30 December 2012

Uganda: 2012 in Parliament - Heroes and Villains

The heartbreaking death of the young and outspoken Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda in December and the furore over the cause of her sudden demise capped a stormy 12 months in Parliament that saw MPs, especially those deemed to be rebels in the NRM ranks, tread a delicate collision path with the executive.

The past year was loaded with drama. Twice President Museveni locked horns with Parliament, the Anti-Homosexuality bill met strong international resistance, and the resignation of ministers Syda Bbumba and Khiddu Makubuya over their handling of the inflated compensation of businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba injected a rare dose of excitement.

Towards the end, the swindle of at least Shs 50bn from the Office of the Prime Minister and the controversial passage of the (Petroleum Exploration, Development and Production) Bill 2012 capped the dramatic year.


In death, Nebanda courted even more controversy and attention than in life. The government and MPs each sought a controlling stake in the postmortem, sparking a standoff. The government autopsy and toxicology report linked Nebanda's death to narcotics, something MPs led by doctors in their ranks rejected, drawing a strong backlash from government.

Many MPs, including Dr Chris Baryomunsi, Muhammad Nsereko, Dr Sam Lyomoki, Dr Medard Bitekyerezo, Theodore Ssekikubo, Emmanuel Dombo and Betty Nambooze face prosecution over their role or remarks made on the death of Nebanda. Nebanda had been part of a group of lawmakers, who could be described as the most influential persons of the year in the way they inspired and influenced debate in Parliament. They kept the government on tenterhooks.

This group includes, but is not limited to, Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central), Hamson Obua Ogwal (Ajuri), Vicent Kyamadidi (Rwampara) and Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East). Gerald Karuhanga, Chris Baryomunsi, Emmanuel Dombo (Bunyole East) and Betty Nambooze (Mukono municipality) are the other members.

These MPs have opposed President 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 over allegations of taking bribes from oil companies, and, more recently, vehemently opposed the passage of clause 9 of the oil bill. Their anti-corruption crusade was quite bruising for the NRM, whose rank-and-file was in the line of fire.

Some have sponsored crucial bills. For instance, Niwagaba's Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill 2010 was among the less than 10 bills passed by Parliament in 2012. The group was also influential in overhauling the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill, 2012. Sometime last September, the President quietly met five "rebel" NRM lawmakers at his country home in Kisozi in an effort to win them over but they refused to budge.

Instead, their camp keeps growing with new comers entering the fold, particularly opposition MPs. Paul Mwiru (FDC-Jinja East), Medard Sseggona (DP- Busiro East), Krispus Ayena (UPC-Oyam North), Joseph Ssewungu (DP-Kalungu West) and Maxwell Akora (UPC-Maruzi) are some of the new faces. Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda (Kyadondo East), Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka municipality) and Joseph Balikuddembe (Busiro South) are also vocal supporters.

Others are seasoned lawmakers such as Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri), Alice Alaso (Serere), Amuriat Oboi (Kumi), Kassiano Wadri (Terego), Odonga Otto (Aruu), Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum Woman) and Betty Amongi (Oyam South), Cecilia Ogwal (Dokolo Woman), Ken Lukyamuzi (Lubaga South) and Okumu Reagan (Aswa).


The real storm started in February when the House got a new clerk, Jane Kibirige--replacing Aeneas Tandekwire, who retired. Before she could settle down, MPs were moving to her office in droves eager to append their signatures on a censure motion of two ministers, Khiddu Makubuya and Syda Bbumba.

The ministers didn't wait to be pushed, they jumped. Makubuya and Bbumba were targeted for their questionable handling of the inflated Shs 142bn compensation of businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba for lost business in city markets. A parliamentary effort to nail the Central Bank Governor, Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, over the same issue fell through when the executive decided to protect the governor.


As the mysterious nodding disease ravaged parts of northern Uganda, the Acholi parliamentary group protested, questioning the spirit of the executive in bringing a Shs 92bn State House supplementary budget while the ministry of Health couldn't find Shs 7bn to combat the disease.

"If it is true that Shs 92bn is going to State House when our people are suffering with nodding disease without any serious response, may God have mercy upon us. To my colleagues in Parliament, if you approve this money, the people of northern Uganda will never forgive you," Reagan Okumu (Aswa) said.

Nevertheless the Shs 92bn was approved while another supplementary to cater for the nodding disease response was brought in later.


To many lawmakers March was a light month. It was the month during which the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference came to Uganda. Thousands of lawmakers from across the world flocked to Uganda to discuss matters affecting parliaments and citizens.


May saw the Vice President, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, survive a road accident while returning from Amuria district. It was also in May when FDC strongwoman and Kitgum Woman MP, Beatrice Anywar, resigned her ministerial position in the shadow cabinet, protesting claims that she was in league with NRM.

