DP faces stress test ahead of NEC meet

Democratic Party president Norbert Mao (centre) addressed the media at the party offices in Kampala on July 26. The party is set to convene a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Fort Portal, Kabarole District, on October 1, 2022. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Internal wrangles have not only rocked the country’s oldest political party but yielded splinter groups and defections.

After being at the crossroads for a long time, the Democratic Party (DP) now appears to be headed for the abyss. The decision by a section of the party to cooperate with the ruling government leaves Uganda’s oldest party in the fight for what remains of its soul.

For more than two decades, since elder statesman Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, who had presided over a semblance of order in the party stepped down, internal wrangles have not only rocked DP but yielded splinter groups and defections.

Today, DP will convene a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Fort Portal, Kabarole District, according to a communique from the office of the party secretary general (SG) and interviews with party leaders. This follows a 14-day ultimatum by some of the DP members, demanding for the larger National Council meeting. 

DP president Norbert Mao and his executive have, for more than five years, managed to scuttle efforts to convene the National Council—the party’s top decision-making organ.  The National Council is responsible for making key decisions for the party, including filling vacant positions.

For a protracted period, DP had unfilled vacancies including the secretary general and national chairperson roles which didn’t have substantive office holders.

High on the agenda of the first DP NEC meeting will be setting a date of the National Council meeting. Whether the date is set or not, it remains to be seen if the party will follow through with holding the meet. Past commitments leave a lot of doubt.  

Split over meetings
The concession to hold the NEC meeting in anticipation of a National Council came shortly after DP members issued a requisition statement. The statement demanded that the office of the SG calls an extraordinary meeting pursuant to the provision of Article 16 of the DP constitution.

The letter stated that the agenda of the meeting should, among others, include availing the members of NEC and DP district chairpersons a copy of the Cooperation Agreement between the DP and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.

“They also requested a discussion on the gross misconduct of the party president for violating the party constitution by entering into an agreement with NRM without the knowledge, consent and an approval of the NDC,” the letter stated.

Mr Mao currently serves as Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, one of the perks of agreeing to work with President Museveni. Elsewhere, the party’s SG, Mr Gerald Siranda, on Thursday polled 233 votes with sizeable backing of NRM lawmakers to join the East African Legislative Assembly. 

Mr Mao told Monitor that the decision to hold NEC in Fort Portal is a response to a demand from national leaders that the meeting should rotate particularly in areas where the party is not very strong.

According to the letter signed by the deputy party SG, Ms Christine Mugerwa, the office of the SG has powers to call for the NEC meeting to discuss several matters concerning the party.

Consequently, the NEC meeting will be held in Fort Portal at St Adolf Information Centre to discuss, inter alia, the DP strategic plan, DP amended constitution, financial report for 2021 as well as the DP-NRM Cooperation Agreement and implementation plan.

DP last held the NEC meeting in 2020 at Balintuma offices under heavy deployment of security personnel due the infighting between party members and Mr Mao.

“One of the reasons why we have taken long to call for National Council is about resources since the National Council meeting is big and if members want we can have zoom meeting,” Mr Mao said, adding, “It is not that anybody wouldn’t want to have National Council meeting, but we have been having a very serious drain on our finances because of the Balintuma Road offices, which we have now finished paying for.”

Petition standoff
Mr Mao also denied seeing a petition calling for a National Council meeting.
“We have never had a National Council meeting which was not preceded by NEC and everybody knows, and the party has a constitution which guides our action,” he said. “That’s why we have called for NEC, and whoever has an issue should come and attend.”

Mr Richard Lumu, the DP legal advisor, won’t attend the meetings. He cited “several issues on the table, including the court petition which we want court to determine.” He also queried how the decision to stage the meetings in Fort Portal was arrived at.

Mr Siranda told Saturday Monitor that the events will go on as planned regardless. He added that they “expect members to come with feedback because they have been with those documents [from previous meetings of] about five months.” 

DP also expects feedback from the party members about the cooperation agreement that has already won them seats in the Cabinet and Eala.

Fallout over finances
Saturday Monitor also understands there is disagreement on how to manage the party’s finances. 
DP treasurer Mary Babilye Kabanda said she signed only one requisition on the loan of the Balintuma offices.

This, she added, had already been discussed in their finance committee meeting because the party’s policy demands that whenever money is received there has to be a sitting that climaxes with the finance committee doing some appropriation.

“Since I am a treasurer and principal signatory on the party accounts, I have a responsibility to know where the money is going to be spent and to sign on the cheque before releasing the money,” Ms Kabanda said, adding, “In this case, Mao didn’t call for the finance committee meeting or informed officially.  They instead allocated the funds themselves and brought the document for me to sign.”

Ms Kabanda further revealed that she rejected the second requisition on grounds of being kept out of the loop and procedural matters around such transactions.

“There is already a petition which has already been served to the party that we must have a National Council meeting,” she said, adding, “The money was allocated to things which can even wait and leave the pending issue of National Council where we were given only 14 days.”

The requisition Ms Kabanda signed was for Balintuma offices where the party had a loan of Shs152m. She, however, declined to pen her signature on the one of Shs100m. 

Mr Mao, however, said DP members should not read too much into the party treasurer’s refusal to sign the financial requisition.

“If you’re querying something then it is discussed and resolved because we have been having several, but we are avoiding mixing up politics with internal management issues,” he reasoned, adding that the “very good constitution” the party’s founders bequeathed to them will resolve such internal contradictions during today’s NEC meeting.

On his part, Mr Siranda took the gloves off by accusing Ms Kabanda of being a sore loser in the party’s primaries.

“It’s a DP policy that every candidate must be facilitated by the party. I am a normal candidate like any other candidate, but my candidature [was] faulted in every other angle,” Mr Siranda said, accusing Ms Kabanda of denying him funds to facilitate his Eala candidature.

While Mr Siranda was successful in his Eala race, experts have asked DP to tread carefully. They cite how a cooperation agreement between President Museveni and a Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) faction led by Jimmy Akena has reaped the whirlwind. 

Besides the deep-seated divisions, UPC on Thursday failed to have its candidate make the Eala cut. This was despite Mr Museveni ordering NRM lawmakers in the House to throw their weight behind the UPC candidate on September 16. Fred Ebil was UPC’s flag bearer in the Eala race.