Tuesday December 25 2012

2012: The year parliamentary resolutions went down the drain

The permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Mr Pius Bigirimana (L), appears before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament to account for the Shs50 billion that was reportedly stolen by his office.

The permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Mr Pius Bigirimana (L), appears before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament to account for the Shs50 billion that was reportedly stolen by his office. PHOTO BY geoffrey sseruyange. 



Whereas the Ninth Parliament has been visible in its first year compared to the previous Parliament, the year 2012 casts more focus on it having come undone on crucial resolutions and motions.

Under the stewardship of Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, the House stands out in the fight against corruption in government. But this House has in the same vein also failed to deliver on some promises, sometimes because of undue pressure from the Executive or because the tasks were too big for them and they lost out on proper coordination. In other instances, the tasks did not receive support after party politics took centre stage.

At the beginning of the year, there were attempts by a group of opposition legislators to impeach President Museveni. Outspoken legislators Odonga Otto (Aruu), Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (Kyaddondo East) and Rubaga South MP John Ken Lukyamuzi declared their intention to try and impeach Mr Museveni, listing 74 grounds and soliciting at least 50 of the 125 required signatures for a motion to begin the impeachment process.

The legislators, among others, alleged that President Museveni diverted more than Shs100 billion from a British government grant intended for recovery programmes in post-war northern Uganda in 2008 to the purchase of his presidential jet, without parliamentary approval.

The MPs also demanded that the President takes responsibility for the withdrawal of $735 million (Shs1.7 trillion) from Bank of Uganda to buy fighter jets. On May 16, the MPs wrote to the President demanding that he resigns before he is impeached.

They also accused him of disregarding parliamentary resolutions and running a sectarian government, where key government positions were held by his cronies. But just as the public got interested, the motion was no more. The last time Daily Monitor reported on the progress of this venture, the group had split up. Impeaching the President would require the submission of a notice signed by not less than one third of the MPs eligible to vote to the Speaker of Parliament, for the process to get underway.

Failed attempts
Amid allegations that the Executive might have pressurised the MPs to back off, Mr Ssemujju assured the public that the process was still on and nobody was compromised. “I am finalising a booklet on why we wanted to impeach the President and who let us down. During my recess, that book was going to pre-occupy me. I want the public to know who signed on the petition to censure the President and who did not and it will be out before the end of the year,” Mr Ssemujju said.

Obtaining the minimum number of 125 signatures looked like an uphill task in the face of the NRM’s unassailable majority in the House. And with the NRM politics of numbers, the opposition would not do much.
In April, another group led by Mr Gerald Karuhanga (Youth, Western) attempted to move a motion to amend the Constitution and reinstate the presidential term limits.

Those in favour of the restoration of term limits argued that this would entrench democracy, in a country that has never witnessed a peaceful transfer of power. Whereas 103 MPs signed in favour, MPs leading the crusade have since gone silent.

House Rules of Procedure require two thirds of the entire membership for the motion and the Bill to go through. Therefore, with a House of 378 members, the Bill required 250 signatures for it to be passed.
Uganda previously had a constitutional limit allowing leaders two five-year terms but legislators of the Seventh Parliament amended the Constitution to lift the terms, on the back of pressure from the Executive and reports of a Shs5 million bribe for ruling party MPs.

“We dropped the strategy of MPs signing because we felt that those who never signed on the Bill would refuse to support us on the floor of the House. We are still pushing the Speaker and she has indicated to us that after we are done with the oil debate, and the pending homosexuality Bill and the Money Laundering Bill, she will accommodate us,” Mr Karuhanga said.

In July, lawmakers led by the Lwemiyaga County MP, Mr Theodore Ssekikubo, and Kampala Central MP Mohammed Nsereko plotted against their NRM party and formed a tentative cabinet line-up to kick out the current NRM leadership come 2016. The legislators have, however, gone silent on the way forward.

Oil, Nantaba and the OPM saga
Then came September, the month where Parliament moved to censure the Prime Minister, Mr Amama Mbabazi, the minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Sam Kutesa and the Internal Affairs minister, Mr Hilary Onek, after they were cited in dubious oil deals with oil companies.

The ministers were accused of having taken bribes, a charge they all deny. About 190 signatures were collected but the matter was pushed to the ad hoc committee on oil, which is yet to table its report.

In the same month, MPs on the parliamentary Health Committee and the House, threatened not to pass the Health budget until Shs260 billion was availed for the enhancement of the health sector, but this too did not last after the government insisted that it did not have money.

In November, Ms Idah Nantaba’s appointment as State Minister for Lands provoked a lot of debate.
The Appointments Committee had rejected her appointment but later controversially rescinded their decision after the appointing authority (President Museveni) through various correspondences to Parliament insisted that she be approved.

This is what gave rise to the ‘Concerned Group of MPs’, led by Mr Otto, who argued that in reconvening the Appointments Committee to pass Ms Nantaba, the House Rules were broken. However, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, who had earlier promised to report to the House about the appointments, said he could not do so because Ms Nantaba’s controversial approval was now being challenged in court.

Still in November, legislators from northern Uganda and Karamoja Sub-region threatened to boycott Parliament if government does not interdict the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister. Mr Pius Bigirimana is caught up in a huge scandal that saw more than Shs50 billion of donors’ money swindled.

The funds were meant for the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan. Some legislators following undue pressure, betrayed the group and the planned boycott did not materialise.