The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: 2013 - Political Feud to Continue

Corruption, Nebanda death, aid cuts, HIV bill to dominate:

Going into 2013, instead of projecting calm and promising options, political watchers and critics are signalling a bruising year for the economy, the fight against corruption and a rise in the friction between the Executive and Parliament. The outgoing year's unfinished business provides arguably the clearest pointers to date as to what 2013 holds for Ugandans.

The controversial death of Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda, will linger on into the first quarter of the year. We could see more MPs who rejected the government autopsy report linking the MP's death to alcohol and drug abuse, appear in court in January. MPs are demanding a special session to discuss President Museveni's harsh criticism of Parliament's meddling in the police investigation. If their bid is successful, we might see a flexing of muscles between the two arms of the state.

"We might have a constitutional crisis if Parliament is called back from recess and condemns the President's actions and also gives an ultimatum. The disagreements won't heal and possibly the President will be forced to take over or suspend Parliament. He will be instigating a coup against himself," Bruce Kyerere, a former Uganda Law Society boss, said in a recent interview with The Observer.

This could well set the mood for relations between Parliament and the Executive throughout the coming year. Arthur Larok, the Country Director of ActionAid International, predicts a difficult year.

"Despite the bravery and courage of some MPs, the President ultimately breaks their resistance," he said, citing previous cases like the MPs' faltering bid to increase the health budget and secure pay rises for teachers and doctors.

Larok believes in an empowered citizenry to side with MPs so that legislators are forced to choose between siding with the President or with the voters. Stephen Mukitale Biraahwa, the Buliisa county MP, regrets the current impasse but predicts that it's likely to continue.

"It [friction between MPs and Museveni] is going to continue because the old order led by the President doesn't want to engage the new order. The old order is used to being in charge, which the new order is challenging. They also want to be involved," he said in an interview.

Without elaborating, Biraahwa added that both the Executive and Parliament have previously encroached on each other's mandate. Aaron Mukwaya, a senior lecturer at Makerere University, predicts that the President and his executive will continue to seek to exert influence and control over Parliament.

"Things are likely to get worse because some MPs will resist that," he said.

Mukwaya is also pessimistic about the performance of political parties, the economy as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of government institutions going into 2013.

"There is no attempt by leaders to address these issues," he explained.

Parliament:

As far as legislation is concerned, several bills are lined up for debate in the next session. These include two on oil, the anti-homosexuality bill and one on HIV which, among other things, urges compulsory testing. Biraahwa predicts that these bills will get parliamentary approval but with some adjustments.

"There will be some surgery," he said.

He also mentioned the draft law that calls for seizure of properties of the corrupt (the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2012. He says government might not support it, if it has a huge financial implication in its implementation. Commenting on the HIV bill's controversial compulsory testing proposal, Biraahwa argues that the clause is in the best interest of the beneficiary, just like compulsory immunization would be, and should therefore be supported.

The MP also wants to see the anti-homosexuality bill focus more on the rehabilitation of gays while strongly legislating against the promotion of homosexuality.

"It's a disorder to be dealt with, not to be promoted," he said.

Corruption

On corruption, the Police and Parliament's Public Accounts committee are expected to continue investigating the misuse of Shs 50bn meant for the rehabilitation of northern Uganda, and even expand the graft probe to other government departments. Pius Bigirimana, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, will remain in the eye of the storm, as will the interdicted Principal Accountant, Geoffrey Kazinda, and other officials.

Larok, however, is not optimistic that Kazinda's trial and the PAC investigation will yield much.

"I don't expect much from these manoeuvres, they will probe, make reports but after that the President will institute another probe," he predicted.

The solution, he says, lies in empowering citizens to mount pressure on the government to act on the corrupt.

"Reform within government is important but it won't help," Larok argued.

On his part, Mukwaya believes that corruption will continue to thrive with impunity because in his view, there isn't enough punitive action to deter it.

"To the contrary, we see more threats to those fighting corruption," he says.

Aid cuts:

The aid cuts will continue to bite, especially if donors are dissatisfied with government's corrective measures. How the OPM investigation is handled will determine whether donors restore aid immediately or not. Yet even as the donors consider doing so, the anticipated passing of the controversial anti-homosexuality bill could instigate similar action in 2013.

Although, publically, the donors pegged the aid cuts to corruption, MP Biraahwa believes donors are discontent with the anti-homosexuality bill and Uganda's alleged involvement in the DR Congo conflict.

Bruised FDC:

Amongst political parties, most action and drama is expected from the ruling NRM and the main opposition FDC. In NRM, President Museveni will start the new year more determined than ever to tame the rebellious MPs. Yet more NRM MPs are expected to join the rebel ranks. In FDC, newly-elected President Mugisha Muntu will have to deal with the dissenting voices led by the man he defeated, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Nathan Nandala Mafabi, who believes the election was not free and fair.

How Muntu and Mafabi deal with this challenge has a big say on the fortunes of the party and the political careers of the two men as the next round of national elections gets ever closer. Mafabi himself will have his 2 ½ year term as Leader of Opposition come up for review in November 2013. His conduct between now and then could determine whether he keeps the job.

Besides, the former FDC President, Dr Kizza Besigye, will remain a force to reckon with. He is likely to play a behind-the-scenes role in reconciling Muntu and Mafabi supporters. Besigye is not about to retire into political oblivion. We might see more of him organising civil disobedience campaigns against the state. This is likely to enrage some members of his party who don't believe in his methods or wish to see him act within party structures, and government functionaries who would rather wish him away.

Lukwago vs Musisi:

Meanwhile, the feud between Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and the KCCA Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi, is expected to continue well into 2013. As far as the economy is concerned, inflation is likely to continue declining with bank interest rates dropping at a slower rate.

"We started 2012 badly, but we are ending on a good note with the Central Bank rate standing at 12%. This gives us hope for the better. The economy should be performing better," Biraahwa said.

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