After a bruising and chaotic debate, a fiercely divided Parliament failed to pass the oil bill yesterday, despite a widely publicized presidential effort to muscle the legislation through.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga was forced to sneak out of parliament as debate on the controversial petroleum bill whirled out of control. Regular procedure was thrown to the wind.
There was no formal announcement of an adjournment by the speaker at 5pm when she fled. She exited the House through the back door, leaving behind the sergeant-at-arms, Ahmed Kagoye and his two assistants.
By then MPs opposed to the Petroleum bill were chanting 'Our oil, no vote' while, the rest called for a vote. There was calm earlier on in the afternoon when Kadaga called proceedings to order, guiding members to make final consultations before taking a vote on whether or not to recommit the bill.
The recommittal was to allow debate on Clause 9, which covers the sticky issue of powers of the line minister to, among other things, grant and revoke licences and negotiate and endorse petroleum agreements.
Two weeks ago, Parliament agreed that in the interest of transparency and promoting the MPs, constitutional oversight role, this function be left to the Petroleum Authority, whose decisions would be approved by the House, while leaving policy decisions to the minister.
Yesterday, the House was unusually packed. Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba argued that passing the bill into law would have a substantial effect on the entire Upstream bill (Petroleum Bill 2012) by up to 99%. "If we do reconsider Clause 9, definitely we must reconsider the entire bill which will be affected 99%," Niwagaba said.
However, several legislators including Kampala Central MP, Muhammed Nsereko asked for debate to continue, arguing that it was in good faith.
Others, like Hanifa Kawooya and Ruth Nankabirwa insisted that there was nothing to debate. They wanted to vote. The hostile mood was set by Oyam North MP Krispus Ayena, who made a passionate appeal to fellow MPs not to pass the bill.
"I would like to invite this House to appreciate the mood of this country that has been captured in the attendance of the public in the gallery," Ayena said at top of his voice. "Wouldn't it be a shame that this House can be turned into a voting machine ... Today is the day when the people of Uganda are listening to a matter that surpasses all levels of debate."
With calls for a point of order ringing, Ayena continued: "The People of Uganda from all shades of lives have come out to support the view because of the importance of what is being discussed [oil]. The choice before us now is to decide whether we want to sell our country cheaply or whether everyone can have a choice to voice their views of..."
With that, the House ran out of control.
The Observer has learnt from several NRM MPs that the president personally called up individual MPs, irrespective of their party affiliation. He is reported to have urged them to vote to retain the clause that empowers the minister to grant and revoke licences.
"I have to lead in the exercise of power; however, the Constitution guarantees me to exercise such power through my ministers but if you just take away my power through that legislation, it will be bad," Museveni is reported to have told individual MPs.
But from yesterday's proceedings and voices from some of his party members, it didn't yield much.
"He should listen to what Ugandans are telling him because he is intending to trust ministers, but records show that ministers are easily manipulated by investors....," said Medard Bitekyerezo (NRM, Mbarara municipality)
Former presidential legal advisor Fox Odoi (Independent, West Budama North), said: "We must be sincere; however much the political leadership wants a lot of power, it cannot do this because it will be micro-management."
The House resumes today.