The new Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP), Wafula Oguttu, is very upbeat about his new task. And it must take guts for him to be so enthusiastic, especially given that his work is cut out and much of what the leading opposition party will become in the run up to the 2016 elections might depend on what he does.
Mr Oguttu confirmed to us in a telephone interview on Friday that he will announce his new team on Wednesday. He was even willing to give a clue on how he will approach the selection of the new chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of parliamentary committees.
“I will consider competence and delivery. I have worked with my colleagues for some time – some for seven years, others for three years or so – I know all of them. I know who works hard and who talks more than they work,” Mr Oguttu said.
That is a statement of a LoP in charge of affairs. But would his party’s leadership be said to be in firm charge of the party’s destiny? Not quite, if you ask Mr Jack Sabiiti, the Rukiga County MP and outgoing party treasurer.
Mr Sabiiti, who is also the chairperson of the parliamentary committee on local government accounts, admits that there are “issues about internal democracy within the party that need to be addressed,” although he hastens to add that they are being addressed.
Mr Sabiiti was referring to the fallout within the party that was caused by the party presidential election at the end of 2012, which outgoing LoP Nandala Mafabi lost to Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu. Mr Mafabi faulted the conduct of the election, especially singling out secretary general Alice Alaso for blame for “influencing the election” against him.
The party was factionalised as a result, with some of Mr Mafabi’s supporters threatening to quit the party should Gen Muntu ignore a recommendation by the truth and reconciliation commission chaired by Kampala-based lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi to hold a fresh presidential election later this year.
The party finally decided to let Gen Muntu serve out the five-year term up to 2017, infuriating Mr Mafabi’s backers. When he was dropped as LoP, some of his supporters took it as an act of witch-hunt and threatened to form another party despite Mr Mafabi saying that he will be staying put in FDC.
Delicate balancing act
Those who backed Gen Muntu in the party presidential election, of course, expect rewards. It is something most of them will say only privately and not publicly, but it is something even Gen Muntu knows. Mr Oguttu is supposed to select his team in consultation with the party president and chief whip.
By replacing Mr Mafabi with Mr Wafula Oguttu, who the party faithful believe backed Mr Mafabi in the party presidential election, Gen Muntu must have left his supporters boiling.
Gen Muntu also replaced Kasese Woman MP Winnie Kiiza, who backed him during the election, with Ms Cecilia Ogwal, Dokolo Woman MP, as opposition chief whip. Ogwal backed Muntu in the party president race and was acerbic towards Mafabi.
These two moves, reckons Makerere University don Mwambutsya Ndebesa, must have left Gen Muntu’s supporters expecting “to be compensated” when the appointments for the chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of committees are made.
Candidates for the posts have already shown interest, of course. The ambitious Aruu County MP Samuel Odonga Otto, for instance, would wish to be moved from chairing the committee on Government Assurances to chair the more influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in order to “boost” his chances of defeating Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah in Omoro County come 2016.
Mr Otto has vowed to move from his constituency to vie for Mr Oulanyah’s to “save the Acholi from the shame Oulanyah has caused them.” Mr Oulanyah’s chairing of the House has been criticised as being partial to the ruling party.
Mr Kassiano Wadri, the chairperson of PAC, is himself an ambitious man and sources say he had hoped to replace Mr Mafabi as LoP. When Mr Mafabi was dropped, however, there was talk of attempts to convince him to return to head PAC, which job won him plaudits in the last Parliament.
Both Mr Otto and Mr Wadri backed Gen Muntu against Mr Mafabi, just like Mr Abdu Katuntu, the MP for Bugweri County who has served the first half of the parliamentary term as shadow attorney general but would probably want to chair a committee.
With just four accountability committees available, the positions to parcel out are not that many, however. Apart from the eight chairperson and vice chairperson slots, there is also a slot on the Parliamentary Commission, which is currently occupied by Kasilo County MP Elija Okupa.
When the new list for the chairpersons and vice chairpersons of committees and parliamentary commissioner is released on Wednesday, therefore, it is expected that there will be changes. And there will also be disappointmentS.
Those who will miss out on these positions could still find a role in the shadow cabinet, but serving as committee chairperson or deputy chairperson is still preferable because it comes with opportunity for more pay and travel.
Additionally, appointment to head a powerful committee in Parliament is an opportunity for the concerned MP to boost his/her re-election opportunities.
Kampala woman MP Nabilah Naggayi says something to suggest that the selection headache the top party leaders face is even harder. Ms Nabilah, who was one of the most vocal supporters of Muntu during the campaigns, talks of Gen Muntu as “a very sober party president who is aware of the need to uphold gender equity as the party platform prescribes. I trust he will handle that well.”
Now this is a bit veiled. The real issue is that the women in FDC have demanded for some time that they are given bigger responsibilities than just deputising for men. Ms Kiiza as chief whip was some balance for Mr Mafabi as LoP, just like Ms Ogwal will do for Mr Oguttu.
Ms Nabilah herself deputises for Mr Otto on the committee on Government Assurances, while her counterpart Angelline Osegge deputises Mr Amuriat Oboi on the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises.
The other two deputy chairperson positions are currently occupied by individuals from other opposition parties, with UPC’s Maxwell Akora deputising Mr Wadri on PAC and Ms Florence Namayanja deputising for Mr Sabiiti on the Committee on Local Government.
Notable members who currently have no committee leadership positions include Ms Alaso, whose term as secretary general has expired and is ineligible for re-election to the position and Mr Katuntu.
The others are newcomer Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, who together with Ms Naggayi, are the only FDC MPs from Buganda region and party deputy chairperson eastern Kevinah Taaka.
How Gen Muntu and his team will handle the new challenge is interesting observers. This is because, one party member said, “(Gen) Muntu needs to preserve his supporters while at the same time trying to court those on the other side.”
If the balancing act goes wrong at this stage, it may well be that there won’t be time to undo the damage. Mr Wafula, as Gen Muntu said after naming him LoP, can handle the situations because of his “corporate background.” FDC sympathisers will be hoping that Gen Muntu is right.