Members of the tenth Parliament have questioned the legality of the move by government to cease issuance of Ugandan passports in favor of the electronic East African passports.
The concern was raised on Tuesday while legislators reacted to the statement by the Minister for Internal Affairs, Mario Obiga Kania on introduction of the new international East African e-passport and eventual phase out of the current East Africa and national Machine Readable Passports (MRPs).
Obiga told the House that the decision is in line with implementation of the resolutions from the 17th Ordinary Summit of the East African Community Heads of State held in March 2016. In the summit, the EAC Heads of State launched the new EAC e-Passport and directed for subsequent issuance.
In Uganda, issuance of e-passports was due to commence on January 15th 2019 after the Uganda Cabinet approved the switch to e-passports.
The six-member East African community has set a deadline of January 15th, 2021 deadline to phase out traditional passport books.
The leaders highlighted a number of benefits from the new EAC e-passports noting that the passports will be able to digitally strore all the data of the holder as well as possess more security features.
Minister Obiga’s statement prompted a number of questions from several legislators including the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga who questioned the legal framework that used to roll out the new exercise.
“When did you acquire the legal authority of changing the East African passport into an international passport? The treaty was about the use of East African passport among the member countries which hasn’t been amended,” Kadaga questioned.
Gulu Municipality MP, Lyandro Komaketch in his submissions was skeptical about the intention of government in pursuing this move, saying it could be ploy to deny Ugandans their right to be Ugandans.
“I don’t think there is a legal framework that binds all the East African countries to become one state. If we proceed with this move, we are doing a very unconstitutional process,” MP Komaketch said.
“Secondly, is there a move to ‘de-Ugandanise’ us to the extent that you are doing it publicly?” Komaketch asked the Minister.
In response, the Minister requested for more time to respond to the queries put to him by the legislators.
He however noted that the process is facilitated by the individual country laws that are used in issuing domestic passports.
“Each country is issuing the passports under its own domestic laws and for the case of Uganda, it is the Uganda Immigration Act,” Obiga said.
“The summit agreed that each of the passports should carry a chip with data, the laws have not changed and the treaty hasn’t been amended,” Obiga added.
However, his explanation did not satisfy members who demanded that he withdraws the statement and suspends the implementation of the planned exercise.
Obiga said he would return to the House with a detailed statement as well as a well-informed responses to the concerns from MPs. He was given up to Tuesday next week after which Parliament will take a final decision on the matter.