As Anywar resigned, Singh Katongole lost his seat after court declared that Moses Kasibante was the duly-elected MP for Lubaga North constituency.


In June, government presented new taxes in the annual budget, a move that MPs welcomed. Museveni used his state of the nation address to attack the media as "another corrupt, irresponsible and unprofessional group." He also hit out at FDC's top leaders, describing them as lost sheep, charlatans, liars and opportunists.

Museveni's outburst came on the back of an opposition clash over the East African Legislative Assembly representation. Angered by parties like DP and UPC that chose to work with NRM, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Nathan Nandala-Mafabi (Budadiri West), declared that from then on there was "only one party in the opposition that you should deal with and that is FDC."

He fired the DP and UPC shadow ministers. But the EALA election drama also spilled over into NRM. The bone of contention was the candidature of Dora Byamukama and Margaret Zziwa for speaker of EALA. The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, flew to Arusha to lobby for Dora Byamukama but Zziwa, who was supported by Eriya Kategaya, among others, won the race anyway, which sparked a bitter row.

After the election, Museveni summoned an impromptu NRM caucus where he blasted Amama Mbabazi and Kadaga for putting personal ambitions ahead of party unity.


The death of Usuk county MP, Michael Oromait, rocked Parliament in July. By-elections in Usuk, which produced the youngest MP in Uganda, and in Busiro North (Gilbert Bukenya) saw the NRM retain the two constituencies. Proscovia Alengot, aged 18, was elected to replace her fallen father, Oromait.

August, September and November saw the emergence of new and vibrant opposition lawmakers who replaced NRM members. Among these was Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala), Odo Tayebwa (Bushenyi-Ishaka municipality), Brenda Nabukenya (Luweero Woman) and Paul Mwiru (Jinja East). Old brooms Mathias Nsubuga (Bukoto South), Mohammed Kawuma (Entebbe municipality) and Winnie Kiiza (Kasese Woman) also returned.


Meanwhile, the showdown between the executive and legislature continued, peaking in September when MPs vowed not to approve the budget before Shs 260bn needed to revamp the health sector was allocated by the executive. Among the many proposals put forward by MPs was the suggestion that part of this money should be cut from the ministry of Defence budget.

But Museveni rejected this proposal and invited the NRM caucus to explain why. He told the lawmakers that getting money from the Defence budget could spark a coup d'etat as the country's security was more important than anything else.

"You want soldiers to topple me," Museveni reportedly told the MPs, who he later met in smaller groups before persuading them to approve the budget.


It was in November and December that we saw stark differences between the two speakers. One who handled controversial sittings and another who steered clear of controversy. Kadaga's conspicuous disappearances from would-be controversial matters left many wondering what had happened to the bold speaker of the Ninth Parliament.

Kadaga steered clear of the Appointments Committee sitting that approved the controversial minister of state for Lands, Aidah Nantaba (Kayuga Woman). She also ducked the sitting that passed the controversial oil bill as well as the unprecedented two-time tribute to Nebanda. Her deputy Jacob Oulanyah stood in.


In so doing, Oulanyah earned the "Mr fix-it" moniker. A case in point is the way he steered the debate on clause nine of the oil bill--giving all sides equal time to debate, and also allowing consensus to prevail even when the government side badly wanted to use their numbers to vote.

The other incident is the way he allowed harmony to prevail when Parliament convened to pay tribute to the late Nebanda. At one time, after reading the mood in the House, Oulanyah allowed the tribute session to be cancelled in order to allow MPs iron out their differences with the Police and the President. This happened to the chagrin of the executive that badly wanted Nebanda buried sooner rather than later.

So, for all his disappointments in 2011, like attending the NRM caucus tour of a model farm in western Uganda with Museveni, Oulanyah acquitted himself quite well in 2012.


November came with major victories for some embattled lawmakers. Ministers Sam Kutesa, John Nasasira and Mwesigwa Rukutana, who had resigned in 2011, bounced back after the Anti-Corruption court cleared them of any wrongdoing in their handling of the 2007 Chogm business.


The year 2011 also saw the emergence of new kids on the block [in Parliament] such as Muhammad Nsereko, Vincent Kyamadidi and the late Cerinah Nebanda. As the year 2012 came to end, more previously little- known MPs were beginning to show their worth, including Raphael Magyezi (Igara West), who moved a motion allowing journalists to access the chambers with their gadgets, Micheal Mawanda (Igara East) who courageously criticised the government over poor delivery of basic services, and Monicah Amoding (Youth, National), who voted against the government's position on clause nine of the oil bill.

Other vocal MPs to watch in 2013 include: Dr. Kenneth Omona (Kaberamaido), Frank Tumwebaze (Kibale), and Richard Todwong (Nwoya).

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