Govt refuses to support gay bill
The draft anti-homosexuality legislation has already been listed in the Uganda Gazette, and MPs are loudly drumming up support for its passage, but the bill seeking to criminalize homosexuality has not won many friends in the ministry of Finance, who are more worried about heading off a destabilizing cash squeeze with a big donor injection of cash.
The Uganda Gazette is a weekly official government publication that contains notices, government declarations and supplements, bills, statutes, statutory instruments, and legal notices. It is accessible to the general public.
Passage of the bill by parliament will certainly draw a backlash from donors, and officials in the ministry of finance know that. That is why they have signalled that they won’t grant the much-needed certificate of financial implication to guarantee passage of the bill by the main sponsor, Asuman Basalirwa, the Bugiri Municipality member of parliament.
A positive certificate of financial implication simply means that funding for the law will be through “overall government budgetary allocations to the Uganda Revenue Authority.”
Last week, parliament granted Basalirwa leave to present the private member’s bill that seeks to revive the 2014 Act, which the Constitutional court annulled for being passed without the necessary quorum.
Interviewed exclusively by The Observer, Basalirwa said, the permanent secretary (PS) in the ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Ramathan Ggoobi, said the government can’t support the anti-homosexuality bill for fear of a backlash from the development community. In 2014, when Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the donor community was angry.
Countries in the European Union and the USA said they would have to reconsider their relationship with Uganda if it passes laws that are against what they called human rights. The American ambassador to Uganda, Natalie Brown, has already come out to criticize the move to reintroduce the bill. In our interview, Basalirwa said many people in government are afraid to support the bill. Ggoobi didn’t respond to our tweets seeking his response to Basalirwa’s claim.
Your bill has already been gazetted; that was fast. The law says at the time of giving leave, you must attach a draft bill; that’s what the rules say. You can’t be granted leave in the absence of a draft bill. Once you are done with the draft bill, you write to the clerk and request that it be gazetted. In my case, it wasn’t even a draft bill, although that’s what the rules call it. In actual sense, it was the final bill.
So, when did you start working on this bill?
Sometime last year. The summary of the bill is that we want to criminalize LGBTQ recruitment, promotion, funding, support, and other related or incidental practices and activities.
Why are you bringing it now?
We have received a lot of information and concern. I will tell you that last weekend I was in my constituency. It was graduation week, and I got a lot of complaints from my people about cases of homosexuality. In Bugiri, it is worse. So, when we came back from recess, I spoke to some of my colleagues who had similar concerns. So, the recruitment drive, the promotion, is real and it’s at its peak. That’s why I thought it fit to bring it at this time to try and address the vice.
People like you seem to be fanning up the situation to make it appear like Uganda is under attack, yet this doesn’t seem to be the case…
It’s not fanning up the situation, anybody who lives in Uganda knows what has been happening in the last few months in terms of gay-related activities in schools and the community. Anyway, why would anybody be interested in fanning it up? As a matter of fact, everybody had gone quiet about these vices. Nobody thought about resurrecting the law. It’s the people who are doing the recruitment and promotion who are awakening the public.
But by making homosexuality a subject of intense public discussion, you are inadvertently helping in the promotion…
It is both yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it’s now an issue of debate, but it’s also good that it has awakened us legislators. Maybe nobody is thinking about the law now. But because the debate is there, let the law come and address the issues.
But some of the provisions look like they are so punitive, like sending people to jail for 10 years or life imprisonment…
Well, that is my proposal, let the House decide; they can amend to what is acceptable.
There are those who say that homosexuality is a human right and that by legislating against it, you are violating a God-given right…
I beg to differ; I think for me homosexuality is a human wrong, not a human right. In fact, I think it’s a lifestyle issue. If it were a human right, then there would be no need for recruitment, promotion, publicity, and the like, because human rights are by nature natural.
They are organic. In fact, these people need help. One of the things I would propose is to have a strong counselling and rehabilitation centre or program because some people have found themselves in these situations out of recruitment, or promotion because of money. Such a category of people needs support. Even in schools where these things are happening, these people need to be rehabilitated.
One of the things you criminalize is the publication of the name of a victim of aggravated homosexuality; isn’t that an overreach?
The media also plays a very important role in the promotion and recruitment; so, there must be deterrent measures on the media if we are to fight this human wrong. The broad objective is to deter the media from being accomplices in the promotion of this human wrong.
But can a law stop human behaviour that is as old as humanity?
