Handling term limits debate was Oulanyah’s first baptism of fire

Then Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah chairs the plenary at Parliament on  November 29, 2017. Photo / File

What you need to know:

  • Ultimately, what came to define the Seventh Parliament and—to a large extent—Oulanyah’s career was the lifting of the term limits in 2005.

When Jacob Oulanyah arrived from Omoro County in 2001 to take a seat in the Seventh Parliament, he was immediately thrown into the deep end.

Voted as chair of the crucial Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Committee, he found himself having to step into the shoes of a constitutional law titan—Dan Wandera-Ogalo.

Unlike today where the rules give the ruling party powers to decide who chairs the Legal committee, the formula was different back then.

“We (MPs) submitted our preferences to the clerk,” Wandera-Ogalo recalled. “Then the clerk would look at our CVs, our professions, and come up with recommendations on who should serve on which committee. Then those recommendations would be put together and presented to the house and approved.”

He added: “Once the recommendations were approved, each committee would get its clerk.  Each committee sits and elects its own chairman and vice chairman.”

As Oulanyah and his colleagues were taking up positions, it was apparent that the Sixth Parliament had set the bar, perhaps, too high.

Mr Sam Kuteesa, the junior Finance minister, had been censured on account of alleged misuse of office and influence-peddling. 

His troubles started in 1993 when Uganda Airlines had domination over ground handling operations in Entebbe. This went on until the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) relaxed the operations.

In 1996, CAA ended Uganda Airlines’ contract and granted Entebbe Handling Services (Enhas) a monopoly of ground handling services.

Uganda Airlines took 50 percent shares in Enhas and Sabena Airlines five percent. Workers of CAA and Uganda’s flag carrier also got five percent. The remaining 40 percent went to two companies—Effortes, a subordinate of Caleb International owned by Salim Saleh and Global Airlink owned by Mr Kutesa.

In 1998, Uganda Airlines was “forced to sell” its shares to supposedly pay off some debts. The shares were bought by Effortes.

 The manoeuvring and dealing annoyed MPs and in March 1999 Emmanuel Ddombo, now director of communications at the NRM secretariat, supported by former MP Okwir Rwabwoni, accused Mr Kutesa of conflict of interest.

 Mr Ddombo argued that Mr Kutesa held a Cabinet portfolio while at the same time presiding over Enhas, something that contravened the Leadership Code of Conduct.

Mr Kutesa fell on his sword despite the ‘First Son’—Muhoozi Kainerugaba—marrying his daughter—Charlotte Nankunda—that same year.

Censures galore

Earlier, the Sixth Parliament had sanctioned Jim Muhwezi— who then was the junior Primary Education minister.

 Legislators cited abuse of office, influence-peddling, failure to account for his massive wealth, and breaching the UPDF’s standing regulations. The latter barred soldiers from transacting business with foreigners. Muhwezi was also accused of having dealings with Meera Enterprises owned by property magnate Sudhir Ruparelia. It emerged that during Muhwezi’s reign as director  general of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) Mr Ruparelia was arrested with dollars at Entebbe International Airport and never formally charged. Investigations revealed that Muhwezi had shares in Ruparelia’s Crane Bank—a classic case of influence peddling and conceivable fraud.

Muhwezi insisted that he was a victim of a political witch-hunt, but the Sixth Parliament was having none of it.

To say that Oulanyah’s work was cut out when he joined the Seventh Parliament was an understatement. As a parting gift, the Sixth Parliament left the Political Parties and Organisations Bill in the legal committee’s in-tray. The Bill was toxic if anything because Uganda was at the time still under single-party rule (Movement System).

“We had the Political Parties and Organisation [Bill] and our committee disagreed with the President over restrictions on political parties and recommended to the House to reject the version of the executive,” Wandera said of the legislation, adding, “The House did so and took our committee’s recommendations, but was coming to the end of the term and the President refused to assent to that law. He [consequently] reintroduced it to the Seventh Parliament.”

Tough job

The Bill—with all its toxicities—fell in the laps of Oulanyah, then aged only 36. When it came up for debate on May 9, 2002, Oulanyah alleged that General Elly Tumwine—who was representing the army in Parliament—had manhandled and humiliated him.

