Parliament's Appointments committee went against its earlier decision and bent the rules when it convened yesterday for an impromptu "special" sitting to approve the Kayunga Woman MP, Aidah Nantaba, as minister of state for Lands.
The committee had initially, on three occasions, refused to approve Nantaba over unclear reasons. At first, Nantaba was rejected on grounds that her academic papers were wanting but after she successfully defended the qualifications, the committee still rejected her.
This was after some members, led by Betty Amongi (Oyam South), questioned her moral character. When she attempted to appear for the third time, to defend her moral character, she was denied the chance.
Enraged by the decision, Nantaba reacted angrily, claiming that some members of the Appointments committee together with senior army officers she had exposed as land grabbers in Kayunga district were fighting her. This outburst made her even more unpopular with the Appointments committee.
But President Museveni, who had seen four of his ministerial appointees, Nasser Sebaggala, Muyanja Mbabaali, Saleh Kamba and James Kakooza rejected after the elections last year, was not going to settle for a no this time.
He dug in, pressuring the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, to help change the committee's position and stubbornly refused to swear in other appointees that the committee had approved until he got his minister.
The Observer reported on this last month, revealing that Museveni had in a couple of letters to the speaker pleaded with the committee to reconsider the issue (see: Museveni insists on Idah Nantaba).
In one of the letters, Museveni said he had counselled Nantaba and advised her to apologise to Parliament; and that even if it were not the case, natural justice demands that the accused be heard. In her reply, Kadaga told the President that reconvening the Appointments committee would not be possible because members had voted on the subject.
She reportedly advised that the remaining option was to take the matter to the plenary for the whole House to deliberate upon. Even then, she said she wouldn't chair such a session, having presided over the Appointments committee that already pronounced itself on Nantaba. Earlier on in mid-September, sources told us, Museveni had raised the Nantaba issue with Betty Amongi and Justine Lumumba, UPC and NRM chief whips, respectively, when he met the duo at State House, Entebbe.
Amongi, the chairperson of the Uganda Women's Parliamentary Association (UWOPA), had gone to ask Museveni to officiate as chief guest at a ceremony where UWOPA would celebrate "Women @ 50", part of the golden jubilee celebrations. Museveni accepted the request after which he put it to Amongi that she had been among the people vehemently opposed to the appointment of Nantaba.
"Now that I have sorted you out, I want you to help me with my issue of Nantaba," Museveni reportedly told Amongi.
Amongi reportedly told Museveni about the rumour doing rounds in Parliament that he was treating Nantaba in a special way to the extent of availing her with soldiers from the Special Forces Group (SFG) to protect her. Amongi is understood to have informed Museveni that Nantaba is revelling in, and talking about, her 'special' treatment from the President, something that has not gone down well with ordinary MPs who do not enjoy such favours from the head of state.
"The President just recognises my hard work in fighting for my people and by appointing me a minister, he knows I can do the job," Nantaba told The Observer recently.
And so yesterday, the deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, convened a sitting of the committee with instructions from Kadaga to reconsider the Nantaba appointment. While it was not surprising that the matter was revisited, it was surprising that it went back to the Appointments committee rather than to the plenary as Kadaga had told the President.
According to our sources, Kadaga is reportedly in Canada attending a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, something seen in some quarters as her convenient excuse from the session that saw Parliament bend its own rules of procedure and give Nantaba the last laugh.
"The speaker made a communication to have Nantaba's appointment reconsidered," a committee member told The Observer.
In her communication to the committee, we have been told, Kadaga asked the members to meet Nantaba after vetting two ambassadorial nominees whose approval had remained pending. Indeed, after successfully approving the two ambassadors: Prof Sam Turyamuhika (Somalia) and Dr Joyce Kikafunda (United Kingdom), the committee invited Nantaba at 1pm -- she had been waiting in the Parliament canteen since 11am.
When she entered the committee room, Nantaba was asked to apologise for her utterances against the members before they could listen to her. She obliged.
"We are all leaders and we all make mistakes, but I am sorry for whatever happened," sources quoted her as saying.
Although some members, including Gen EllyTumwine (Army), reportedly disapproved of Nantaba's qualified apology, saying it was not genuine, the committee eventually accepted it. In the end, she walked out of the vetting room a minister, pending the swearing-in.
The MPs said to have worked to block Nantaba's appointment include Patrick Nakabale (Youth, Central), Rosemary Nyakikongoro (Sheema Woman) and Betty Amongi (Oyam South). We have been told that at yesterday's meeting, Amongi left prematurely, possibly after reading the mood and concluding that Nantaba would be approved.
Nyakikongoro was absent, while Nakabale simply supported the approval after fighting a lone, losing battle. Fifteen of the 25 committee members attended the meeting. Betty Aol Ochan (Gulu Woman; FDC) and Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka municipality; Indep) were the only opposition members present and both approved Nantaba.
"There was no strong reason as to why we should object to her appointment," Ochan told The Observer.
Mpuuga was of the same view.
"Those who had made assertions about her moral character failed to justify their assertions, as they [the assertions] remained corridor allegations," he said, adding: "In that case, there was no reason to object to her approval -- when we approved people like Sam Kutesa (minister of Foreign Affairs) and Mwesigwa Rukutana (minister of state for Labour) who have pending cases in the court."
However, some MPs were unhappy that House rules had to be bent just to grant the President his wish.
"That was a very bad decision for the committee and it's against the Rules of Procedure," said Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East).
Citing Rule 160(1), which provides that if the Appointments committee rejects a nominee, the President can appeal to the House to reconsider the matter, Niwagaba said that was the only ground under which Parliament should have reconsidered the nominee.
"It had gone on record that the nominee was rejected; so, there is no other way this could have been done [the approval]. What the committee did was ultra vires and un-procedural," Niwagaba said.