Then you are saying we shouldn’t have laws at all. Every law is about regulating human behaviour. You have heard about perennial offenders who are arrested, taken to court, and imprisoned, and when they return, they do the same thing. But does that stop us from having the law?
So, the fear of failing to stop a vice should never be a reason for not legislating; otherwise, there would be no penal law at all.
In the bill, you also propose that any person found guilty of promoting homosexuality pays a fine of Shs 100 million or be imprisoned for five years; that’s too punitive.
Let them pay that money because they have it. Do you know how lucrative a business homosexuality is? Because we are describing this as a very serious issue, we want the law to be as deterrent as possible. We are taking this to be a very serious issue; the people involved in these businesses are highly supported and funded by governments.
I will even tell you, for example, that as I’m speaking now, the ministry of finance has declined to give me a certificate of financial implication. In fact, I want this to be on record; they are telling me they fear donors cutting donor aid. So, as you can see, even the government is scared. The PS of Finance, Ramathan Ggoobi, who is a Muslim like me, is scared. He can’t give me a certificate to proceed.
Have they put that in writing?
No, they will not, they fear the backlash from the public.
Who, particularly in finance, told you they couldn’t give you a certificate?
Ramathan Ggoobi is the one who told me. He is scared.
So, how do you proceed then?
Under the law, the private member has obligations. The first obligation is to seek leave, which I obtained; the second is to have the bill published, which has happened; the third is to have a certificate of financial implication from the ministry of Finance; that is beyond me; the fourth obligation is that once I get the certificate and the bill is read for the first time, it’s sent to the committee where I go and make my case, along with the seconders and other stakeholders.
Then I come back on the floor of the house, where we shall discuss the bill clause by clause. As far as I’m concerned, I have done what the law requires me to do. What I have not done is beyond me. If the ministry of finance doesn’t want to give me a certificate, I can’t compel them to do so.
However, the law says if after 60 days they have not issued me with a certificate, I proceed without it. If they continue to refuse to give it to me, I will wait for the 60 days and proceed with the law. I’m prepared to go to the end. Obviously, there are implications. I know that government is scared of losing aid. I even know that some people are even scared of not getting visas.
People are saying, you know we have families in America, we have families in Canada, you are going to cause us problems. Why are you bringing this thing? The country will be blacklisted, etc. Even to me as an individual, my social media platforms have been hacked, and I have been insulted from around the world, but they are forgetting the kind of person they are working with.
I have heard people say, your bill is diverting Ugandans from focusing on the major issues affecting the country…
How does it divert people? You see, that is the laziest argument I have heard. Do they take time to read the order papers of parliament? The day I brought that motion, did they know how many things were on the order sheet? They want me to determine what is being discussed in public. That’s like saying, “Basalirwa, we no longer see you on TV or hear you on radio”.
Do I decide the news that ends up on TV or radio, or do I invite myself? If you want to know whether Basalirwa is active in parliament or not, you ask for the Hansard, not the media, because their preferences are very different.
The last time this law was passed by parliament, the court nullified it on the ground that it was passed without quorum. What are you going to do to ensure that a similar thing doesn’t play out again?
I’m going to do everything to ensure that all the rules are followed. I have been in parliament for some time, and in terms of procedural and legal proprietorship, I can assure you that it will follow the necessary processes. As regards quorum, that’s be- yond me.
I only want to invite the citizens to begin asking their MPs where they stand on these matters. It must be a public issue. I think that from now onward, MPs should begin making their positions on the bill clear so that we don’t face the crisis we faced the last time parliament met.
If you know a bill is going to cause a country that is already struggling more problems, why do you bring it?
Let parliament reject it because I’m just a private member; even in my party, I’m just alone. If what I’m proposing is not good for the country, let it be rejected, and we will face the consequences. If their children are sodomized, I will be vindicated.
That sounds like blackmail.
That’s not blackmail; I’m just saying I’m not the final person on this matter.
How different is your bill from that of Minister David Bahati that was nullified?
It’s not far from it. In fact, it’s about 70 per cent. So, we are building on it because it was a good law. I have met with Hon Bahati, and he made a biblical analogy that he was Moses and I’m Joshua, who is going to deliver the children of Israel to the promised land. He said that will be his statement on the floor when he is debating the bill.
I think the debate on this bill should be a contest of ideas from all angles. Unfortunately, some circles want to use duress and undue influence, and that is going to compromise the debate.
I want the committee that is going to scrutinize this bill to invite people who think it’s good to be gay. Let them be heard. I really want to meet people who are gay to try to understand what they call a human right. I need to talk to them and tell them this is a human wrong they shouldn’t take pride in.