Members of Parliament yesterday rejected a statement by Cabinet on the East African Integration, citing lack of honesty on existing regional challenges.
The Minister of State for East African Community Affairs, Mr Julius Wandera Maganda, presented a statement to urge members to mobilise the population to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the regional bloc but avoided to speak about the present challenges of expulsion of Ugandans by Tanzania, the closed Uganda-Rwanda border at Katuna and the unfinished Standard Gauge Railway project.
This “careful treading” instead attracted anger from lawmakers, with most of them accusing the minister of disrespect both to Parliament and the citizens.
Kiira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju (FDC) spoke first. He asked the minister to explain what Ugandan traders should be celebrating with a closed border at Katuna.
“Can the minister explain how this will be when you have a border between Uganda and Rwanda closed; you have Ugandans being shot dead in Rwanda,” Mr Ssemujju said.
Bufumbira County MP Sam Bitangaro (NRM) said they have nothing to celebrate as people of Kisoro District which neighbours Rwanda.
“If I stood here to celebrate, people in Kisoro would stone me,” he said.
In Kisoro, Mr Bitangaro said people live in misery. “Ugandans are being killed, business is paralysed and social relations are at a standstill,” Mr Bitangaro said.
The MP asked why there are no organs within the regional bloc to intervene in the Rwandan question for normalcy to return.
Many Members of Parliament, pointed the Executive to the hospitality Ugandans have accorded to visiting neighbours and the pain suffered by Ugandans in neighbouring countries.
“When they come to Uganda they are free and they enjoy the hospitality of Ugandans but Ugandans are never at ease out there. You have a national ID but you are asked to present at LC letter and other travel documents,” Ms Amongin Jacqueline(Ind, Ngora County) said.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga weighed in, reminding the government about the justifications for the revival of a community that had collapsed under the reign of Idi Amin.
“It has become clear that there are many issues, especially about the people. When we were reviving the EAC, we said it would be people-centred but now you can see, the people are heavily affected, we shall require the government to present a comprehensive statement on our relationship with other members of the community,” the Speaker said.
The legislators also raised concerns that property of Uganda in Mombasa under the Uganda Property Holding are going to be confiscated and placed in the hands of Kenya Property Holding, because only citizens are allowed to own property in Kenya.
Some of such property, the MPs said, are left with less than a year to expire.
Mr Maurice Kibalya (NRM, Bugabula South) said forex bureaus in Uganda sell Kenya currency while those in Kenya have no Ugandan currencies, despite the talk of a common market. Dokolo South MP Okot-Ogong (NRM) asked Parliament “to debate the matter from a point of knowledge.”
“Today we have a lot of export to our neighbours and this integration was mainly adopted to facilitate trade. I think despite challenges, we have achieved a lot from Eala, a number of laws have been passed for the good of this integration,” Mr Okot-Ogong said.
He insisted that the issue of integration is very sensitive, so the message we send out there must be carefully studied; this is a national Parliament of Uganda which should support integration.”
The Speaker tasked the government to return on Tuesday with a better statement highlighting key milestones of the Community; an updated status of Uganda’s property in Mombasa and Kisumu and a clear statement on the Uganda-Rwanda relations.