31 December 2012

Uganda: What a Chaotic Year for Parliament


UGANDA has, in 2012, rocked in confrontational politics, both inside and outside Parliament, orchestrated by an emboldened opposition and internal misfits within the ruling NRM, which if not handled properly, could explode into full-blown violence and breakdown in democratic methods of work in 2013.

Most of the confrontations on the streets and sometimes in the countryside have been by a misguided FDC faction hitherto loyal to out-gone president Dr. Kizza Besigye. He was supported by a Buganda tribal fringe group - Suubi. Hopefully, the change in FDC leadership to Maj. Gen. (rtd) Mugisha Muntu could return the opposition to constructive engagements.

The unending rebellion in Parliament since the year began; first over the budget, then oil and now the demise of Butaleja MP Cerinah Nebanda, could have been avoided if both sides in the duel had sobriety, removed extreme mutual suspicion and even stubbornness.

The capability of Cabinet leaves a lot to be desired.

Parliament is being consumed with chaos largely because of populism by many MPs, including the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who has either failed, refused or ignored to reign in discipline on members, preferring to maintain a bellicose posture, believing she is buttressing the legislature from undue executive interference.

In the past, Kadaga has been accused of instigating internal rebellion with her inflammatory outbursts most times uncalled for, thereby stoking more fire in an already volatile situation, as when, without a figment of reason, she rejected the expert medical report on Nebanda's death. It was wrong for her to reject an external report at a burial site even without first reading it!

Other times, Kadaga has been falsely accused when, in fact, the problem emanates from an obtuse and often lackluster group of ministers who seem so uninformed, uncoordinated and unsupportive of each other on government official policy position.

In these circumstances, which have become very regular indeed, where consultations within the Cabinet and NRM caucus seem minimal and inconclusive, it is unfair to expect the Speaker, let alone backbenchers, to support Government.

In fact, the opposition and sulking NRM backbenchers often take this opportunity to further obstruct consensus and enjoy the political melodrama.

And while President Yoweri Museveni has always intervened in an effort to save a bad situation from getting worse, he really ought to focus more on his ministers, who are not being as helpful as the democratic dispensation demands of them, to always be available to provide accurate, timely and genuine information.

The President's anger and frustration with MPs may be understandable, but he needs to know that a lot of exhaustive engagement needs to be done in the caucus and among individual opinion leader MPs, rather than ramming through decisions at the very last minute as happened during the Petroleum Exploration Bill debate.

The President also needs to know that the Vice-President, Edward Ssekandi, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Moses Ali as deputy leader of government business in Parliament and Attorney General Peter Nyombi are fast losing the respect of many MPs as credible opinion leaders unless they change their methods of work.

This development, when NRM enjoys a solid majority of 262 out of 386 MPs in Parliament is very unfortunate, and may be bad news, but has to be delivered candidly. It was shameful that MPs, majority of them being NRM, could shout and shut down the Government side during the oil debate; Nebanda's two eulogies; and even instigate chasing them away at the burial.

It is distressing to learn that often times it is some of the ministers who play intrigue against their colleagues by telling backbenchers that Cabinet has "never" heard the matter being brought into the caucus or even on the fl oor of Parliament. This was evident during the oil debate.

In the New Year, the leadership, especially Speaker Kadaga and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah, must ensure that 'gangsterism' is not allowed to consolidate in Parliament, where MPs cannot accord each other or ministers the respect they deserve, otherwise it will descend into a jungle.

Ofwono Opondo is the NRM deputy spokesperson, and leader of Urtaf, a Kampala think tank. 

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