What’s all the fuss about Gen Aronda?

Sunday July 14 2013

Aronda Nyakairima

Gen Aronda Nyakairima has been the subject of unending debate and legal gymnastics over his appointment to head the Internal Affairs ministry. 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

The day Parliament blindly followed the mob and refused to open up the Appointments Committee to public scrutiny, I knew that we were headed for interesting times.

First, who thought that the people, who swore to uphold the Constitution and even begged God to help them defend the supreme law of the land, could forget so fast and begin procrastinating over the obvious?

In a strange political setting where deception thrives, parliamentarians will always tolerate almost anything, including obvious inconveniences like the hullaballoo over Gen Aronda Nyakayirima. Why, then, all the anxiety and filibustering over something that is indisputably obvious?

The people on the Appointments Committee, regardless of their political beliefs, should not blame the President for their reluctance to follow the law; they should blame themselves. For if they go ahead and approve Gen Nyakairima in their meeting scheduled for tomorrow, Ugandans will never forgive them and even if they ask for forgiveness, the political curse will follow them to their political graves.

Gen Aronda can only be approved on condition that he resigns from the army and relinquishes his seat in Parliament where he represents the army. This is the right thing to do. In any case, a precedent was set when the same committee refused to approve Lt Gen Jeje Odongo in 2009. What then, is so special about Gen Aronda?

Not late
It is not too late for the Appointments Committee to pick up the pieces. The committee leadership can still salvage the image of Parliament and possibly avert the embarrassment from sapping them, the same way the Aidah Nantaba [junior Lands minister] saga did. They first refused her on ‘flimsy’ grounds but after Mr Museveni’s intervention; they accepted to approve her and immediately moved on as though nothing happened.

Therefore, in this epic story of Gen Aronda, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah need to be reminded that the future of our nation is heavily dependent upon the mindset, motivation and desire of our leaders to stick to the rules. This is why we cannot afford to keep posturing on a matter that touches the Constitution.

Article 209(a) of the Constitution deals with the main function of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF). The UPDF shall preserve and defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Uganda. According to Article 208(2) of the same law, the UPDF shall be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional, disciplined, productive and subordinate to civilian authority.

In light of this provision, it is now up to the Appointment Committee to decide whether it makes sense for Gen Aronda to be allowed to become Internal Affairs minister and continue to represent the army in Parliament. It’s also up to this Committee to drag the “listening posts” in our mucky politics.

The Appointments Committee should know that they have no right to undermine the Constitutional order. By allowing Gen Aronda, a serving army officer to sit on the front bench, we would be making a terrible mistake.

Obviously, I don’t think as a country, we would like to have a partisan national army. By the way, the allegations of torture notwithstanding, President Museveni is widely acclaimed for transforming a “ragtag guerrillas” with irresolute goals into one of the most disciplined armies on the continent. Therefore, a national army of this stature cannot be risked in partisan politics because the Appointments Committee is politically calculating which way is safest to jump.

Don’t waste time
We don’t need to waste time, pulling strings on Gen Aronda’s issue.
If the Constitution says our national army shouldn’t be partisan, then, what makes it so hard for the Appointments Committee to save their face and tell the President that the rule of law must prevail, the legal gymnastics and cynicism of the Attorney General, Mr Peter Nyombi, notwithstanding?

In any case, the Constitution is the supreme law of Uganda and has binding force on all authorities and persons throughout Uganda. If any other law or any custom, [if I may add, any legal interpretation] is inconsistent with any of the provisions of this Constitution, the Constitution shall prevail, and that other law or custom shall, to the extent of that inconsistency, be void.

I am sure, the people who sit on the Appointments Committee effusively understand the Constitution, including the implications of the vow they took when they came to Parliament, though some have simply decided to play politics. This kind of behaviour by our MPs begs one question: Have we lost our capacity for objectivity and rational thought?

In the frivolous fight between the Executive and Parliament, we have seen the Appointments Committee posturing on matters that require soberness of our leaders. This Committee, in some way has degenerated into a rubber stamp. You can blame this absurdity to the politics of a powerful ruling party against a diminutive opposition-- scrambling for space in a confused multiparty setting, but, the fact is that the failure to open up this committee made matters worse. As a result, some people who are unfortunately Committee members, have exploited the gaps in the rules of procedure to advance their agenda. This political maneuvering will turn the 9th Parliament into a mere talking shop.

Proposals
For fear that the loopholes in the rules erode the independence of Parliament to express itself on appointments the President makes; the Fox Odoi Committee had recommended that Rules 139(2) and 144 be amended, to allow the proceedings of the Appointments Committee opened to the public and allow debate on the report of the Committee by the Whole House.

Under the proposed amendments the names of persons nominated by the President for appointment would be published in a newspaper with the widest coverage for the public give their views to the Committee. But this was rejected and now, we see State House meetings and media reports-- painting a funny image of a divided Committee--putting the Deputy Speaker in the spotlight. Over to you Madam Speaker and I beg to submit.