructive that Uganda should be governed based on principles of national interest and common good.
8A. National interest. (1) Uganda shall be governed based on principles of national interest and common good enshrined in the national objectives and directive principles of state policy. (2) ……
Under Article 8A(2), the parliament of the Republic of Uganda is given a special duty to make relevant laws for the purposes of giving full effect to Article 8A(1) of the constitution.
8A. National interest. (1) …….. (2) Parliament shall make relevant laws for purposes of giving full effect to clause (1) of this Article.
The principles of national interest and common good through which Uganda ought to be governed are clearly listed under the national objectives and directive principles of state policy contained under the 1995 constitution; and Item XXIII thereof specifically instructs the state to institute an effective machinery for dealing with any hazard or disaster arising out of natural calamities or any situation resulting in general displacement of people or serious disruption of their normal life.
XXIII. Natural disasters.
The State shall institute an effective machinery for dealing with any hazard or disaster arising out of natural calamities or any situation resulting in general displacement of people or serious disruption of their normal life.
There is massive debate and speculation on whether the Global out-break of the COVID-19 is a natural or man-made disaster; and no matter how strongly the various conspiracy theories in the public domain point to possible human foul play, I will not discuss this aspect of global speculation.
However, I wish to emphasize that whether the Global out-break of the COVID-19 is a natural or man-made disaster, it is no doubt one that has immensely disrupted the normal lives of all Ugandans; and therefore one that falls under the ambits of Article 8A(1) of the constitution of Uganda and its attendant Item XXIII of the national objectives and directive principles of state policy.
The story is not complete without mentioning Article 249 of the constitution of Uganda. Under Article 249 of the 1995 constitution, the state is specifically enjoined to create the Disaster Preparedness and Management Commission for Uganda to deal with both natural and man-made disasters.
- Disaster Preparedness and Management Commission. (1) There shall be a Disaster Preparedness and Management Commission for Uganda to deal with both natural and man-made disasters. (2) …….
Article 249 of the 1995 constitution goes ahead to enjoin the Parliament of Uganda to prescribe the composition, functions and procedure for implementation of the functions of the commission.
- Disaster Preparedness and Management Commission. (1) ………. (2) Parliament shall, for the purposes of this article, prescribe the composition, functions and procedure for implementation of the functions of the commission.
It is therefore abundantly clear that the framers of the 1995 constitution of Uganda were fully alive to the need to create robust mechanisms through which both natural and man-made disasters would be managed; and that those gallant Ugandans specifically reasoned that the management of disasters would require a fully constituted commission specifically created for that purpose.
We now need to interrogate whether we have complied with Articles 8A and 249 of the constitution of Uganda as well as their attendant Item XXIII of the national objectives and directive principles of state policy.
We also need to interrogate whether compliance with the parts of our national constitution (here above digested) would put us in a better position in the face of the increasing national and global disasters.
From the onset, let me emphasize that Article 249 has been part of the 1995 constitution since its promulgation in 1995, but the Parliament of Uganda has never seen the wisdom of activating it!
One wonders why, despite the numerous repugnant legislative maneuvers orchestrated by the Ugandan parliamentarians in their various drama episodes, they have failed to act to the letter of Article 249 of the constitution of Uganda, which requires the creation of a Disaster Preparedness and Management Commission.
One may argue that there is a Disaster Preparedness Desk in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) of Uganda. Yes. I am aware of that! But that is neither equivalent nor substitute for the constitutionally required Disaster Preparedness and Management Commission under Article 249 of the constitution of Uganda!
Suffice to say that the creation of a Disaster Preparedness and Management Commission under the auspices of Article 249 of the constitution would create a team of competent and specialized professionals for the early detection of, preparation for and management of disasters.
It is high time the spirit of the laws of Uganda is respected so that work that requires specialized skills is left to persons with those skills. There is no longer any lack of professionals in this country; and politicians should no longer do technical work, other than that which they are also professionally trained to do.
Disaster preparedness and management are some of the most technical aspects of social management, and should be left to professionals.
The marvelous work done by the Minister of Health Hon. Dr. Ruth Jane Acheng, the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health Dr. Diana Atwiine and their support personnel, in the wake of the outbreak of the COVID-19 should teach us to, as much as possible, ensure that key government departments are placed under the stewardship of line professionals.
It is my utmost doubt that a lawyer in the Ministry of Health, at such a time of need, would have out-performed those gallant mothers, all competent Medical Professionals, who are currently leading the Ministry of Health. Hell will never forget what happened in the Ministry of Health when a lawyer, Jim Katuguugu Muhwezi, deputized by a freight captain, Capt. Mike Mukula, led the MoH.
It will also take generations of chronic madness for anyone to forget the drama that characterized the recent fight against imaginary locusts wherein the Minister for Karamoja, engineer John Byabagambi was caught on camera mischievously arguing that locusts had been blown by the wind back to the Republic of Kenya.
The Management of disasters in Uganda requires the activation of Article 249 of the constitution of Uganda by creating a Disaster Preparedness and Management Commission. The recent landslides, locusts, and now the COVID-19 crisis should tell us that we can no longer cross our legs and tranquilize in the false hope that the Almighty God will always save us.
Besides, the religious leaders who we would expect to continue leading us in prayer have become crooks and pigs (in the President’s language); and can therefore no longer be trusted to lead us to God’s choicest favors.
If God continues to be good to Uganda and Africa to the result that we emerge with the least human casualty in the Global outbreak of the debilitating COVID-19 Pandemic, we should wake up, not to cerebrate, but to work on our capacity to sail through catastrophes, not merely medical but all kinds.
Most importantly, we must wakeup and work on our personal and institutional preparedness to survive national, regional and global catastrophes.
In this, the bells are clear that its high-time we developed a culture of observing the letter and spirit of our laws instead of treating them as useless stock-piles of paper not worth the investments made in creating them.
For God and my country.
THE WRITER IS AN ADVOCATE OF THE HIGH COURT OF UGANDA, THE PROPRIETOR OF BANTURAKI & CO. ADVOCATES AND THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF LEGAL CARE UGANDA LTD