House walks opposite sides on Among’s order on MPs

Mr Robert Ssekitoleko, the Bamunanika County Member of Parliament, before he was kicked out of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee at Parliament on November 27.  PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Ms Among chairs the vetting committee, where the LoP and other senior politicians are members, and they yesterday evaluated the suitability of Justice Elizabeth Musoke, whom President Museveni has named to the Judicial Service Commission, for the job.

The implementation of Parliament Speaker Anita Among’s order to bar Opposition lawmakers from Committee meetings, started on a staggered footing yesterday, despite unanswered questions about its legality.

Whereas Mr Fox Odoi (NRM; West Budama North) sent Robert Ssekitoleko (NUP; Bumananika) away from a committee meeting on the basis of the directive, the Speaker herself sat side by side the same morning with Leader of Opposition, Mr Mathias Mpuuga, uninterrupted at a vetting committee.

Ms Among chairs the vetting committee, where the LoP and other senior politicians are members, and they yesterday evaluated the suitability of Justice Elizabeth Musoke, whom President Museveni has named to the Judicial Service Commission, for the job.

Their verdict remained under wraps by press time. Despite the Speaker not enforcing her own directive against LoP Mpuuga (NUP; Nyendo-Mukungwe), Mr Odoi, who was an understudy for Committee Robinah Rwakoojo (NRM, Gomba West), ejected MP Ssekitoleko.

“The Right Honourable Speaker of Parliament guided Parliament and all its committees that our colleagues who are currently boycotting plenary should not participate in the meetings of parliamentary committees and field visits by the committees. I know that the Honourable Member of Parliament for Bamunanika is in that category,” Mr Odoi.

He added: “I am constrained to request him to take leave of the meeting until such a time that they officially report [back] for plenary. The guidance of the Speaker is binding on Parliament and its committees. Unfortunately, I will not contravene with the guidance of the Speaker. So, Honourable, kindly take leave and let us transact the business of the committee in your absence.”

Mr Ssekitoleko obliged, leaving other members to interface with the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Nobert Mao, who made a presentation on the Judicature (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

The MP later told journalists that they would await guidance from the LoP on a way forward.  

“Our position [as Opposition] is still clear that for committees we must attend and for plenary, we must stay out,” he said, “So, that is the position as per now unless there is further communication over that but if that is not the case, let us wait…”

Members of Parliament subscribing to the Opposition staged a walk out last month, citing the Executive’s failure to account for the whereabouts of their supporters whom they allege security forces are holding incommunicado.

Questions relating missing Opposition supporters began surfacing before and continued during and after the 2021 elections, and a resolution has been deadlocked in a Ping Pong between the government and Opposition.

In protest, the latter walked out and said their boycott of House sittings would subsist until the Executive accounts for citizens whose whereabouts relatives and respective political parties know nothing about.

Members of Parliament perform their legislative and oversight roles through various ways, among them attending plenary (sitting of the whole House) and committee meeting.

A month after the Opposition lawmakers staged the walk-out, Speaker Among last week read the riot act, demanding they resume attending House sittings or be excluded from all businesses of Parliament including sporting events outside the country.

Lawyers such as Chapter Four Uganda Executive Director, Mr Nicholas Opio, have argued that Ms Among overstepped her mandate and her decision was not clothed in law.

Speaking to the irony of Mr Ssekitoleko being ejected while he remained by the Speaker’s side undisturbed during yesterday’s vetting committee’s sitting, LoP Mpuuga told this newspaper that:

“They [parliamentary committee chairpersons implementing the Speaker’s directive] are overzealous and over enthusiastic for what they don’t know. They are overstepping their mandate and I am guiding [Opposition] members to defy them.”

“I do not need to ask permission to attend [committee] meetings,” he said, adding that there was “no issue” when he sat through the vetting committee meeting.

The directive, however, appeared to boomerang when MP Francis Zaake (NUP; Mityana Municipality), whom Parliament’s Rules, Privileges and Discipline Committee wanted yesterday for questioning over alleged misconduct, stayed away on grounds that he was complying with the Speaker’s order.

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, who represented him, said his client showing up would be “defiance of the Speaker’s directive which may cause other charges [to be] imposed on him”.

The Rules committee is probing Mr Zaake on two allegations of misconduct; one related to him continuing to speak after Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa overruled him and the other over allegations that he mad uncharitable comments about MP Juliet Kinyamatama (Ind; Rakai District) during Independence Day celebrations in the district.