Sunday March 13 2016

How NRM-Opposition battle in 10th House is shaping up

First Deputy Prime Minister Henry Kajura, First Lady Janet Museveni,

Seated (L-R): First Deputy Prime Minister Henry Kajura, First Lady Janet Museveni, President Museveni and Vice President Edward Ssekandi at the NRM Caucus retreat in Kyankwanzi last year. The caucus convened yesterday. MONITOR PHOTO 

By Solomon Arinaitwe

With the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) maintaining its grip on Parliament after returning more than 280 MPs, followed by Independents allied to its ranks, the 10th Parliament is turning out to be a recurring tale of NRM dominance against a weak Opposition.

Since the return to multiparty democracy in 2005, Opposition parties in Parliament, faced with the crushing numerical strength of the NRM, have resorted to House walkouts, boycotts and protests which have seen some of their members violently ejected from the Chambers.

In the 9th Parliament, the NRM had 264 MPs, the Opposition 63 with 43 Independents – majority of whom were NRM leaning. Add to that the 10 Army MPs, who usually side with the government and you have an idea of the reach of the NRM control of the 9th Parliament.

For the 10th Parliament, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has returned 36 MPs, Democratic Party (DP) 14 and the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) six MPs, leaving the Opposition in control of only 56 parliamentary seats.

Though the Electoral Commission (EC) is yet to gazette the definitive list of parliamentary winners as there are residual elections in nine constituencies, elections for Workers MPs and pending court cases over vote recounts in some constituencies, it is already clear the NRM will have an upper hand.

But even before curtains are opened for the 10th Parliament, the Opposition will be confronted by the fact that a group of its senior legislators ranging from the Leader of Opposition (LoP) Wafula Oguttu to the FDC eastern Uganda vice president Alice Alaso lost their seats.

Political scientist and researcher Fredrick Kisekka-Ntale says the failure of senior Opposition MPs to retain their seats “is a loss but not fatal”.

“What [the new] legislators need to do is to keep consistency and be clear on the issues which they stand for, research about legislations and regional debates and comprehend how to debate. We had new kids on the block in the 9th Parliament who turned out to be good MPs,” Dr Kisekka-Ntale says.

The LoP position appears to be turning out to be poisoned chalice for Opposition MPs as the two previous Opposition chiefs have all lost their seats though Prof Ogenga Latigo (LoP 2006-2011) bounces back as Agago North MP.

Other notable Opposition MPs that fell by the sword include Kassiano Wadri (Terego), Geofrey Ekanya (Tororo County), Jack Sabiiti (Rukiga County), Kevinah Taaka (Busia Municipality), Patrick Amuriat (Kumi Municipality) and the Conservative Party president Ken Lukyamuzi who lost Rubaga South.

The government side lost more than 20 ministers, but given the majority it still enjoys, they will barely miss the fallen ministers.

Mr Sabiiti says the new MPs will have “some few problems but they will gradually grasp the way Parliament works and will handle the tasks appropriately”.

With the losses of such senior and seasoned legislators and faced with a majority of first-time MPs on their side, the Opposition, faced with the NRM’s numerical strength, will have its work well cut out if they are to influence House business by any measure.

With the first-time members filling their ranks, it is clear that the Opposition will inevitably struggle for leadership in Parliament.
Filling the LoP post will give FDC, the leading Opposition party which takes the post, instant headache. Candidates for the LoP require a sober mind as ex-LoP Nandala Mafabi and outgoing LoP Oguttu can testify.

The duo endured difficult spells in the LoP’s office as they often faced rebellion from their charges.

After suspending DP and UPC MPs who refused to agree with the FDC decision to boycott the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) elections, they reacted by resigning from the shadow cabinet, throwing the Opposition side in Parliament into crisis mode. Mafabi faced criticism from across the Opposition parties for the way he handled the Eala election dispute.

Mafabi was again thrown into disarray after more than 20 Opposition MPs rejected his demands to refund the controversial Shs20 million that MPs received to allegedly monitor Naads projects in their constituencies.

Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar also resigned her shadow cabinet seat amid a quarrel with Mr Mafabi who questioned her loyalty to the Opposition cause after she attended functions with President Museveni.

For Wafula Oguttu, he come under fire from his charges after claiming that 18 Opposition MPs pocketed between Shs110 million and Shs150 million each to offset their debts in 2014 and urged the Auditor General to investigate the source of the money.

The race for the next LoP will be down to the likes of Kasese Woman MP Winnie Kizza, Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal, Soroti Woman MP Angeline Osege, ex-LoP Ogenga Latigo and the Budadiri West MP Nathan Nandala Mafabi.

Ms Kizza’s bargaining chip will be the resounding victory she mobilised for FDC in Kasese while Latigo and Mafabi will vouch for experience.

The troubles that Mafabi and Oguttu had to contend with highlight the woes of managing the LoP’s office.

Latigo, who served as LoP between 2006-2011 and criticised the manner Mafabi handled the fallout over the Eala elections, says the Opposition chief position should be filled by an “accommodative and tolerant” individual.

“The most critical quality is that the LoP must be accommodative and tolerant of views from all shades of opinions, a leader who can be looked forward for guidance. If you take a polarised position, others may not side with you and may probably fight you,” Prof Latigo says.

