President explains that he only went out to get the lost sheep, but NRM MPs are angry that the 'rebels' could get such easy access to the party chairman.
Secret consultations between President Museveni and a group of outspoken NRM MPs considered rebels within the party have been revealed. Insider sources told The Observer last week that the president quietly met five rebel NRM lawmakers including Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) at his country home in Kisozi in an effort to alter the face of their opposition to the ruling NRM.
The meeting came to the fore at last week's NRM caucus meeting that plotted the passage of the controversial clause 9 of the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill 2012, which gives discretionary powers to the minister for energy to grant or revoke oil licences.
The other MPs who were personally called and invited by Mr Museveni to Kisozi include Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East), Cerinah Nebanda (Butaleja Woman) and Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central). These MPs have opposed Museveni and NRM on almost everything and championed many anti-establishment causes. They have called for the restoration of presidential term limits, led calls for the resignation of ministers Sam Kutesa and Hilary Onek and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, accused earlier on this year of receiving bribes from an oil exploration company and, more recently, opposed the passage of clause 9 of the Oil bill.
Their anti-corruption crusade has been quite bruising for the NRM, whose rank-and-file has been in the line of fire. The presidential embrace of this group didn't impress the loyalists in NRM one single bit. The loyalists, The Observer has learned, argued that it was wrong for Museveni to continue treating rebel MPs with kid gloves--yet their damage to the party is obliterating.
One such angry MP is Simon Peter Aleper (Moroto municipality), who bluntly asked the president to explain his secret dealings with the rebel MPs.
"People have been suspecting that you have met the Ssekikubos privately. It is further alleged that you keep on dialoguing with them yet they attack you publicly and also front contrary views to what we agree upon in our meetings," Aleper reportedly said during the November 6 NRM caucus meeting.
"Can you explain your relationship with Ssekikubo?" Aleper reportedly asked Museveni during the caucus. In a separate interview with The Observer at the weekend, Aleper confirmed confronting the president.
In response, sources say, a rather surprised Museveni confessed that he had met Ssekikubo and his group four months ago at his country home in Kisozi to try and bring them back into the fold.
"I met the Ssekikubos four months ago. I wanted to meet the lost sheep. I have to look for lost sheep. But they have not reformed, no more talking. No more dialogue," Museveni is quoted as having told the MPs.
The president said he was aware there were certain non-governmental organizations in the country sponsoring the Ssekikubo group to disrupt the oil sector. He vowed to investigate their dealings and report back to the caucus. Museveni said he was aware these NGOs had funded several workshops organized by the likes of the Ssekikubos on oil issues.
"I will investigate the NGOs that fund this parliamentary organisation on oil," Museveni said.
We have been told Museveni singled out Revenue Watch Institute, Global Witness and Open Society Foundation as key sponsors. We failed to independently get a comment from the NGOs at the weekend. Museveni reportedly said those NGOs work closely with local NGOs to support the rebel MPs.
Ssekikubo is the chairperson of the Parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas, which has been challenging the government's oil proposals. Ssekikubo, on his part, at the weekend denied receiving any money from the said NGOs. Speaking at a weekend radio talk show, MP Joseph Ssewungu (Kalungu West) said there was nothing wrong with MPs attending oil workshops.
He said the workshops were instructive, and that the government had sponsored MPs for trips abroad to learn about oil management. He singled out the government-sponsored parliamentary trip to Ghana which he was part of. Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu, an outspoken follower of oil matters, said during the Capital Gang talk show last Saturday that he had travelled abroad on many occasions with his colleagues to understand the "best practice" on oil matters and reciprocate the same here.
Speaking to The Observer on telephone from Zambia, Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba confirmed they met the president but insisted nothing came of the meeting. He said Museveni demanded to know why they kept opposing NRM positions.
"I mean we are not just supposed to keep quiet," Niwagaba said. "In March, it is true we met him [president] and he asked us why we are always opposing the party position. We told him that when something goes wrong, we are supposed to talk about it so that we find a solution, and in particular when these issues are about our fellow party members, it's incumbent upon us to point out the problems," he added.
Nsereko, another other outspoken MP who recently threatened to leave the ruling party, said, by telephone from Kenya, that much as he attended the Kisozi meeting, he remained steadfast in his thinking.
"I make decisions based on what my voters tell me, not the unjustified positions of the party. Nevertheless, my position is very clear and I have my conscience that directs me on what to do."
Ssekikubo told us that the president needs to welcome engagements with them and not to take offence when they speak out.
"I think the president should be glad that I have contributed to building consensus in the party. As a president, he should be ready to have harmony on matters of national importance and if we point out issues that lead us to harmony, then he should be more willing to listen to us. I will be saddened if he takes offence at our criticisms," he said.
The Observer has learned that Museveni plans to take action against these stubborn MPs. This is the point Richard Todwong, the minister for Political Mobilization, emphasised when we called him. Todwong said that the rebel MPs need to understand how a multiparty dispensation works.
"Every institution has its rules, when we entered a multiparty dispensation, we agreed to change the discipline of our political culture and; indeed, in such an arrangement, it is political parties that set our discipline. So, when my colleagues start to divert from our party discipline, that is lack of respect for institutions," he said.
Frank Tumwebaze, the minister for the Presidency said Museveni met the rebel MPs because he is "so patient and likes to dialogue. But if he moves to end dialogue, he means it."
"Actually, it is only NRM that has rebels and it's because of the compromising nature of the president but when you look at other parties, they deal with it accordingly," Tumwebaze said. "For instance there is dissent in the FDC but they have managed to deal with it. So, if it's not opportunism, why do my colleagues still belong to NRM yet they believe that it has gone astray?"