Kampala — Kilak North MP, Anthony Akol, is baffled by rulings the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga has been making recently.
Akol who was one of the six MPs suspended by Kadaga told The Independent on Dec. 19 that, in his view, there is a problem in the laws of Uganda when you elect a Speaker of Parliament from within the ruling party members of Parliament.
"It is unfortunate that we are dealing with a Speaker who is the Vice Chairperson of the ruling party, NRM," he said, "She is biased on everything brought on the floor of Parliament because she has instructions from her Chairperson to make sure that everything is done according to their will."
Akol was commenting on the goings on in Parliament when, on Dec.18, it reconvened for the second reading of MP Raphael Magyezi's Constitution Amendment Bill, 2017.
The Bill seeks to scrap Article 102 (b) of the 1995 Constitution that limits the age of a president to 75 years. The Bill also seeks to lower the age for presidential candidates to below the current 35 years. If they endorse the majority report, the Bill will go into third reading and pass.
But Opposition MPs moved to punch holes into the proceedings and one by one, they raised points of order and points of procedure. The presentation by the Chair of the Legal and Parliament Committee, Jacob Oboth- Oboth, was interrupted until Kadaga had to suspended six MPs and adjourn the sitting to the afternoon.
Those suspended included; Opposition Chief Whip, Ibrahim Semujju Nganda (Kira Municipality, FDC), Mubarak Munyagwa (Kawempe South, FDC), Anthony Akol (Kilak North, FDC), Allan Sewanyana (Makindye West, DP), Jonathan Odur (Erute South, UPC), Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality, Indep).
Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal's pleas that it was only fair that all the people's representatives should be in the House when such an important issue is discussed did not impress Kadaga.
"As a senior member of the Opposition, you should have instead pleaded with them to behave, Kadaga shot back, "You are playing to the gallery. Take your seat."
But Akol says his frustration mounted over Kadaga's insistence on letting the Bill to be debated even when there is a case on the issue in the East African Court of Justice.
"The other day when we wanted to talk about Sam Kuteesa's corruption case, she said that would be subjudice because there are proceedings in the United States of America," he says, "The current proceedings going on in Parliament are tainted."
Akol was referring to an incident in parliament on Dec.12 when Ntungamo Municipality MP Gerald Karuhanga, sought to have the case in which Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa has been linked to a bribery case in America debated.
Kutesa, according to details of the case being pursued by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in the New York Southern District courts, solicited and received a bribe of US$500,000 (Approx. Shs1.8 billion) from Chinese business people in return for securing them business deals in Uganda and arranging a meeting with President Yoweri.
But Kadaga, on Dec.14, ruled that the issue could not be discussed in parliament because it was potentially sub judice.
"It is premature, at this stage, for Parliament to delve into an investigation. We do not know whether he (Kutesa) is going to be a witness or something else," Kadaga ruled.
Akol says discussing the amendment Bill interferes with what was going on in the East African Court of Justice.
"You can see that there is no will to handle this matter according to rule of law," Akol says. But on the issue, Kadaga ruled that there was no subjudice because there is neither judgment nor a court injunction.
Akol says, in another incident, when the Leader of Opposition, Winnie Kizza, made a statement on what transpired before Sept.27, on Sept.27 and after Sept.27 when MPs were attacked in the House by soldiers from the Special Forces Command (SFC) in Parliament, under the Parliamentary Rule of Procedure No.52, her statement should have been allowed to be debate for about one hour but it was not.
Kadaga had in earlier sessions queried the presence of the plain cloth security operatives in parliament after they violently threw out MPs who had just been suspended by the Speaker on Sept.27.
Kadaga even wrote to President Museveni seeking a formal explanation and set new Parliament procedures to ensure the events of Sept.27 are never repeated, including requiring security officers to wear name tags. So when the same faces that tortured MPs last time showed up, MPs expressed concern. But Kadaga sought to reassure them.
"They are my security personnel," she told MPs, "I am assuring you that there is no one here who is not part of Parliament. There is no SFC (Special Forces Command) in the House. The people who are here are the Parliamentary Police as I directed," she said. Some MPs were not convinced.
Then came the case of suspending rule 201 (2) which says that when a Committee Chairperson has laid a report on the table of parliament, MPs should have at least three days to read and analyze it before debate goes on. This time, Kadaga ruled that the reports had been uploaded on the MPs' iPads days earlier and, therefore, there was no need to wait for three days. But Akol says the rules of procedure speak of laying the document "on the table and not the iPads".
But Deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana, shot up and said the MPs had had the reports on their iPads for five days. Since the reports have been read in full, he said, rule (201) (2) should be suspended to begin the debate. Attempts to have the rules not to be suspended fell on deaf ears.
"Why the sense of urgency to the extent that even Parliament rules of procedure have to be abused?" said Abdul Katuntu, "Three days is not a long time. Uganda is not ending today or tomorrow."
Katuntu counseled that the failure to interpret the rules of suspension of rules sends a negative signal that; we are rushing because of other reasons.
"The Mwesigwa Rukutana motion" was eventually endorsed and at 6:15pm, the NRM members sailed through as they voted to have the rule (201) (2) suspended."
"So let us now debate," Kadaga said, amidst jeers and noise from the Opposition MPs.
At around 3.15pm, Winnie Kiiza asked members of the Opposition "who believe like she does" to vacate the House and consult. Dozens of Opposition MPs walked out for consultations. That consultation lasted one hour.
Akol says most MPs were behaving that way because they had been given money and promised seven more years.
"This is not right," he says, "What is happening in Parliament is pure greed of the highest order. Challenging her became too much for her."
"We are going to challenge it not in the courts of Uganda but in the East African Court of Justice because it is a waste of time challenging it here," Akol said.
Part of the rules of procedure raised was that some members who signed the report belonged to more than one committee already which is not allowed.
Yusuf Nsibambi, a Kampala-based Constitutional lawyer told The Independent on Dec. 14 that Kadaga's rulings show that she was not in control and was in a hurry to pass the bill.
Nsibambi said the committee took time to look at the bill, there were two reports which means we are dealing with a contentious issue, and it was not right for the Speaker to rush MPs through it.
He says the MPs should have been given time to read and understand the reports. It was unconstitutional to allow attorney general to suspend these rules.
Amending the Constitution, he says, is a safety valve matter and the constitution had three safeguards where the age limit is the only one remaining there.
The first safety valve is ensuring smooth transition of power and the second is allowing for MPs to be recalled from parliament through a vote of no-confidence -a thing that was removed during the movement system.
"Now what we have is a document that has no protection and this is a problem that should be dealt with," he says.
Nsibambi told The Independent that since the constitution is a big thing instead of running through, they should have involved the people not just the consultations that even never happened.
Medard Lubega Ssegona, the MP Bukoto South who co-authored the minority report told The Independent that the motion was not only acrimonious but illegal.
Ssegona wondered why the MPs could not wait to do proper consultations. He said the certificate of financial implications for the Bill was inadequate and defective because whereas the law (Article 17) of the Finance Management Act requires that the certificate give a clear picture of how the Bill could affect the economy within the first two years. Finance Minister, Matia Kasaija, said it would not have any effect. But a week later, Parliament was spending Shs13 billion for the MPs to consult on the Bill, Ssegona said.
Nicholas Opio, the executive director of Chapter Four, a Kampala-based civil liberties NGO also told The Independent that the events in Parliament appear, on the face, to be the usual Parliamentary jostling but underneath it are political machinations by the NRM to use its tyranny of numbers to force through an evidently unpopular amendment of the Constitution.
Opio has taken exception to the fact that a private member has been used to move a Constitutional amendment. He finds this move unprecedented in Uganda's history.
"Constitutional amendments are normally made on motions moved by the government," Opio said, "Even though it is not unlawful, the use of a private member is quite unprecedented in the Constitutional history of our country."
"These are machinations of the executive to get what they want but to also find a reason not to engage in comprehensive reforms as recommended by the Supreme Court."
Opio says the reason why all rules of Parliamentary procedure (disregarding the 3-day grace period rule and the insistence on tabling of the bill) is in effect aimed at having the party get what it wants, however, illegitimate or unpopular the bill is.
But what is certainly true is that Ugandans who are opposed to this bill are going to punish their MPs who in the end have disregarded their feelings about the bill.
"Many of these MPs will be punished at the ballot just like what happened in 2005 when the removal of term limits happened."
"Museveni will get what he wants but the MPs will suffer the consequences," Opio said, "I know many MPs who are now living in abject poverty and destitution after they lost their seats because the NRM moved on and the MPs were left behind even though they facilitated the lifting of term limits."
On the broader political sense, Opio says, he sees a situation of growing repression by the security forces because there is going to be much discontent and dissent across the country after this bill has been passed.