Wednesday January 12 2011

Speaker Ssekandi okays cultural leaders Bill debate

By Yasiin Mugerwa & Emmanuel Gyezaho

Speaker Edward Ssekandi yesterday cleared the House Legal Affairs committee to proceed with the cultural leaders Bill in an apparent U-turn that resonates with a recent executive order to have the Bill passed into law before the general elections.

Whereas Mr Ssekandi ruled out pressure from President Museveni to have the Institution of Traditional or Cultural Leaders Bill, 2010 passed, the opposition yesterday accused the Executive arm of government of meddling in the affairs of Parliament.

“Asking Parliament to proceed with this Bill when members are campaigning is itself suspicious and unfair,” Aswa MP Reagan Okumu said. “Before President Museveni ordered that the Bill should be passed before elections, the same Speaker had allowed members to campaign and handle the Bill after elections. One wonders what has now changed in a space of only one week if this is not interference from the Executive.”

Mr Ssekandi told reporters at Parliament: “I have no problem with the committee meeting to consider the Bill even before the elections. It’s up to the members to settle among themselves and see how to proceed. They can dedicate three or four days to handle this matter.” “If the committee report is ready, I have no problem calling the House to deal with this Bill.”

When halting the proceedings on the Bill on January 4, Mr Ssekandi said it was important that all MPs are present and should be involved in discussing the Bill, which was not possible now since they are busy with campaigns. But when Mr Museveni met NRM MPs at State House on Thursday, in a meeting that was attended by the Speaker, the President said the Bill should be passed before the elections and reportedly questioned Mr Ssekandi’s decision to adjourn the House until further notice.

“I have never had any pressure, I don’t act under threats and intimidation. I act as I feel I should act,” Mr Ssekandi said when asked about the President’s directive on the Bill. “This Bill is not for Buganda alone. It’s a Bill for all the cultural leaders and should be handled with honesty,” he said.
The government has been firefighting since the Bill was tabled in Parliament in December 2010, a proposed legislation that seeks to stop any traditional leader from engaging in politics by effecting provisions of Article 246 of the Constitution.

Coming right in the middle of the campaigns for the February 18 general election, the Bill’s timing is as curious as the government’s decision to present amendments even before it returns to the floor of the House. President Museveni at the weekend met Buganda NRM MPs where he reportedly agreed to some amendments deemed unacceptable.

Meanwhile, it would seem that by the government accepting to drop nine of 10 controversial clauses in the Bill, this in effect may be construed to suggest that “substantial” amendments to the original motion have been made, which would as a consequence require that government withdraws the Bill under Section 48 of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure.

Key issue
The Bill has evolved into a key election issue in central Uganda, forming a highlight at campaign platforms and rallies, an issue that has also sucked in prominent religious leaders expressing their discomfort with the Bill.

As the opposition questioned Speaker’s about turn, Daily Monitor obtained the latest Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and another Committee of Gender programmes summoning stakeholders to appear between January 19 and 20 before presenting their report to Parliament.

Additional reporting by M. Nalugo & R. Mwanje