Government has finally conceded that the Public Order Management Act (POMA) is being misinterpreted and illegally implemented by the police. The opposition and police have often conflicted on the implementation of the law that manages public gatherings. Whereas police insists on authorisation, opposition parties say the law only calls for notification.
On Thursday, a meeting of the Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) meeting on POMA was held at Commonwealth Resort, Munyonyo. The meeting that lasted five hours first came up with a two-page detailed press statement which was later cancelled. A half-page abridged version was later read out to journalists by IPOD council chairperson, Dr Gerald Siranda. Journalists were not allowed to ask questions.
The meeting was attended by senior government officials led by prime minister Ruhakana Ruganda and delegations of iPod member political parties led by party secretary generals. Rugunda was accompanied by deputy attorney general Mwesigwa Rukutana, security minister Gen Elly Tumwiine, Internal Affairs minister Gen Jeje Odongo and Defense minister Adolf Mwesige.
The detailed statement seen by our reporter set up clarifications and resolutions in regard to the controversial POMA. The clarifications stated;
“The law provides that organisers of public meetings should notify the police for guidance on the procession. This should help the police to prepare for the required support to ensure security order for the particular activity.”
“Police should have the courtesy to respond to the notification given to them by the organisers of political events. The organisers should also reciprocally write back on the updates and progress regarding their raised matter,” it further stated.
The notification verses authorization has been a point of contention since POMA was enacted in 2013. The opposition parties have been arguing that government implements the act in a wrong way to block their activities.
Opposition politicians have argued that police has no right to authorise their meetings. A clarification that says parties are supposed to notify police and police is supposed to respond—recognising receipt of letter not authorizing meeting—is a win for opposition parties.
The detailed document stipulated that political parties are supposed to follow POMA as long as they are mobilising politically. But it also clarified that police at all times reserves the right to intervene and disrupt activities of political parties if there is reasonable suspicion of possible unlawful activity. However reasonable suspicion is not defined.
The resolution-action points of the statement puts government to task on making immediate changes in POMA implementation; focusing on sensitising security agencies on changes, tracking process led by prime minister, among others.
The first action point reads; “that the government through the ministry of Internal Affairs take a lead in sensitising the law enforcement agencies and general public on POMA and other related legislations such as Police Act, Political Parties and Organisation Act and other in order to remove any ambiguities in understanding and implementation of POMA.”
It was also resolved that; “ministry of Internal Affairs takes a lead in identifying and gazetting areas which are deemed unsuitable for the convening of public meetings.”
A source that preferred anonymity says that even when government accepted to amend its modus operandi, it appeared anxious on how to move forward, especially quick implementation of the changes.
But another source says government was willing to move on with implementation as opposition parties called for more demands such as short implementation timeline and stringent penalties for police officers who abuse the law.
For instance, government wanted an open-ended implementation timeline. Leader of Opposition, Betty Aol Ochan after the meeting told journalists that they gave government a maximum of 20 days.
A committee was set up and given 10 days to draft regulations that will guide implementation of the Act. The committee is made up of secretary generals of political parties under IPOD and attorney general. It will be chaired by Democratic Party’s Gerald Siranda.
Siranda says that 10 days will be more than enough because almost controversial issues had been thrashed out. Rugunda described the meeting as “vibrant, candid and productive discussion on POMA.