MPs clash over race for Speaker

Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa (right) engages Bugabula South MP Henry Kibalya during the plenary session at Parliament yesterday. PHOTO | ALEX ESAGALA

Members of Parliament yesterday traded accusations on the floor of the House over how Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and Deputy Jacob Oulanyah’s camps are conducting campaigns ahead of the showdown in the National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) Central Executive Committee on who will head the 11th Parliament. 

The battle for who becomes Speaker when the 11th Parliament convenes for it is first sitting on May 20 has attracted three people so far.

 Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda on Tuesday declared his intentions to battle Ms Kadaga and Mr Oulanyah for the job. 

For Ms Kadaga and Mr Oulanyah, it is likely to be a long-drawn-out battle as as both will have to first undergo vetting by the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) with endorsement to the NRM  parliamentary caucus. 

During yesterday’s plenary presided over by  Ms Kadaga, the MPs raised concern over the unprecedented nature of the ongoing convert campaigns ahead of the elections. 

Rising on a matter of national importance, Kabula County MP James Kakooza wondered how the mode of campaigns has changed to the extent some MPs are using “unparliamentary language” while soliciting support for their preferred candidates. 

“The conduct of Members of Parliament, the current and the incoming  is really tainting the image of Parliament. The two camps are standing in the public domain abusing the current Speaker and Deputy Speaker. I think we need to restrain ourselves, the code of conduct is clear. As much as some of us are exiting and we are in the departure lounge, we must restrain ourselves,” Mr Kakooza said. 

The situation became dire when Bugabula South MP Henry Kibalya, who has openly declared support for Ms Kadaga demanded that Mr Kakooza tables the names of the MPs who are using unparliamentary language so that they are referred to the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Discipline for investigations. He also accused Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, the Government Chief Whip, of using some of the WhatsApp groups to impose Mr Oulanyah on members in order to elect him as the next Speaker. 

Kalungu West MP Joseph Ssewungu spiced up the debate when he accused Ms Nankabirwa of using social media to decampaign the sitting Speaker in favour of Deputy Speaker Oulanyah.  

Mr Ssewungu recently re-elected on the National Unity Platform (NUP) ticket, has openly declared his support for Ms Kadaga.

“I am team Kadaga obviously and I don’t need to defend myself.   I have heard the Chief Whip when they were going for party primaries saying that she has been suffering from Kadaga throughout and  you fear to mention her. These are serious matters, attacking the personality of the Speaker  is not fair,” he stated. 

Ms Nankabirwa, who is the outgoing Kiboga District Woman MP, challenged Mr Kakooza to avoid raising matters without evidence to be able to substantiate his claims with names of the MPs he was referring to. 

“If you have no evidence and you are not in a position to substantiate by giving out names, don’t bring allegations which are not substantiated. The members who are watching will begin pointing at these gallant sons and daughters who are here. The generalization will not help us” she shot back. 

The State Minister for Minerals, Ms Sarah Opendi, confirmed the claims over misconduct in the ongoing campaigns for speakership. 

She said there are reports that some of the contestants have dished out money to MPs in order to get their support for the  post of Speaker and Deputy Speaker.  

Ms Opendi  said the integrity of Parliament is at stake if the ongoing campaigns continue to be carried out with the influence of money.

“I have been in this Parliament since 2011 and what is happening now is completely unprecedented. We have been electing Speakers and Deputy Speakers without monetising this process. But when you look at what is going on now, you wonder whether this is going to be a transaction of Parliament. Where are we heading to? ” Ms Openi charged. 

Kadaga, Nankabirwa clash

In the middle of the debate, Ms Kadaga and Ms Nankabirwa, who recently opened up on her support for the Deputy Speaker, clashed when the latter said she only posted in a WhatsApp group named 317, a reminder of the proceedings in the CEC when the two faced off for the same position. 

 “I am the chair of the NRM Caucus and that position makes me a member of the CEC of NRM. I attended CEC when we were handling the candidates who had contested at that time for Speaker and Deputy Speaker. What I posted was a reminder of the CEC decision of 2016 where CEC persuaded Honourable Oulanyah to step down for Right  Honourable  Rebecca Kadaga”

The Speaker charged: “Do you want now to bring CEC members to confirm what you have said? Honourable Nankabirwa, please, please.”

Ms Nankabirwa hit back:  “Yes we can do that. This is a reminder I made. It will remain on record (that) there were negotiations that time, there will be negotiations even this time. We are in multiparty elections and the parties have a say.”

The Speaker accused Ms Nankabirwa of importing issues of CEC into the discussion on matters that are internal for Parliament, adding: “I don’t think CEC has a right to bind a future Parliament before even they are elected. That is totally undemocratic.  Stop talking about CEC here”. 

It is at this point that Ms Kadaga accused her competitors of vulgarising the current campaign by introducing methods that have never been applied in the previous elections. 

She said  her competitors have printed t-shirts and books on top of distributing customized pens as a way of popularising themselves. 

In what looked like someone fighting for his own space, Mr Ssemujju pointed out that the way the Speaker was guiding the debate was a matter of conflict of interest because she was disadvantaging her competitors by allowing people who have declared to support her campaign to continue deliberating. 

“Can you Madam Speaker guide us whether the rules have been overthrown and a candidate can turn a session of Parliament into a debate to discuss her candidature?” Mr Ssemujju asked.  

 “We are not debating. A matter of concern was raised on the conduct of members in this campaign. That is where the issue is,” Ms Kadaga responded.

Lango MPs endorse Oulanyah

In a related development, the Lango Parliamentary Group (LPG) yesterday endorsed Mr Oulanyah to be elected Speaker and proposed to the President to appoint Ms Kadaga as his Vice President. 

Speaking to journalists at Kabira Country Club in Kampala yesterday, Ms Betty Amongi, the group chairperson, said they are nominating Jacob Oulanyah because much as there is no written succession rule Ms Kadaga has already  served two terms as Deputy Speaker under Edward Ssekandi before replacing him in 2011 when he became Vice President.  

“We are not supporting Oulanyah because he is from the North but we are supporting him because of the commitment we made to him in 2016 when we asked him to stand down for Ms Kadaga and he accepted,” she said.

Ms Amongi dispelled talk of regional imbalance if the head of Legislature comes from the same region as Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, the Oyam South MP asked why there was no such talk when Justice Wako Wambuzi was Chief Justice at the time when Dr Specioza Wandera Kazibwe was Vice President and the late James Wapakabulo was Speaker of Parliament. They all came from eastern Uganda. 

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