13 January 2013

Uganda: How MPs Juggled to Get Recall Signatures

IT took MPs over two weeks to collect the 125 signatures needed to recall the House. John Semakula looks at the process behind the scenes. The MPs, who said they started collecting the signatures following the December 24 Press Conference at which President Yoweri Museveni spoke about the death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda, handed over the petition last week.

THE MPs said they decided to petition the Speaker when the President directed Police to summon their colleagues over allegations they made about the death of Nebanda.

Kalungu West MP, Joseph Sewungu, said the sudden arrest and detention of MPs, Chris Baryomusi (Kikizi East) and Mohamed Nsereko (Kampala Central) beyond the mandatory 48 hours after the President's remarks fuelled the petition.

The group constituted of Denis Obua (Ajuri County), Latif Sebagala (Kawempe North), Mariam Nalubega (Butambala), Medard Seggona (Busiro East), Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka Municipality), and Ronald Mugume (Rukungiri Municipality) Nabilah Sempala (Kampala), Ibrahim Semujju (Kyadondo East) among others.

Obua was chosen to be the lead petitioner reportedly because he belongs to NRM and appeals to a big number of MPs both in the ruling party and the opposition.

Seggona was selected to draft the petition because of his legal background. Sewungu and Nalubega offered their Parliamentary offices located opposite each other as coordination centres. The two offices were chosen because the two MPs were at the core of the mission and also appeal to a number of their colleagues in character and personality.

That time around the usual suspects like Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) who normally spearhead such activities, were in hiding after the President asked Police to summon them.

When Seggona finished drafting the petition, particular MPs were given the responsibility of spearheading the collection of signatures in their regions.

Nalubega, Mpuga and Sewungu were tasked to mobilise signatures in the central region and parts of Busoga while Obua took Lira and other parts of the north.

Rwampara County MP Vincent Kyamadidi, Western Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga and others were in charge of western Uganda while Mugume was given Rukungiri and Kasese.

The group left some MPs at Parliament to ensure that those who passed by the House from their constituencies had access to the forms and appended their signatures.

Sewungu and Obua confessed that at first all the MPs were eager to append their signatures. Sewungu said he got 25 signatures on the first day.

However, Karuhanga disclosed that the pace changed when some MPs started receiving messages from the NRM Chief Whip's office cautioning them against signing the petition.

"Some of the messages said the petition was aimed at censoring the President. Some MPs accepted the massages even before reading through the petition," Sewungu said.

The pro-recall MPs who had set an earlier date for submitting the petition to the Speaker were disrupted when the pace of collecting signatures slowed down.

To counter the negative massages from the NRM Chief Whip, Sewungu said they put emphasis on explaining to the members the need to recall Parliament.

"Fortunately, the message from the office of the NRM Chief Whip had no convincing reasons for the members not to sign, something we exploited," he added.

Sewungu said three forms containing a chain of signatures got problems.

One form reportedly containing 10 signatures disappeared mysteriously from the coordination centre at Parliament while another was confiscated by authorities at Luzira Prison.

A group of MPs had gone to Luzira Prison to secure the signature of their colleague Tony Kipoi Nsubuga who is incarcerated on treason charges.

The MPs later managed to secure the form from Luzira prison but with Kipoi's name white-washed. The second form which disappeared at the centre was never got back.

But the MPs said they knew some names of the MPs who were on the list including that of Makindye West MP, Hussein Kyanjo and former Vice-President, Gilbert Bukenya.

The MPs went back easily to the opposition MPs and secured their signatures on fresh forms. But for the NRM MPs who were on the list, asking them to sign again was not easy.

Sewungu said the group devised a tactic to ensure the MPs who had earlier signed accepted to sign again.

"We went and told them that they were supposed to sign on two forms and not one. They were easily convinced to sign and we got back the lost signatures," he said.

There was also another form which was reportedly confiscated by one of the MPs after it was given to him to sign. It reportedly took the MPs some good time to convince him to return it.

Butambala County MP Muwanga Kivumbi, said during the hard times they also explored the social-economic ties among the MPs which supersede political party ties to secure the signatures.

"We knew amongst ourselves who does business with the other person. We asked colleagues to drive to their friends' homes to convince them. This plan worked very well," Kivumbi said.

And that is how the MPs got the required number of signatures they recently submitted to recall Parliament.

A group of NRM MPs has already claimed that the pro-recall MPs forged some of the signatures and want the Speaker to throw the petition out.

But the pro-recall MPs deny the allegation.

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