Friday July 25 2014

Question Time: Amama gives MPs a run-around

Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi responds to questions

Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi responds to questions from House members on Wednesday at Parliament. The session was treated to laughter, lengthy, short and precise answers. Photo by Geoffrey Sseruyange. 

By Isaac Imaka

PARLIAMENT-Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time was not the usual winding and repetitive session typical of the last two sessions.

The Premier responded with one-word answers to people like Buliisa MP Mukitale Birahwa who is used to long-winding statements instead of concise questions.

He responded with abruptness to questions from younger MPs like Luweero District Woman MP Brenda Nabukenya.

And notably, he responded with authority and concern when questions about the Kanungu arrests were raised.

Whatever approach he chose for whichever question, the House was kept on its toes.

In the seat was Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, who had entered the chambers at 2pm, only to find less than 10 members in the House.

“Honourable members it is 3 O’clock. It is the proper time for us to handle the Prime Minister’s Question Time. The Prime Minister is here; we have one hour and we will stop at 4pm,” he said.

But Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Nsubuga could not allow the Premier to proceed before delivering a response to his last week’s question.

“Procedure Mr Speaker,” he said. “Is the Prime Minister right to proceed without responding to a question I asked about why a Democratic Party chairman in Karugutu was arrested and taken to court martial yet he is not a soldier?”

“Is that a procedural matter?” the Deputy Speaker wondered, eliciting laughter in the House. “If it was the Prime Minister’s undertaking, has he failed to do so for you to raise a procedural matter? Please let’s use the time properly members.”

Just like the many MPs who misuse the point of procedural privilege, the Masaka Municipality MP had gaffed! True, the Premier had promised to consult and return with a response but it was wrong of him to raise a procedural matter before knowing what the Premier was going to talk about.

He paid the price for that—the question was not answered.
“Buliisa,” the Deputy Speaker called out on Mr Mukitale to start the asking.

True to form, Mr Mukitale set out with a winding two-minute preamble.

“Government has been saying that it will build a sustainable non-oil economy even during the onset of the oil sector and it is also confirmed in our oil policy. Unfortunately, in Bunyoro, whereas we have tourism, we have agriculture, we have fisheries, we have a community which has been waiting for a road…,” he went on.
“Honourable member what is your question?” the Speaker interjected.

“Right Honourable Prime Minister, can we know if government has diverted from developing a non-oil economy to only oil?” he eventually asked.
“The answer is no,” the premier responded and promptly resumed his seat.

Queries during the Prime Minister Question Time are supposed to be short and straight forward. It is only 45 minutes and the Speaker always wants the Premier to answer as many questions, probably 100, just like in the Westminster from where the practice was adopted.

Mbale Municipality MP Jack Wamai’s question was also not answered. He had asked the Premier how far he had gone with the issue of assisting a woman who wanted to bring back the body of her granddaughter who died in 2012 in China.

“I am sorry to hear that this matter has not been followed up yet, I undertake to follow up and report back,” the Prime Minister responded.
The first two shots were not engaging. It was a question from Ajuri MP, Hamson Obua, which seemed to wrong-foot the Premier.

“Is the PM aware that since inception through an Act of Parliament in 1990, the Uganda Council of Science and Technology has been operating without a board? And if so, what plans are being considered by government that the board is established in conformity with the law?” he asked.
The Prime Minister remained rooted to his seat. After close to a minute, he slowly walked to the dais, adjusted his maroon checked neck-tie, and gave the MP a “what is that you are asking” look, looked back at the Speaker, as if asking him to reject the question, and looked at the MP again.
“Mr Prime Minister,” the Speaker calls him out, as if reminding him that it is Prime Minister’s Question Time.

“Uhmm, uhmm,” Mr Mbabazi started, and then went into a stutter. “The-the-the Prime Minister will take keen interest in the issue to find out what is happening and take correct measures.”

