The Observer (Kampala)

19 December 2012

Uganda: Chaos in Parliament Over Canceled Tribute

Special sitting to pay tribute to the late Butaleja Woman MP - Cerinah Nebanda brew storm after MPs learnt of the arrest of an Independent ... ( Resource: Session Turns Stormy Over Late Uganda Legislator

What was meant to be a parliamentary session to pay tribute to the fallen Cerinah Nebanda ended abruptly and in confusion, as questions lingered over what killed the Butaleja Woman MP.

Deputy speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah suspended the tribute session at the urging of enraged MPs, who believed they had reason to suspect that the police was trying to hide something. The suspension was caused by the arrest of the independent pathologist, Dr Sylvester Onzivua at Entebbe airport on Tuesday en route to South Africa.

Dr Onzivua, who was hired by Parliament to do an independent forensic investigation, was arrested en route to South Africa, where he was supposed to take some samples for further tests. The doctor's arrest, MPs said, strengthened their argument that all was not well and that someone wanted to bury the truth.

The lingering question put to government yesterday was: why was the doctor arrested?

The junior minister for Internal Affairs, James Baba, attempted to calm tempers. "It was wrong if it was agreed" that he (doctor) should go to South Africa and then he is arrested. "But, I have another difficulty: police says that he was not supposed to smuggle body parts. What can I say? Help me out," Baba told MPs.

Kinkiizi MP Chris Baryomunsi, a parliamentary commissioner and medical practitioner, who represented Parliament at the post-mortem examination, said that before Onzivua's arrest, senior police officers, pathologists and MPs met on Monday to chart a way forward for the investigation in the office of the executive director of Mulago Hospital.

He said the police and MPs agreed to work together and that Police had sanctioned Onzivua's trip to South Africa to conduct separate tests. The meeting also agreed that two parallel investigations be executed--one by Onzivua and the other by the government.

Subsequently, Onzivua was procured a ticket to South Africa and given $20,000 for the tests, and he was supposed to leave yesterday at 7 am aboard a South African Airways flight. But security personnel intercepted him and took the samples.

In the House, when minister James Baba asked for help, MPs suggested that the motion to pay tribute to Nebanda be halted and the House be suspended until the team of doctors from the family and parliament be reassembled to assess whether new body samples could be got--given the fact that the government samples and those they have confiscated from Onzivua can't be trusted anymore.

"There should be a process which is not questionable regarding these investigations so that the results that come out are credible," Baryomunsi said.

"We cannot authenticate the tests now that Dr Onzivua has been arrested, and we don't know where the samples are. We have consulted as doctors who were part of this process and agreed that we cannot be party to these samples. Suspend the process," he added.

At this moment, Baryomunsi also revealed that the president has telephoned him asking whether he was working with police. He said he and the president had agreed that the MPs should work with police; and the police had been involved in all the deliberations.

"But since they have decided to arrest Dr Onzivua, we cannot trust them anymore," he said.

This forced Dokolo woman MP, Cecilia Ogwal, to call for the cancellation of the tribute session. Others, like Kyadondo East MP Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, argued that Parliament should instead order the release of Dr Onzivua and halt the burial of Nebanda until the body is re-examined and new samples taken.

But Vice President Edward Ssekandi stoked fires by saying that "the subject was irrelevant". Even before he completed his statement, MPs construed that to mean that he was dismissing the suggestion that the body be re-examined in order to get the truth as "irrelevant".

According to Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Ssekandi's statement showed that there was "something terribly wrong with this government".

"I am ashamed to belong to this government. Leaders are murderers, killers. They have killed this woman in cold blood," Ssekikubo said.

This forced Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi to explain that it was not "too late to find the truth" even if the Onzivua samples had been confiscated. Mbabazi cited the case of the late Palestine leader, Yasser Arafat, whose body was recently exhumed so that they can establish the truth.

Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah agreed to suspend the House and suggested that the body be taken to Mulago so that doctors from parliament can reassemble with a team of experts including the arrested Onzivua to forge a way forward and report to parliament on Friday this week. Oulanyah also ordered that Nebanda's body be taken to Mulago medical school.

But the mother demanded that her daughter's body should be taken to her home in Entebbe, before she collapsed. By press time, The Observer understood that the mother was headed for home, as was the body of the fallen Cerinah Nebanda.

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