As a group of mainly NRM members of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee travelled to State House Entebbe to interview President Museveni on the age limit amendment bill, some opposition members of the committee accused the president of hijacking the process.
MPs Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka Municipality) , Medard Lubega Sseggona (Busiro East) and the 'rebel' NRM counterpart Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) addressed a hastily organised press conference at which they accused the committee chairman Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South) of acting on Museveni's demands.
Oboth-Oboth on Monday called a closed committee meeting, during which he communicated to the members that the planned upcountry hearings had been put off since there is no money to facilitate the activity.
Oboth-Oboth also told the committee that Museveni had agreed to interface with the committee on Tuesday afternoon to give his views on the Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi's bill that seeks to amend Article 102(b) of the constitution.
The Article is the only remaining legal hurdle to the extension of Museveni's more than three decades hold onto power.
"We take with serious exception any allusion to the fact that there is no money to facilitate a very critical national exercise, but the same Parliament has money to dole out to MPs but cannot afford to do a dire minimum for the committee to carry out a very serious activity," Mpuuga said during the press conference at Parliament.
According to Mpuuga, Oboth-Oboth told the committee that Parliament had availed money for the committee to go into a retreat and compile a report on Magyezi bill within five days. This, the Masaka municipality legislator said, is irregular since seven members of the committee are out of the country on official Parliamentary duties.
"We also take exception to the fraudulent and irregular manner in which six new MPs were added to the Legal [and Parliamentary affairs] committee alone and not any other committee. All the MPs that have just joined Parliament, and have not even afforded their maiden speech have been added to the committee; of course for the purposes of getting more signatures for this particular bill," Mpuuga said.
Last week, government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa assigned more MPs to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee bringing the committee's membership to 29, seemingly in response to NRM fears that they could be lacking the support of the majority of the committee membership.
On October 31, Magyezi, the bill's mover, stormed out of the committee after committee members forced him to take an oath, citing his past record in the ninth Parliament when forging a report on KCCA wrangles.
Surprised by the conduct of its own members on the committee, the NRM pushed for the committee to be replaced but failed to convince the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga.
To Mpuuga, the current developments confirm their long held belief that their Igara West counterpart is simply the bill's conduit.
"This bill is essentially a Mr Museveni bill and Magyezi was used just as a conduit. Why the hurry to go and meet Mr Museveni? We of course agree that bonafide, he can address the committee on this bill and other matters but this should have been the last exercise, not the first before consulting with Ugandans because this constitution is a contract between Ugandans and their leadership," Mpuuga said.
He asked the committee leadership to delay the retreat until other committee members return from their foreign trips than turning the committee into an avenue for rubber stamping the interests of a single individual.
Ssekikubo accused Oboth-Oboth of allowing to be used as a hatchet man for the passing of "the Museveni bill" instead of the Constitutional amendment bill.
"We shall not allow the six MP who were appendaged to the committee for purposes of getting a majority in the committee to append their signatures on a report whose hearings they have not been part of," Ssekikubo said.
Sseggona, the shadow Justice and Constitutional affairs minister said that despite the ongoing machinations, the MPs opposed to the amendment will continue to fight the bill.
"As you may be aware, they are trying to rush the process because some bonafide Ugandans including the Leader of Opposition in
Parliament [Winfred Kiiza] have challenged the process in the courts of law and what they [government] are trying to do is to circumvent a due process," Sseggona said.
Sseggona said that the MPs opposed to the amendment would shun the retreat and work on their own which they will table as a minority report.