4 January 2013

Uganda: Lawmakers Demand Special Nebanda Session

MPs say they have enough signatures to demand a recall of Parliament for a special sitting that could, among other things, express displeasure with what the petitioners describe as 'the unbecoming conduct' of the President and his lack of respect for Parliament.

The fight for signatures, though led by opposition MPs, turned out to be a strong bipartisan effort. Will the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, reconvene the House in the face of President Museveni's shrill message to her last weekend at his country home in Rwakitura, warning that Parliament can only reconvene over his dead body?

In a four-hour meeting held in the House by the Parliamentary Commission yesterday, Kadaga was unequivocal in her response, we have learnt. She said recalling Parliament is a constitutional command she can't ignore, a commissioner who attended the meeting told us.

"As long as the MPs stick to the right procedure, then I will recall the House," Kadaga reportedly said.

The Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, who attended the same meeting, reportedly argued that recalling Parliament would be at odds with the rule of sub judice since some MPs are already on trial in court. However, we are told, Kinkiizi East MP, Dr Chris Baryomunsi, shot back saying the recall was beyond the prosecution of lawmakers. He said the House would reconvene to discuss the attack on the independence of Parliament by an overbearing Head of State.

Immediately after the meeting, which was also attended by the deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, the petitioners attempted to meet Kadaga to fix a date to present their petition. However, the meeting was postponed to today, Friday. This parliamentary coup is the latest in a string of Parliament's run-ins with the government since the death of Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda, triggered an unprecedented outpouring of grief and anger.

"We have collected the signatures and fulfilled the requirement, what we are waiting for is the speaker's call so that we can present our petition to her," one petitioner, Ajuri County MP Hamson Obua, told The Observer yesterday.

Last weekend, the President tersely warned against recalling the House. His warning was just another highlight in the tumultuous spell that Museveni has had with Kadaga as speaker of the Ninth Parliament. Kadaga, we have been told, informed the President that the right to recall Parliament was provided for in the Constitution.

Following the impasse, Museveni reportedly said he would hold another meeting this weekend with the Vice President, Edward Ssekandi, the Deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, Soroti Municipality MP, Mike Mukula, and Deputy Chief Whip, David Bahati. Earlier on, on Wednesday, lawmakers tabled a letter during a news conference requesting for an appointment to present their petition for the recall of Parliament, which is provided for in article 95(5) of the constitution.

The article reads, "Notwithstanding any other provision of this article, at least one-third of all Members of Parliament may, in writing signed by them, request a meeting of Parliament; and the Speaker shall summon Parliament to meet within 21 days after receipt of the request."

"We humbly write to request for an appointment in order to submit our petition for the recall of Parliament for a special sitting," reads the letter that was signed by the lead petitioners; Simon Mulongo (Bubulo East MP), Medard Sseggona (Busiro East MP), Mariam Nalubega (Butambala Woman MP) and Andrew Aja Baryayanga (Kabale Municipality MP).

Aruu County MP Odonga Otto yesterday said the motion would in a nutshell express displeasure with the conduct of the President and the lack of respect for the institution of Parliament. Soroti Woman MP, Alice Alaso, said the President should not attempt to hold the country hostage. The ruling party had earlier attempted to scuttle the signature-collecting process. Rosemary Namayanja, the acting party chief whip and junior minister for Luwero Triangle, unsuccessfully implored her colleagues, who are the majority in the House, not to sign the petition.

The anti-signature lobby also included the Minister for the Presidency, Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister without Portfolio, Richard Todwong, and lawmakers Peter Ogwang, Arinaitwe Rwakajara, Kenneth Omona, David Bahati, Vincent Bagiire and Hatwib Katoto.

"We feel that it is unnecessary to recall the House after all the matters intended to be discussed have been overtaken by events," Todwong said on Wednesday.

And when he learnt later in the day [Wednesday] that the petitioners had got the required signatures, he said: "Now it is within the speaker's mandate to determine what next but for us we have gone on record about this recall," Todwong said.

However, Omona and Rwakajara remained sceptical.

"Those guys are lying, let them show the public their signatures," Omona said.

"They refused to sign our petition, why are they interested in knowing the details?" countered Kalungu West MP, Joseph Ssewungu.

"This is not a partisan issue, it is a matter of national importance that is done within the purview of the law," said Mulongo.

Previous recall

It is not the first time Kadaga is recalling the House. On November 10, 2011, Kadaga summoned the House to debate the country's murky oil sector. The debate became explosive after Western Youth MP, Gerald Karuhanga, tabled a document alleging that Amama Mbabazi and his cabinet colleagues Sam Kutesa and Hilary Onek had received bribes from oil companies.

Though President Museveni said he had sanctioned an investigation, which proved the allegations were fictitious, the House went ahead to set up a probe committee to investigate the matter further. This committee is yet to complete its report.

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