27 January 2013

Uganda: How Museveni Put NRM House Under Control

President Museveni had a banner week at the recent NRM retreat in Kyankwanzi, with many of his wishes getting endorsed.

By the time the retreat was called, the ruling party was in disarray. More than 100 members had defied party leader Museveni by signing to recall Parliament as the controversial death of former Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda, threatened to boil over.

But by the time the retreat came to an end, the president had regained the initiative after rallying loyal members and successfully isolating the 'rebels', including threatening to expel them from the party. More so, the much-trumpeted recall of Parliament had been effectively defeated. But it wasn't a smooth ride all the way, sources that were part of the seven-day retreat at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) have told us.

Museveni set the tone at the opening on Saturday, January 12, when he said, while presenting a paper on industrialisation, that bureaucrats and politicians had frustrated the country's march to development. He noted that if part of Mabira forest had been given away for sugar production, many jobs would have been created. The president threatened to ignore politicians on the issue of the proposed Amuru sugar factory, which some of them have opposed.

"Politicians have no ambition apart from being elected. They do not want to see a better country," Museveni said.

During the presentation, MPs listened attentively and showed no signs of taking him on. Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) had earlier on been jeered by some of his colleagues for seeking to include Museveni's succession on the retreat's agenda. What couldn't escape the agenda, however, were Tinkasiimire and four other 'rebel' MPs who are to face disciplinary action for persistently defying party positions.

President Museveni proposed that the constitution should be amended so that MPs who are expelled from their parties automatically lose their seats. Museveni also endorsed the decision that the NRM caucus takes a leading role in the budgeting process. Last year, the president and Parliament clashed over funding for the health sector.

MPs wanted the sector to be given more money but Museveni insisted there were other priority areas, like energy and infrastructure. At Kyankwanzi, he said he did not want to see a repeat of such a clash.

"The NRM caucus should lead the budget process because at the last general election, different parties campaigned and the people chose NRM to lead them. I think part of the confusion has been that we have been operating from different centres, civil servants and Parliament. The coordination comes in the last minutes," Museveni said.

Critical sermon

Another highlight of the retreat was the clash between Museveni and Fr Joseph Ssessaazi of Kyankwanzi parish. Ssessaazi had been invited by the party to deliver a sermon on Sunday, January 13, but his hard-hitting stance on the excesses of the NRM government didn't go down well. Ssessaazi said corruption had become a way of life and warned that if it was not tamed, it might spoil a good revolution in which many shed blood.

Sources told us that Ssessaazi further cautioned Museveni to go slow on the 'rebel' MPs, arguing that their grievances reflect the wider concerns of many Ugandans. Instead of punishing the 'rebel' MPs, the priest said, the party should move on the lawmakers who signed the petition for the recall of Parliament and then withdrew their signatures.

"Those who signed and want to withdraw are worse that those you want to discipline," the priest reportedly said, according to our sources.

When he got up to speak, Museveni, sources told us, rebutted Fr Ssessaazi's assertions, and urged MPs not to read much into his sermon.

Museveni reportedly accused priests of "mobilizing" against NRM.

Museveni also defended his party's handling of 'rebel' MPs, saying what NRM had done is what the biblical Ezekiel advised when he wrote, "before taking your enemy to court, first reconcile."

Day by day:

On Monday, January 14, MPs debated a presentation by Lt Col Henry Matsiko, the former commandant of NALI. Matsiko compared NRM with parties like Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in Tanzania, the Communist Party of China and African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa. The one thing that all these organisations have in common, Matsiko said, is that they enforce discipline to the letter. He said without enforcing discipline within its ranks, the NRM risks disintegrating.

On Tuesday, the MPs began to look at various sectors, with all key ministers presenting progress reports in the implementation of the NRM manifesto. These presentations preoccupied the MPs from Tuesday to Thursday. Abraham Byandala, the minister of Works and Transport, was particularly targeted by MPs who accused his ministry of failing to deliver despite the huge sums sunk into the road sector.

Critical MPs pointed out that many roads have for long been earmarked for upgrade but this has not happened. But Byandala replied that routine maintenance of the old roads eats up more than 60% of the ministry's annual budget and the funds that remain cannot upgrade many roads to tarmac level.

On Friday, January 18, David Bahati returned with the topic of party discipline whereupon the party agreed to discipline its errant members. By this time many MPs had abandoned the retreat and were in Kampala running their personal errands. Sources told us that by the time Museveni officially closed the retreat on Friday afternoon, there were less than 150 MPs out of the 250 MPs who attended the official opening.

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