13 January 2013

Uganda: Museveni in Seven Crisis Meetings Over Nebanda

An apparently panicky President held meeting after meeting in a bid to defuse a political rebellion from MPs over the Nebanda saga

Details have emerged of frantic meetings held by an apparently panicky President Yoweri Museveni with various groups, in a bid to regain control of the political landscape, as his standoff with Parliament threatened to veer out of control.

The Observer has established as independent-minded MPs inched towards the number of signatures required to recall Parliament, Museveni hardly rested, determined that there would be no special sitting to debate his handling of the investigation into the death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda.

The MPs want to use the special parliamentary sitting to discuss the events following last month's death of Nebanda, a move the president roundly opposes.

The MPs accuse the executive of, among other things, undermining the doctrine of separation of powers. Since last month when the row peaked, the president has held several meetings at his country home in Rwakitura and at State House Entebbe, aimed largely at torpedoing plans to recall the august House.

On December 31, at State House Entebbe, Museveni met the inner sanctum of the ruling party, including Vice President Edward Ssekandi, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah.

In that meeting, he made it clear the special sitting must not be held. "Don't say I didn't warn you," reiterated the president who had earlier on reportedly retorted that Parliament could only be recalled over his dead body. Museveni reportedly said the recall can be stopped on grounds of a technicality.

Museveni had earlier on been told that some signatures on the petition had been forged while some lawmakers appended wrong dates on the petition and others upon persuasion wanted to remove their names.

However, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, in the meeting said she could not comment on the recall because she had not seen the petition at the time. Kinkiizi East MP Dr Chris Baryomunsi, who was also present, told the president that it would be up to the speaker to decide. According to sources, the meeting ended prematurely though Museveni looked pensive. Three days later, on January 3, 2013, the president met NRM leaders from Butaleja district, at his country home in Rwakitura.

In the meeting, Museveni warned against fronting a candidate against whoever will be chosen as the ruling party flag bearer in next month's by-election. Days later, he would score a coup of sorts when Florence Andiru Nebanda, a sister to the fallen MP, was among the six candidates nominated for ruling party primaries to choose a party flag bearer.

Museveni summoned another meeting on January 5, 2013 at State House Entebbe. Present were trusted lieutenants Frank Tumwebaze (minister for the Presidency) and Richard Todwong (minister without Portfolio), alongside other political leaders. He once again insisted there should be no recall. On January 8, 2013, Museveni met lawmakers from the oil-rich Bunyoro sub-region at his country home in Rwakitura, Kiruhura district. Most of the lawmakers from Bunyoro signed the petition.

Museveni, according to sources, is reportedly worried that this group is lately becoming increasingly critical of his government. But specifically, Museveni was enraged after receiving reports that several MPs from Bunyoro including Buyaga East MP Ignatius Besisira, Bugangaizi West MP Kasirivu Atwooki and Masindi Woman MP Jalia Bintu, had appended their signatures to the petition to recall the House.

In what sources described as a heated meeting, Museveni reportedly asked those who had signed the petition to withdraw their signatures. However, we understand, Besisira told him his conscience would not allow him to do so. But Museveni, who easily puts in long hours if he smells a crisis, was not yet done. The next day, he met MPs from Kanungu district, the district chairperson and about 80 councillors.

During the meeting, the chairperson Josephine Kasya gave a report on the state of affairs in the remote outpost, in which she cited the moribund state of roads, bridges and hospitals. However, Museveni sensed an opportunity to attack his critics. He said he had delayed to fix all the roads in the country because some leaders (referring to MPs) kept raising their salaries and when he wanted to cut them, they refused.

Attempting to justify why he wanted the lawmakers salaries reduced, Museveni said he earned a 'paltry' Shs 3.5m per month. However, Baryomunsi responded that going by Museveni's political mathematics, MPs, too, earned only Shs 1.5m a month.

"Just like your Excellency you get facilitation to travel, we too get facilitation to do our work," Baryomunsi added.

Citing the recent grand theft in the Office of the Prime Minister, the lawmaker instead, blamed under-development on corrupt government officials. Museveni had earlier told the leaders from Kanungu that he called them to explain circumstances that led to the arrest and detention of one of their MPs, Baryomunsi. He said the MP was causing the government problems by playing the policeman in regard to the death of Nebanda.

"He is causing problems for the government. Baryomunsi is even mobilizing people to demonstrate. This is unacceptable," said the president while the MP vehemently objected to Museveni's insinuations.

But some councillors demanded to know why some people had to be shot during the pro-Baryomunsi demonstration. They reportedly asked Museveni if his anger with Baryomunsi was the reason their people were shot. Though the minister without Portfolio, Todwong, told The Observer he did not have details of these meetings, he said on Friday that the process of recalling the House had fallen flat on its head.

"The process of recalling the House has been overtaken by events. Much as they have a constitutional right to recall Parliament, it must be out of national importance," argued Todwong.

"Why does Parliament want to check the Executive but Parliament does not want the Executive to check Parliament? Besides, nobody in the Constitution is above the President in supremacy. The leadership of Parliament must take charge of these reckless MPs," argued Todwong.

He claimed that the petition was flawed because some of the signatures on the petition were forged, others signed more than once and some MPs have expressed their wish to withdraw their signatures.

"The signature of the Kole MP Fred Ebil was forged; Hussein Kyanjo's signature is different from the one he often uses; Patrick Nsanja did not sign and Godfrey Kiwanda [chairperson Buganda Parliamentary caucus] has signed the petition more than once," said Todwong.

But Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba told The Observer on Friday: "As far as we are concerned, we have submitted our petition to the speaker. We are waiting for her to announce the date of the recall."

However, Niwagaba said the process of withdrawing one's signature is superfluous.

"There is nothing in law that a signature can be withdrawn. It can only be withdrawn if it was forged. Let MPs stop behaving like charlatans," said Niwagaba.

He also said that he found it baffling that Todwong could claim that Kyanjo's signature was forged.

"It is up to Kyanjo to come up and say my signature was forged and this can be verified by a handwriting expert," Niwagaba said.

Sources told The Observer that Museveni met with the speaker yet again on Thursday, as the House recall appeared to hang in balance.

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