8 December 2012

Uganda: Why Speaker Left Oil Debate to Her Deputy

Photo: New Vision
Parliament passes the petroleum Bill.

Kampala — Under the command of deputy speaker Jacob Oulanyah, parliament on Friday passed the controversial Oil Bill amidst speculations that the speaker Rebecca Kadaga chose to withdraw from presiding over it due to enormous pressure from government, the opposition, religious leaders and the civil society organizations.

Kadaga conspicuously left her deputy (Oulanya) who had just come back to the country to preside over passing the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill 2012.

Kadaga's apprehensive withdrawal caused parliament to on Thursday waste about four hours on technicalities as Oulanya was unsure on how to proceed from where Kadaga stopped.

This compelled him to call for a copy of the Hansard and read word after word the proceedings of the plenary session Kadaga last chaired on Tuesday.

On that Tuesday on this week voting on the clause had already started and many had voted already but Kadaga halted the process after the opposition MPs raised procedural concerns.

The move greatly angered the Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi and several ministers who argued that Kadaga was out of order.

Last week on Tuesday, Members of parliament became rowdy when they spontaneously stood up and kept shouting with those on the opposition saying "No vote" while those on the government side shouted "we vote" in total disregard of the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga's repeated calls for order.

In this unprecedented scuffle, which according to the chairman of the rules, privileges and discipline committee Fox Odoi involved 239 MPs including ministers, compelled the speaker to flee the parliament chambers.

The NRM leaders had mobilized their MPs on that day when the house got an unusually high turn up to vote on clause 9 to take away powers from the petroleum authority to the energy minister to negotiate, grant and revoke licenses.

The scuffle was triggered off when the executive and NRM MPs attempted to push for voting on the matter and for fear of losing the battle those opposed to the move.

The following day, the speaker Rebecca Kadaga suspended parliament and instructed the rules, privileges and discipline committee to investigate the incident so that action can be taken against the culprits.

As the investigations were going on, the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi protested the composition of the committee and the terms of reference which he said were light.

Civil Society organizations and the inter-religious council last week on Friday issued statements opposition the government position of giving powers to grant and revoke oil licenses to the energy minister arguing it would minimize transparency and promote corruption in the sector.

The Civil Society groups went another mile of presenting seven petitions on the Bill to the speaker of parliament on Wednesday and Kadaga promised that she would forward their petitions to the committee of natural resources.

Ever since the rowdy conduct of MPs on Tuesday, Uganda televisions radios, the social media, and newspapers have been awash with highly emotional debates on the matter with several politicians, citizens and activists calling for a referendum on the matter.

In the press conference called by civil society organizations last week at Protea Hotel, Frank Muramuzi said they had embarked on blacklisting the names of ministers and MPs who want to give the powers to the minister as traitors whom they would not only name and shame but also de-campaign in the next general elections.

A recent survey by Research World International established that Rebecca Kadaga, the first Lady Janet Museveni and former Vice President Prof. Gilbert Bukenya as the most preferred leaders to succeed President Yoweri Museveni.

Several political leaders from across the political divide and religious leaders like Father Gaetano Batanyenda have been calling upon Rebecca Kadaga to offer herself to be the next President of Uganda.

Kadaga, who is also well known for deliberate efforts to redeem Uganda's parliament to act independent of the executive, could not preside over recommitting a clause after the president's intervention when parliament had already taken a decision on the matter.

The original Bill cabinet brought to parliament had given the powers to the minister but after a lot of protracted debate, parliament amended it and gave the powers to the petroleum authority to negotiate, grant and revoke licenses.

Sources indicate that since last week, the President and his ministers have held several meetings and made several communications to have their way through.

On Thursday the President, who is also the NRM chairman, convened an NRM caucus meeting in the parliament conference hall during which he reportedly expressed anger while banging the table against the NRM MPs opposed to his position.

It is widely believed that it is upon that background of counter accusations and pressure on Kadaga from the opposition, the civil society, religious leaders, advisors, citizens, and the executive that was doing whatever possible to push through its agenda that Kadaga possibly chose to get out of the flying pan and leave Oulanyah in charge.

But the speaker (Rebecca Kadaga) yesterday dismissed the suspicion that she deliberately abandoned presiding over the passing the oil Bill.

Speaking to New Vision, Kadaga said, "I had an assignment from my party which had been agreed upon earlier. That is why I could be in charge on that."

Asked what the assignment was Kadaga said, "I had been asked to go and reconcile the voters in Kamuli who had voted for an opposition candidate. That assignment had been already planned."

On the assumption that she feared to be held responsible for passing a controversial Bill, she said "That is not true. We were supposed to have passed that Bill on Tuesday when I was in charge."

Regarding the criticisms from the ministers that she attempted to frustrate passing the Bill, Kadaga said, "I am the speaker. It is my responsibility to determine how work in Parliament moves not the ministers."

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