2013: Another turbulent year for the Ninth Parliament
Posted Friday, December 27 2013 at 02:00
Year in review: 2013 has been a year in which the notion of checks and balances took its most fatal knock since the advent of multiparty politics in 2005. With accountability committees losing all their teeth on account of endless bribery accusations, it is not surprising that key Parliament reports are gathering dust. But with the 2016 general elections in sight, the forthcoming year is likely to be even worse.
It has been yet another turbulent year for Parliament -- one dominated by squabbles between a “domineering” Executive and a ‘belligerent’ Legislature. The indifference of the lawmakers in the face of bribery accusations and gluttony, appear to have weakened an institution once viewed as a harbinger of hope to the extent its failures are beginning to get noticed.
From the vantage point of the Press Gallery, 2013 has been a classic mixed bag for the 9th Parliament. But if there was any notable episode that shaped debate in the House, what would it be? Would it be the recent bribery accusations; the political squabbles; the empty threats; the lawmakers and other senior citizens who passed on, or the loan requests that MPs approved?
Well, in the annals of Parliament’s history, the most haunting event about 2013 is how deeply puzzling it was. Incidentally, there isn’t one eminent achievement that defined the year — in fact, the most dishonourable event in Parliament occurred in August when the lawmakers—the “voting machines” [with the exception of independent-minded lawmakers] hastily passed the Public Order Management Bill (POMB), 2011.
Concerted efforts to convince Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah that the proposed piece of legislation is a ‘prohibition’ rather than a ‘regulation’ of public meetings and demonstrations were unsuccessful. In desperation to stop the man accused of duplicity from making mistakes, Aruu MP Odonga Otto turned “wild”.
Mr Otto grabbed the list of names, which Mr Oulanyah was using for the voting exercise and ripped it into threads. Mr Oulanyah in response suspended Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (Kyadondo East), Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) and MP Otto on accusation of indiscipline.
The opportunity to build harmony was lost the day Mr Oulanyah chose to reintroduce the POMB in absence of the opposition. The opposition members were observing a three-day boycott of the House, protesting what they called ‘raping’ of the Constitution after NRM members controversially approved Gen Aronda Nyakairima to be a minister for Internal Affairs without necessarily resigning from the army.
The Bill, which is now law, gives police unlimited powers to clamp down on public gatherings and negatively impacts on enjoyment of freedoms of movement and association in the country.
The law Parliament passed despite fierce criticism from religious leaders, opposition MPs and the public as well as rights groups was branded a “serious blow to open political debate” by Amnesty International. Human rights activists have since run to court challenging the Act as unconstitutional. They say the Act is a bad law which restricts freedom of speech and expression and hinders democratic values.
The lawmakers [including opposition MPs] also accepted free iPads under the guise of cost cutting and scoffed at public calls to fix the country’s struggling health sector on pretext that there was no money in the 2013/14 Budget. The teachers were also told to be patient after President Museveni whitewashed House threats to block the passing of the Budget. The lawmakers later agreed with the president that giving teachers 100 per cent pay raise would tantamount to disorganising the already set government priorities in the Budget.
Although Parliament has passed Higher Education Students Financing Bill, 2013, the lawmakers slept through the proposed pension reforms. The new Bill titled: “The Retirement Benefits Sector Liberalisation Bill 2011” among other proposals, seeks to end the monopoly of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and allows workers who have saved for 10 years to access 30 per cent of their savings to secure a mortgage or a loan for purchasing a residential house from any financial institution. In a clear case of flippancy, the MPs on the Finance Committee admitted that they had not yet “internalised” the Bill brought to the House four years ago. Those who had ‘perused’ could not explain the delay.
The HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill, 2010, the Marriage and Divorce Bill; Public Finance Bill, 2013 the Public Accounts Committee report on the loss of donor funds at Prime Minister’s Office among other Committee reports and key Bills continue to gather dusts on the shelves.
The lawmakers also failed to sort out the paralysis at Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). Instead, the MPs on the Committee of Public Service and Local Government forged the report on Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago’s petition.
Ninth Parliament started 2013 on a collision course with the Executive following the mysterious death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda. While the official version of Nebanda’s death attributed to multiple organ failure arising from a toxic chemical substance, hides a much sinister reality. Even before the courts of law conclude the matter, in the corridors of Parliament, conspiracy theories continue to swirl, a year after her death.
In January 2013, outspoken legislators Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central), Dr Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkizi East), Dr Sam Lyomoki (Workers), Dr Medard Bitekyerezo (Mbarara Municipality), Emmanuel Dombo (Bunyole East) and Betty Nambooze (Mukono Municipality) were summoned and others arrested over allegations of inciting violence. Ms Kadaga was also threatened with police summons but did not record any statement.
Earlier in December, the botched sitting to honour Nebanda ended in tears after it emerged that the police had arrested Dr Sylvester Onzivua, the forensic pathologist, who was taking her body samples to South Africa for further scrutiny. During this emotive sitting, infuriated legislators across the political divide demanded that the burial be deferred to allow fresh examination. In the end, Mr Oulanyah, who has since confessed that this was one of the difficult sessions he has ever chaired, was forced to adjourn the House. On account of the disagreements and finger-pointing, Nebanda’s body laid in the state twice.
Gen Aronda-Odoki saga
The analysts who talked to this newspaper in August reduced Parliament’s Appointments Committee to a “toothless watchdog” and wondered why a committee previously praised as a “harbinger of hope” particularly in the fading shadows of the Eighth Parliament is now behaving like a “gang of hired mob”.
The latest hullabaloo over the efficacy of the appointments committee, chaired by Ms Kadaga, was provoked by reports that after approving Gen Nyakairima, a serving army officer, to be the political head of Internal Affairs docket, contrary to Article 208 (2) of the 1995 Constitution, the committee is about to approve retired Chief Justice (CJ) Benjamin Odoki to head the Judiciary.
Justice Odoki officially retired on March 23 after clocking the mandatory retirement age of 70. But later the President reportedly disregarded individuals recommended by the Judicial Service Commission and reappointed Justice Odoki on a two-year deal as CJ in total contravention of Article 142(1).
The President has since written to Ms Kadaga to consider and approve Justice Odoki amidst protests from the legal fraternity. Ms Kadaga has since written to the President citing the petition in the Constitutional Court. In October, President Museveni addressed Justice Odoki as “Your Lordship the Chief Justice whom I nominated”, before recognising the Cabinet ministers present.
However, in all the drama, pundits argue that, a closed-door committee “added insult to injury” and that the committee is now a rubber stamp to the extent that the members are too shy to look the President in the eye and say no to blemished nominees.
The Anti-Gay Bill
Parliament also controversially passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009 as a “Christmas gift” for Ugandans. Ms Kadaga rejected an appeal from Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and gay rights activists, who wanted the David Bahati Bill rejected under the guise of protecting the rights of the minority.
The private member’s Bill, tabled by Ndorwa West MP, David Bahati, proposes jail terms for homosexual acts, including a life sentence in certain circumstances. It bans the promotion of gay rights and calls for the punishment of anyone who funds or sponsors homosexuality or abets homosexuality.
When the matter was put to vote amid complaints over lack of quorum, the lawmakers present overwhelmingly voted in favour of the Bill and accused Western donors of blackmail. The Western donors have since threatened to cut aid to Uganda if the Bill becomes law. The Bill prohibits the “promotion” of gay rights and calls for the punishment of anyone who “funds or sponsors homosexuality” or “abets homosexuality”. In the euphoria, it remains to be seen whether the gay rights activists would go to court in trying to uphold the status-quo.