Militarising police will breed citizen brutality - Ssemujju

Responds. Opposition Chief Whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda in an interview. Photo by Michael Kakumirizi

What you need to know:

Interview. Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda has cautioned President Museveni against militarising the police. Mr Ssemujju, who doubles as the Chief Opposition whip in Parliament and Forum for Democratic Change spokesperson, was yesterday responding to a wide range of issues, including army appointments in the police and challenges faced by Opposition. Daily Monitor’s Moses Kyeyune brings you the excerpts.

The President has appointed army officers into the police, what do you make of this?
The militarisation of the police is not beneficial to anyone, including Mr Museveni who is doing it because the military training is different; even the mandate. If you read the Constitution, the military is supposed to safeguard Uganda’s borders. The police is supposed to keep law and order. Unfortunately, the things that Mr Museveni will want the police to do are not easy and that is why they will want the military to do them; brutalising the citizens and intimidating them.

For the ordinary police, the moment you bring in the military, they will stand aside and watch; as a result, you will see crime going up, I even told Gen [Kale] Kayihura before he was sacked that the moment you concentrated on regime protection, you will have less time and attention to combat crime and that is what has happened. I think the police and military must be ashamed that you can have criminals staging robberies in broad daylight.

Please comment on the rise of killings in Uganda, some of which have been linked to police and the army.
The problem is that the police and the army are both partisan institutions that have been contracted by the regime to do NRM work. Security forces do that when regimes are vulnerable, if you can compare with developments in Sudan.

We have warned individual police officers and military officers that the shielding of NRM can only be a temporary relief. There is no way you are going to permanently shield this government. Those individuals who are perpetuating these crimes, we want to warn them that they will individually have to pay.
I have never imagined in my life time that I will be a free citizen and Siraji Bakaleke (police fugitive) who kidnapped me from my compound will be on the run, and those who were pursuing him, using him as a tool are also being pursued.

What is the way forward for the Opposition if the government fails to table electoral reforms as directed by the Supreme Court?
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament (Betty Aol) and Shadow Attorney General (Wilfred Niwagaba) will on Friday meet the Speaker (Rebbeca Kadaga) to lobby for reforms. Government had guaranteed that they would have their Bills ready.

When Parliament resumes next week, we shall be asking them to present the Bills, but in the meantime, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP) is following up on the request to table all proposals made by the Supreme Court and the proposals first. If the Speaker grants us permission as Opposition to present the Bills, we shall present them and if she wants them to be presented by government, we shall be waiting, but there will be a cut off which is next week.

The Opposition MPs just like the NRM are slow on plenary attendance, what is the Whip doing about it?
When you read the Constitution and our Rules of Procedure, you find that quorum is required only when you are taking a decision. Sometimes MPs are in this building, in their offices following through the TV. But in Uganda, the trouble is that you have people who offer themselves for elections to become MPs when they are not interested in what happens in Parliament.

I have been very hard on colleagues and sometimes they are uncomfortable with me, but I also think the quality of MPs has declined compared to earlier parliaments of the 1960s and Sixth Parliament. The qualifications cannot guarantee quality because there are some graduates that are half-baked.

People are sometimes not elected into Parliament because of their performance but because they attend funerals and gradation parties, and the pressure you put on MPs is also partly to blame on the rate of absenteeism.
Until we have raised the level of civic competence in the country for the population to understand that there is more benefit for MPS sitting in Parliament than attending funerals, it will be very difficult to attract maximum attendance.

We have a bigger percentage of independents than Opposition in Parliament, isn’t this a threat to your existence?
It is not a threat because some of the independents are in Opposition and some of them are in our Shadow cabinet, and we work together. The trouble is that many Ugandans who offer themselves for elections are afraid of the status, they don’t want to appear like they are anti-establishment so those who don’t want to invite the NRM brutality will want to call themselves as independents yet they get to Parliament and sign memoranda of understanding with the NRM.

There is a proposal to block members who have taken part in party primaries from standing for election as independents, what is your take?
The parties in Ipod (Inter- party Organisation for Dialogue) are trying to hide their heads in the sand. If you have no democracy in your parties, you have no moral authority to question others.
Look at NRM, they met at Chobe (Safari Lodge) and endorsed Mr Museveni. I don’t want to speak about DP (Democratic Party) and UPC (Uganda Peoples Congress) because they tend to be angry but I don’t know when they last held internal elections. The only way to get rid of independents is to have an internal democratic election.

What is your take on the idea that the budget for the LoP be shared among all parties?
I have seen the Ipod suggesting that the budget should be shared by all political parties in Parliament. And that is the African mentality. In US and Europe, they believe that if there is something small, then you should have it expanded for all to benefit but for us here in Africa, we fight for the small one.

The LoP is a creation of the Constitution and, therefore, you can’t say we share the budget; I have made a proposal to the Parliamentary Commission to have all party whips facilitated like it happens in other parliaments. This will make each political party have a secretariat and a research desk.
Each MP of Liberia, for instance has a staff of 15 headed by the chief of staff; for Uganda, you have to carry your own files and arrange them in your office. In Liberia, for every sitting of Parliament, there is research done for an MP so he can make the right decision [but] in Uganda, Parliament is sometimes like a talk show, and a disorganised one.

The public is concerned that the Opposition is compromised and lacks impartiality
The Opposition is not compromised and the trouble with the public again is that whereas they would be angry with those who have been compromised, they are not angry with the ones compromising them. I have seen some NRM people and they pride themselves with their party chairman and they say the Opposition visits him at night; my concern is that where does he get the money to compromise the public?
People who judge individual MPs collectively apply wrong standards. Due to the nature of politics in Uganda, part of the public wants MPs to be activists and the moment there are no battles in Parliament, part of the public thinks you are compromised. They tend to be happy when they see you jumping over tables and quarreling, but you can’t be having quarrels and jumping over tables all the time.

How much can the Opposition influence when they represent only 29.3 per cent in Parliament?
Legislation does not attract much attention from members of the ruling party. Many are left to a few lawyers and Opposition. However, many reports have been processed by Opposition and we are waiting for treasury memoranda from the government.
We take credit for having forced companies to refund money. We are supposed to be less than 200 MPs, which will give fair representation, unfortunately, Mr Museveni is doing the same thing [Milton] Obote did-- political gerrymandering. Today, there is no mechanism for creating a constituency. Mr Museveni donates constituencies the way he donates money.