It’s said that the Luweero Bush War veteran thought Oulanyah—then a Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) stalwart—was carrying a gun.

The Political Parties Act, 2002 eventually became law only to be repealed four years later. Its replacement —the Political Parties Organisation Act, 2005—paved the way for the return of multiparty politics in Uganda since 1986.

The Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Discipline headed by Hope Mwesigye, then Kabale Woman MP, had decided to take up the matter but couldn’t go far as Oulanyah decided to drop the charges.

“I have decided to let it go. I have forgiven him unconditionally. I will write to the committee and the Speaker informing them of my decision,” Oulanyah told the media.

Mr Museveni has always pegged power shortages in Uganda to the Seventh Parliament. He continues that it delayed the construction of the Bujagali hydropower dam.

In 1996, in an effort to increase electricity supply, the Museveni administration proposed to construct another big dam near Bujagali falls on River Nile, eight kilometres downstream of the Owen Falls Dam.

 The World Bank and the government  said the project would double electrical productivity, rouse industrial progress, and bring electricity to Uganda’s poor.

 Environmentalists were, however, having none of it. They especially did not like the fact that that would eliminate the stunning Bujagali Falls at the source of the Nile that were much loved by whitewater rafters. They were also believed to generate as much as $60 million (about Shs216b) a year in tourist revenues.

Legislators—Proscovia Salaam Musumba, John Ken Lukyamuzi, Nathan Mafabi, Frank Nabwiso, Nsubuga Nsambu, Daniel Kiwalabye, and Geoffrey Ekanya—wrote to the World Bank complaining that the project was dogged by corruption, quoting a court case where Shs1b was allegedly spent to purchase political support.

An investigation by the United States  Justice Department and the World Bank Fraud and Corruption Unit led to the withholding of funds from 2002 as the investigations proceeded, much to the chagrin of Mr Museveni.

Term limits removal

Ultimately, what came to define the Seventh Parliament and—to a large extent—Oulanyah’s career was the lifting of the terms limits in 2005. The actual removal of term limits was put in motion during the Movement National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi.

The reaction by some of Museveni’s longtime lieutenants was that of shock. Eriya Kategaya, then first deputy prime minister, was joined by former ministers—Amanya Mushega, Richard Kaijuka, Bidandi Ssali, Miria Matembe, and former army commander Gregory Mugisha Muntu— in opposing the entire project.

Mr Museveni responded by reshuffling the Cabinet in which he sacked ministers who had spoken out against the move, including Mr Kategaya and Ms Matembe (Ethics and integrity minister).

When the issue arrived at Parliament in 2005, Theodore Ssekikubo—then a first-time legislator—raised a red flag, revealing that Shs5m had been doled out as incentive.

Mr Ssekikubo voted for the lifting of term limits regardless. As the legal committee chair, Mr Oulanyah had allowed the amendment to go back to the House for voting. What he said during the vote popped eyes.

“I am sure that all the honourable members present are wondering what I am going to say. I am sure the press is anxious about what I am going to say and I am sure everybody in this country is anxious about what I am about to say. I had opted to keep it that way. I have not spoken on this matter and it was deliberate because I was chairing the committee that was handling this matter,” he said.

He added: “ I have listened to all the arguments that could possibly be advanced, both for and against. I have listened to threats of war and all kinds of things that are likely to happen as a result of this vote. We are so eloquent in this House[, but] I have even seen the most eloquent failing to articulate points on this issue either for or against. But, why have I  decided to speak on this matter now? When I left the seat and walked out, I had called a friend to pray with me because these are weighty matters and for those of you who are taking it lightly—it is a very weighty matter for us.”

The friend he had prayed with was Gad Gasatura, a trained pilot. Oulanyah further revealed that “the arguments are no longer for the principle of whether you should lift or retain presidential term limits. They were, he added, about “those who like President Museveni and those who hate him. Yet many people do not fall in either of the categories.” Put simply, Oulanyah abstained.

Interestingly, Justine Kasule Lumumba—now minister in- charge of General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister—voted against the amendment, saying “if we are about to change the term limits today, what will stop those who will be there by that time [when President Museveni clocks 75] also to change when they get to the age of 75?”

Although he abstained, constitutional law expert Peter Walubiri said participating “in that [amendment] process” tainted Oulanyah.

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