Coping with opposition in Parliament has been a full-time job for the executive since the Ninth Parliament opened in 2011.
Months of squabbling with MPs on almost everything, most recently the death of Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda, have left government functionaries scratching heads for a workable solution to the seemingly unending impasse.
The Observer has learnt that President Museveni is so keen to silence the growing opposition, especially within his own party, that he is exploring the possibility of initiating change at the top - removing the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga.
The Kamuli Woman MP, who is also deputy NRM chairman, is seen by some as the face of internal opposition in the ruling party. One of the proposed ways to deal with her, The Observer has learnt, is to appoint her a judge, most likely at the Supreme Court level.
Kadaga, we are reliably informed, disclosed the plot to replace her during a closed-door meeting with a select group of MPs held at Parliament on December 28. But she vowed not to go without a fight.
Parallels have been drawn between Kadaga's case and that of her mentor, the late James Wapakhabulo, who was removed from the position of speaker where he had acquitted himself very well, and persuaded to become National Political Commissar, a less influential post.
Kadaga reportedly told lawmakers at the meeting that she wouldn't accept to go the way Wapakhabulo did. A lawmaker who attended this meeting in the speaker's office has told us that Kadaga described the plot to remove her as the most disturbing event in her 19-month tenure as speaker.
"She told us that there are some high-profile political meetings that have been held and resolutions have been made that she should be removed from the chair," said the MP.
The meeting that shared this information was attended by all parliamentary commissioners as well as a group of MPs leading the push to recall Parliament from recess to discuss the Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda's death and matters incidental to it. Masaka Municipality MP, Mathias Mpuuga, Medard Sseggona (DP-Busiro East) and Abdu Katuntu (FDC-Bugweri) were the non-parliamentary commissioners who attended this meeting.
According to sources present at the meeting, Kadaga said that the executive's discomfort with her stems from her perceived quiet support for the opposition causes, a claim she roundly denies.
"The executive is still annoyed about how she conducted the oil debate, her support for Dora Byamukama for the East African Legislative Assembly speakership, and lately the comments she made at Nebanda's burial," revealed our source.
The speaker told mourners that she didn't believe the government's autopsy report linking Nebanda's death to drugs and alcohol abuse. Sources have told us the executive at first wanted to engineer a move to get Kadaga recalled by her constituents in Kamuli but this was found to be problematic since under the multiparty dispensation, only political parties can recall an MP.
The party can do this through the secretary general cancelling her NRM membership, but this can only happen in proven cases of misconduct, violation of the party code of conduct or incompetence. That leaves offering her another job as the best available option. Peter Walubiri, a constitutional lawyer, told The Observer that Kadaga would be committing political suicide if she accepted an alternative job.
"I mean, why should she go to the bench? Maybe if she is appointed chief justice; that would be better and more secure," Walubiri said.
He added, however, that Kadaga would be forced to consider her options if, for instance, she is threatened with censure or her political party campaigning against her in the 2016 elections.
President Museveni has not hidden his discomfort with Kadaga since she became speaker. In the aftermath of the Kamuli LC-V by-election which NRM lost to Salaamu Musumba, the President vowed to deal with Kadaga for allegedly supporting the FDC strong woman. Museveni reportedly told a select group in Busoga that it was wrong for the NRM-leaning speaker to support an opposition candidate much as she was known to have sharp differences with the NRM flag bearer, Thomas Kategere. Kadaga denies supporting Musumba.
During an NRM caucus meeting in June, last year, Museveni blamed Kadaga, among other NRM officials, for causing the fracas that marred the race for speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). Museveni said Kadaga and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi had caused confusion after they anointed Dora Byamukama as the purported NRM flag bearer without consulting the party. Margaret Zziwa emerged speaker.
We have been told that Kadaga told MPs that there is a plan to appoint her as a judge, thus removing her from her current position. Some MPs who attended the meeting confirmed it took place although they didn't divulge details.
"It is true that such a meeting took place, but I can not divulge what took place because it was a privileged meeting," Mpuuga said yesterday.
"But what I can only say is that we informed her about our petition and she endorsed our move," he added.
We have also established that as a way to clip Kadaga's wings, the NRM is planning to replace parliamentary commissioners--Dr Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkizi East), Emmanuel Dombo (Bunyole East) and Jalia Bintu (Masindi Woman). This is because some in NRM believe that the commissioners, especially Baryomunsi and Dombo, are leading Kadaga astray.
The plan, sources say, is to recall these commissioners before they complete their two-and-a-half-year term so that they are replaced with regime apologists who the speaker cannot work with. Eastern Youth MP, Peter Ogwang, told us that indeed when the NRM caucus meets in Kyankwanzi on January 17, the first thing they will do is to "move to recall these commissioners".
"We shall recall them. It is us [NRM] party who sent them or appointed them, and we can recall them," Ogwang said.
According to the rules of procedure, constitution of the parliamentary commission under rule 10 is done during the first session of a new Parliament and tenure of service of the four back-bench members is two and a half years subject to re-designation. The acting NRM chief whip, Rose Namayanja (State minister for Luweero Triangle), however, told us that she is unaware of any plot to remove the speaker.
Sources have told us that during the meeting with MPs, Kadaga also disclosed her support for a special session to discuss the continuous attacks from President Museveni, and vowed to protect the independence of the August House.
"The speaker said she is in support of our move," one of our sources revealed. The source added that Kadaga expressed anger at the President's description of MPs as "fools" and "idiots".
The petitioners have reportedly collected all the required 125 signatures to recall Parliament. One of the latest MPs to sign is National Youth MP, Monicah Amoding, who told us that she had defied the Deputy Chief Whip, David Bahati (Ndorwa West), who asked her not to sign the petition.
"I found it important to sign the petition and I don't follow what the party tells me to do. I do things based on the desires of my voters [constituents] and what is right," she said.
"We want to present this petition not later than Thursday [tomorrow]," said Nabilah Naggayi Ssempala (Kampala Woman), one of the petitioners.