6 January 2013

Uganda: Kadaga, Museveni Again Disagree

President Museveni and the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga have once again failed to reach a consensus on whether to call or not call lawmakers from recess to debate what has come to be seen as the executive's "threat to the independence of Parliament".

In what he anticipated as a final effort to iron out his volatile relationship with Kadaga, Museveni over the weekend re-convened a special meeting at State House, Entebbe. This followed last week's meeting at Museveni's Rwakitura country home, where Speaker Kadaga and Kinkiizi East MP Chris Baryomunsi, disagreed with Museveni--leaving him with only deputy speaker, Jacob Oulanyah in support of not calling MPs from recess.

State House sources have told us that on Saturday, instead of the desired concessions and comprise, Museveni got a mixture of more political undertones from the speaker. This suggests that there is no significant thawing in the icy relationship between the president and the speaker --even as Presidency Minister Frank Tumwebaze argues, in The Observer today, that the relationship between the executive and Parliament is cordial.

According to State House sources, the frosty relationship between the president and the speaker emanates from the fact that Kadaga feels uncomfortable to bend - or exploit - the rules to favour the executive when government leaders in Parliament underperform. A distinguishing feature of Kadaga from, say, her predecessor Edward Ssekandi, has been her readiness to preserve a semblance of neutrality while moderating debates between the government and the opposition.

Kadaga's near-religious devotion to the rule-book has reportedly not gone down very well with Museveni; a local tabloid last week quoted Museveni as having advised Kadaga in Rwakitura to prevail over Parliament the way he presides over his cabinet. We have been told that during Saturday's meeting, which started at 11am and ended at 7pm, Kadaga made the case for sticking to the law, and also explained that she could stop a recall of Parliament because that is a constitutional right of lawmakers under article 95(5). She reportedly said her role was to scrutinise the reasons in the petition.

The speaker also added that her hands were tied, and that she could not help the Executive, especially Museveni who vehemently opposed the recall. Kadaga also told the president that she was not behind any move to collect signatures, as it had been portrayed, and that her role was to wait for the petition, read it and act according to the law - not to collect signatures.

The drive to cause a re-call of lawmakers from recess was precipitated by Museveni's speech last month, where he attacked MPs critical of the government's handling of the Nebanda death saga. Museveni also sucked in Kadaga, saying the speaker would be summoned by police to share what she knew about what killed the fallen Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda.

At the burial ceremony of Nebanda on December 23, 2012, Kadaga is reported to have said: "I want to say as a leader of Parliament, I am not satisfied with the contents of the report [government's autopsy report said that drugs were found in Nebanda's blood]."

Given that a Parliament-authorized pathologist, Dr Sylvester Onzivua, was arrested on his way to South Africa for independent tests, many MPs have remained suspicious, and outrightly rejected a government report suggesting Nebanda died from narcotic drugs. Dr Baryomunsi and Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko were arrested and charged over the Nebanda saga, further souring relations between the legislature and the Executive.

Lead by Simon Mulongo (Bubulo East), Medard Sseggona (Busiro East), Mariam Nalubega (Butambala Woman), Joseph Ssewungu (Kalungu West), Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (Kyadondo East) and Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka municipality), the lawmakers gathered 130 signatures to anchor their petition for a special session sitting. By press time, these MPs were locked in a meeting to finalise their petition for a recall of MPs to debate the matter.

While Museveni wants Kadaga to use her good offices to sabotage the planned recall, Kadaga believes that would be abuse of office. She is understood to have argued that the president should demand more from government leaders in Parliament like Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Vice President Edward Ssekandi, who act too late to avert the already bad situation. We have been told that Mbabazi and Ssekandi attended Saturday's meeting.

Our sources say that at the meeting, it was also agreed that Dr Onzivua was authorized by Parliament to carry out an independent inquiry into what killed Nebanda. This came after Deputy Speaker Oulanyah denied press reports that quoted him saying that Parliament never authorised Dr Onzivua.

We have been told that at the end of the meeting, Museveni cautioned the leaders against public bickering. When The Observer contacted Kadaga today, she was markedly reticent: "I will not discuss anything about the meetings. I am sorry."

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