Ms Nambooze shoots in
Going on, as the Premier told the House how every African is his comrade when he referred to South Sudan rebels as his comrades, Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze interjected asking him if MP Evelyn Anite is also his comrade, a question the Premier answered pronto.

“If Honourable Nambooze is my comrade, how on earth could Anite not be my comrade?” the Premier wondered drawing more laughter.

Ms Nambooze was clearly reminding the Premier of the Kyankwanzi NRM sole-candidate controversy which was led by the said Anite.

Mr Mbabazi then turned his attention to Kumi Municipality MP, Patrick Amuriat Oboi whom he told he did not have the details of the arrival of “my comrades from South Sudan.”

Mr Oboi had asked the Premier why government shunned a delegation of South Sudan rebels when they came to Uganda to discuss issues of the Juba conflict with the President.

“I happen to have been in a meeting with the President when the arrival was reported to him and he did inform the officials that he would be ready to meet them,” the Premier answered.

“My expectation is that if they came without being announced, when they arrived, the President was told and a message was given to him that they wish to meet him and he declared his readiness to do so.”

Close to the PM’s heart
And then the one close to his heart came in. “Rt Hon Prime Minister, many people have been arrested by the IGP, in Kihihi Kanungu District, your constituency. Can you tell this House why these people were arrested?” Rukungiri Municipality MP Roland Kaginda asked.

“Yes, I am aware certainly. They went ahead and arrested leading personalities in my constituency and charged them in court. The people who were arrested are very closely associated with me. They are strong Movement [NRM] people and leaders in their right
“...I am taking all the necessary steps and measures to make sure that the rights of our people are not broken by those who are meant to protect them. You will be hearing what will be happening,” he said.

SOME KEY QUESTIONS

Ajuri MP, Hamson Obua: Is the PM aware that since inception through an Act of Parliament in 1990, the Uganda Council of Science and Technology has been operating without a board? And if so, what plans are being considered by government that the board is established in conformity with the law?

Luweero District Woman MP Brenda Nabukenya: Update the house about the empty promises the NRM government has consistently doled out to the Luweero Triangle veterans.

Rukungiri Municipality MP Roland Kaginda: Rt Hon Prime Minister, many people have been arrested by the IGP, in Kihihi Kanungu District, your constituency. Can you tell this House why these people were arrested?

MBABAZI ON NABUKENYA

What sent the House into throes of laughter is how the Premier chose to respond to a question from Ms Nabukenya (recently re-elected Luweero District Woman MP), about “the empty promises the NRM government has consistently doled out to the Luweero Triangle veterans.”

Mbabazi took to the stage, a mischievous smile playing on his lips. “May I take this opportunity to congratulate you, Brenda. I had not got the opportunity to congratulate you on your victory,” he said and looked at the MP for close to a minute as he smiled. “Hon Prime Minister,” the Speaker called him out.

“On behalf of the ruling party I would like to pledge our total commitment to cooperate with you… we are waiting for the substance,” he said.

Undeterred, the PM set out on a long-winded humour trip, congratulating and welcoming whoever had recently won a by-election until Serere Woman MP, Alice Alaso stood up on a point of procedure.

“The actions of Mr Hare when they gave him a pot of hot water to drink, instead went about showing all in the crowd how hot the water was and by the time he drank it, the water was so cold but everybody thought he had done a miracle.

Is the Premier proceeding correctly by using the Question Time to congratulate members away from the question that was asked?” she asked. At that point, the Speaker ruled against the Premier and asked him to remain relevant.

It was then that the Premier said the outstanding balance to the veterans is Shs800b and government is working on paying them.

But that was after defending his welcoming of the MP to the House.
“The Prime Minister, who is the leader of government business in this House, and secretary general of the mighty party, NRM finds it appropriate and certainly on demand that the voices on behalf of the party to welcome those who had not been welcomed be heard,” he said.

iimaka@ug.nationmedia.com

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