, KAMPALA, May 15 – Parliament in Uganda has rejected a controversial phone-tapping bill, demanding substantial changes before it can be put to the vote, lawmakers told AFP on Friday.
The proposed bill would, in its original version, have given Security Minister Amama Mbabazi, sweeping powers to unilaterally grant phone tapping warrants, if he believed a felony could be committed.
"This is obscene. The warrants for phone tapping should be given by a judge," said Alex Oceng, an opposition lawmaker who sits on the committee responsible for reviewing the bill.
"The committee will not in any way accept the bill in this form," he added.
Reservations have been voiced across party lines, with both opposition and ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) parliamentarians asking the minister to revise the bill.
Concerns also centre on Mbabazi himself, who occupies a strong position in Uganda’s government as well as being the NRM secretary general.
Mbabazi previously headed the defence and justice ministries and is widely seen as President Yoweri Museveni’s closest confidant. The Ugandan media frequently touts him as Museveni’s potential successor.
"The powers being given to Mr Mbabazi in the present bill are just too much," Erasmus Magulumaali, an independent lawmaker sitting on the communication committee, told AFP.
Oceng was concerned that Mbabazi might use his powers for political espionage.
"The bill has been timely brought in as we are moving towards the next election," he said, referring to presidential elections slated for February 2011.
Contacted by AFP, Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya distanced himself from the bill, saying only that it was being sponsored by the security minister, and declining further comment.
Lawmakers still remain open to a new phone tapping bill.
"What we are trying to do as far as I am concerned is to fight terrorism, but to do so in a way that does not violate people’s human rights," Magulumaali said.
Mbabazi said he is willing to review the proposed legislation, titled the Regulation of Interception of Communication Bill, and promised to submit a revised version to the committee next week.