Proceedings were bought to a premature and chaotic end yesterday when Speaker Rebecca Kadaga left the House as MPs failed to agree on how to conclude the oil law.
It started at 6am with the ferrying of two trucks full of riot police to Parliament. The atmosphere was tense as visitors were frisked before being allowed into Parliament and the Public Gallery.
At around 3pm, pandemonium broke loose. The main chamber was enveloped in a din as MPs loudly opposed attempts by the government to force through another amendment of clause nine of the Petroleum (Exploration, Development, Production) Bill, 2012, to give unlimited powers to the minister for energy.
The mood in the House deteriorated after an intense exchange on whether to re-open debate on the matter or go straight to voting.
In an unusually packed House, the MPs from across the political divide, after failing to agree, stopped listening to calls for order from Ms Kadaga. They stood up as one and started chanting anti-voting slogans, provoking equally loud retorts from their opponents. “We won’t vote! We won’t vote!” the MPs chanted while looking up in the gallery which was packed with members of the civil society.
Ministers and a few NRM MPs responded: “We will vote! We will vote!” as they also stood, some raising their fists and pointing fingers at the opposing MPs. Ms Beatrice Anywar (FDC, Kitgum)) attempted to grab the parliamentary Mace, only to be stopped by the Sergeant-at-Arms.
It is against parliamentary decorum to grab the Mace, which is a symbol of the Speaker’s powers.
Throughout the chaos, the Vice-President, Prime minister, Minister for Energy and the Attorney General appeared rooted to their seats in stunned silence.
Amidst the whistling, singing and seat thumping, the Speaker soon could not be heard even as she adjourned the House for 15 minutes. She left through a side door and never returned, later sending a notice from the lobby that the House would reconvene today.
When they received the message, the MPs stood up and sang two stanzas of the National Anthem
Last Thursday, MPs voted on a motion to recommit clause nine of this Bill hours after a ruling party caucus presided over by President Museveni had agreed to reverse an earlier position to strip the minister of unilateral powers.
However, the final voting to change the clause to its original form was not done because of lack of quorum. It is because of this that the Speaker was yesterday asked to allow the House to debate the motion again.
“This is the right time to show the country that we are not voting machines. Most of our colleagues have not been attending a single sitting of the debate on oil but because they heard there is voting they rallied,” said Mr Abdu Katuntu (FDC, Bugweri).
“At one point I will also move a motion that we vote by roll call so that the whole country sees where we have voted. Oil is the most important asset this country has and we shall not be party to mob justice. It should be a game of persuasion and logic for the good of this country.”
During earlier debates less than 50 MPs voted to trim the minister’s powers by giving the Petroleum Authority powers to grant and revoke licences and powers to negotiate and endorse petroleum agreements.
The minister was only left with policy powers and to endorse what the Authority decides, a position Mr Mbabazi last week said made the President powerless over oil. However, the MPs maintained that recommitting clause nine will affect the entire Bill. “The mood of this country, shown by the attendance of today’s session, shows that the people are interested in the oil matter,” said Mr Crispus Ayena (UPC, Oyam). “… The choice is that we show whether we want to sell our country cheaply or that everyone voices their matter on oil.”