On the challenges that will grip the Opposition in Parliament, now deprived of a good number of its senior members, Latigo says the Opposition will first have to map out a uniform position on the presidential election dispute.

“The Opposition has to resolve the issue of the post-election dispute. The party outside is issuing statements but the MPs are not saying anything. In FDC, as the principal Opposition, we have Kizza Besigye and the Mugisha Muntu [the party president]. I see it as quite obvious that they will be appealing to the forces in Parliament,” Prof Latigo says.

FDC insists its candidate Besigye won the presidential election but there will be divergence of positions on the next course of action. A stay-at-home protest announced by the party last week was not well received among many members.

The Opposition will also have to fill leadership (chairpersons and deputies) for the four House accountability committees and with the newly elected inexperienced MPs, there could be little to choose from on who to lead these crucial beats for the first two and half years.

FDC spokesperson Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda will certainly be in the ring for who takes over as Opposition Chief Whip as Ms Ogwal is unlikely to retain the post. FDC always prefers to shuffle leadership in Parliament.

Filling of such positions will depend on how the Opposition will work with the Independents and the UPC – which has a faction led by Jimmy Akena that backed the NRM for the presidential elections, according to Latigo.

“Where will the UPC be sitting in Parliament? On the side of NRM or the Opposition? Where will the Independents be sitting? And which type of Independents are they? Are they fully Independents who have embraced the new direction the country is taking?” Latigo says.

NRM Caucus meeting
House politics for the NRM will begin this weekend when the party’s parliamentary caucus convenes at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) in Kyankwanzi with the race for the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament expected to take centre stage.

With the commanding majority controlled by the NRM in the House, its candidates for the slot of Speaker and Deputy Speaker always have an upper hand.

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga will have to stave off competition from her Deputy Jacob Oulanyah to retain one of the country’s most coveted job. Though Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa has denied interest in the job, his name just keeps making rounds.

Problems of 9th Parliament
But if the 10th Parliament is to outdo its predecessor, there are some evils that derailed the 9th Parliament that will have to be banished.

Absenteeism was one of the problems of the 9th Parliament as the House often failed to handle business due to lack of quorum.

MPs were exposed when a roll call, conducted after the Speaker realised that the House was empty yet majority members had signed in the register, discovered that MPs would often sign to earn allowances, but skip sessions.

An MP famously said members were running away from money lenders and “hiding in toilets”, highlighting the crisis of indebtedness that bedevilled the 9th Parliament.

In 2012, sources on the Parliamentary Commission, the body charged with the administration of the House, revealed that more than 40 legislators were burdened with very heavy debts forcing them to literally abandon House business. Six MPs spent nights in jail over falling to clear their debts.

“Integrity will be key,” says researcher Kisekka-Ntale of the money issues that dogged the 9th Parliament. “They [MPs] will have to navigate the many baits that will be thrown at them.”
The beginning of the 10th Parliament will offer MPs a chance to revise the rules of procedure for the better and the House will need to fix the procedural gaps that allow MPs to hide under specific rules to conduct haphazard business or stymie House proceedings.

House rules of procedure should be amended to allow the seamless flow of debate. In the 9th Parliament, House business was often frustrated by redundant and long-winding points of order, information and procedure.

With the core of parliamentary business conducted during plenary, the 10th Parliament can explore the option of setting a minimum time for raising such points – if substantive business is to be conducted and cure the backlogs in business.

Picked from Westminster [British Parliament], Uganda’s current version of Prime Ministers Question is a hit and miss session which rarely serves the purpose of having government respond to pressing national concerns. Reforms would come in handy.

In Westminster, backbench MPs are required to enter their names on the Order Paper which is then randomly shuffled by a computer to come up with a list which is called by the speaker – a far cry from the Ugandan model where MPs speak after “catching the Speaker’s eye”.

Ministerial questions are another model that Uganda’s Parliament could borrow from Westminster-if the backlog is to be cleared.

Though Parliament has a fairly organised model for questions to ministers, the latitude given by the rules allowing ministers a fortnight to respond has led to a backlog of questions without replies.

Rules could be changed to follow the Westminster model where ministers must answer questions straightaway.

Raising quorum in Uganda’s Parliament is an eternal difficulty and part of the problem is the dearth of an effective whipping system.

The incoming crop of legislators will have to be wary of the momentum their predecessors begun with before taking a wrong turn and ending their tenure on an abysmal note.

From a House that led biting investigations into corruption in the oil sector, put in a fight for the recruitment of much-needed personnel for health centre IIIs and IVs and attempted a motion to reinstate presidential term limits, MPs slowly buckled under pressure.

In the glory days of the 9th Parliament, MPs from the ruling party joined the Opposition and Independent-minded counterparts to force Presidency minister Kabakumba Matsiko to resign amid censure threats. She became the highlight of the anti-graft fight of the 9th Parliament, but that is where analysts say the positives stopped.

Members from the 9th Parliament will have to contend with the ghosts of pocketing dubious allowances from government, forcing through controversial laws like the Public Order Management Act while the Speaker’s chambers were at times caught in bickering.