Mpuuga: Speaker has duty to ask govt to respond to our demands

Mr Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The ongoing standoff between the Opposition Members of Parliament took a new twist last week when Speaker Anita Among ordered the Clerk to Parliament not to fund any local or foreign trips for the boycotting team, noting that they do not qualify for any benefits.
  • However, a number of people, including Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, have disagreed with the pronouncement.                                                                                                         

For over a month now, you have been demanding answers on the missing Ugandans and other human rights violations across the country, However, the Government Chief Whip on Thursday said the government will not offer any more explanation than what it has already done. Where does that leave your demands and how do you navigate through this?

Well, first of all, I sympathise with my brother, the Government Chief Whip (Mr Hamson Obua). I think he is unaware of the spaces that he is occupying in the public arena. He is very oblivious to his duty to the nation, to his government, and to the people generally. And when one is blind to the duty at hand, then they are preoccupied with politicking. For example, when he mentions that they are not offering any further explanation, have they offered any explanation, for example? I think my brother is either excited to say something on the floor, or actually is oblivious of the goings on. I’ll meet him one of these days and probably share some education on his role as a Government Chief Whip.

You would have expected him to be whipping ministers to come and explain, he hasn’t done that. He is only happy to buy his seat as a government chief whip. What is he whipping? We raised six issues inter alia. Can he share a statement with the Daily Monitor of their response one by one, to settle the dust? So which response is he talking about? So I pity him, but being a person I know so well, probably one of these days I’ll take him on the side, we share coffee and probably try to assist him understand the length and breadth of his responsibility. 

NRM members of Parliament have accused you of engaging in activism instead of representing your voters in Parliament, what is your take on that?
Activism is not illegal, but murder and forced disappearance are illegal. Activism is not a crime. Murder is a crime. Detention without trial is a crime. Trying civilians in the court martial is against the Constitution. So what are they talking about? So activism is not a problem. Activism is part of civic politics, civil politics that we do, and we cannot apologise for choosing to do the things we do now, because we are not violating any law of the land, or even the rules of Parliament.

What is the next option for you if the government insists on not responding to your demands?
Definitely, we do not have a one plus one equals two response. We’re going to measure our response, depending on the circumstances that will arise at any one time. I have no doubt that my team has the capacity to respond to these issues and my team is capable of evolving an approach that will compel [government]. You see, we are still 109 members of Parliament. Before we know it, the 45 million Ugandans will join us sooner than later. So I think the government is well advised to respond to these issues because they are not about to go away and unfortunately for them, we’re not about to relent. These are very serious matters. They are the core of our beliefs. They are the core of our quest to build a durable constitutional order. They are the core of our quest all along to bring the law to bear to all and sundry, note [that]the law of rulers is against the rule of law. Because what they are trying to institute is the law of rulers that they can decide to arrest people and not try them, but instead hold them incommunicado for years and they get away with it.

That’s what we are trying to immunise against. And we are not about to offer any relief. So there is no relief medicine. We can only heighten and even give a higher dose. 

The latest pronouncement by the Speaker of Parliament seems to have shaken some of your members. What happens if they pressurise you into yielding to the Speaker and return to the House without your issues being addressed?

First of all, with due respect to the Right Hon Speaker, the statements, I think, were made in jest, because in her space as a presiding officer, every statement you put on the record is a very serious statement. And when you make statements that are not properly considered, you can be wrongly judged. I hope she will reconsider those statements. If it were written to her by her technical team, then she should go and fire them, because the statements have no space in our rules of procedure or even the laws of the land. My thinking is that the Speaker was trying to raise the threshold of politics embedded in these matters, raising the threshold of politics embedded in these disagreements, and she had the right to raise political statements. But when they are put to the test, they might be found a bit wanting and I hope over time she’ll rethink them and not go ahead to implement or enforce her threats because they’ll be challenged. You don’t want to wake up and the House Speaker is embarrassed. That’s the one thing that I don’t want to see when I’m a Member of Parliament.

The Speaker is for all Members of parliament and we shared a conversation with her two days ago  and… I told her that our expectation is that she would compel the government, the Executive, to come and respond because she gave them 30 days, and the 30 days expired, and they haven’t responded. So the jury’s out there on the Speaker to see how, as a neutral arbiter, to deal with this dicey matter. Make no mistake, this is not a small matter, it is bound to raise all manners of adrenalines from either side, including the neutrals. So the supposedly neutrals would end up mired in the partisan manner in which this subject is being handled. 

One of your party members, Honorable Francis Zaake, is facing disciplinary action because he raised the same issue in November last year, which the presiding officer at the time thought offended the very orderliness of Parliament. What do you think of the proceedings before the Committee of Rules, Privileges and Discipline?
Since this matter is being handled in the Committee, a committee chaired by one of the very senior legislators and a lawyer in this town, my view is that it will be properly dealt with in that space. We give them a chance to deal with it. Otherwise, as far as I’m informed and knowledgeable, there’s no legal bar, let alone a deterrence in the rules for one to raise a matter of concern. It’s the reason why we are being invited to go and express these disagreements in the plenary. So if that’s the invitation, and at the same time people are being rebuked and sanctioned for raising them the way Hon Zaake did, then the very reason you get to understand that these matters are extremely emotive and probably capable of raising all manner of responses, the very reason they must be dealt with finality. 

The crime of annoying the person of the President seems to have found its way into Parliament, where annoying the person of the Speaker has become an issue also. How can members operate in an environment of fear? 
I personally don’t know what annoys the Speaker and what makes the Speaker happy because I don’t think that members of Parliament were elected to make anybody happy. Members of Parliament were elected and so took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, to Parliament, and to the public, not to an individual. So if there are any people claiming that they are not working because they fear the Speaker, they do not deserve to be Members of Parliament.

The Speaker of Parliament doesn’t have to be feared. He or she should be respected. And you know the source of respect. Respect is commanded, not demanded. So if people are claiming they’re not doing their work because they’re fearing the Speaker, those are masqueraders, they’re not Members of Parliament. 

At the onset of the 11th Parliament, you launched an ambitious Opposition legislative agenda, spelling out the issues you would handle in the next five years. Midway the mark, where do we stand with the implementation and actualisation of what you promised in the agenda?
The agenda was a document that gave a semblance of direction and a dream within which we shall operate. You see, if you have nowhere to go, every road takes you and as a team leader, there was no way I was going to lead a team without a destination. That’s the reason why we engendered and drafted this document, a document to give an indication to the general public of the issues that are dear to us and along the way, over the last two years, we have meticulously articulated what we would do in all spheres of governance, from finance. You remember, on top of responding to the various budget framework papers, we issued our own chart of fiscal responsibility. In other words, the public can look at a document from the Opposition on what we would do if we were the government in terms of managing the public debt, revenue collection and management, and general financial discipline. We have articulated how we would deal with the country’s natural resources. We have documented how we would handle the environment.

We have documented in very clear terms how we would deal with education and health. This is what we articulated in the agenda, that we would guide the country in how we would lead if it was us in charge. This is what the agenda said.

Eventually, we said we would compel the government to account and part of the standoff we’re dealing with is accountability. But for you to be able to be where we are, you must have a well-articulated, structured agenda and that’s what is articulated in the legislative agenda. Remember, it is a five-year document. You know, our understanding was that a term of Parliament is five years. Some of the pertinent issues therein are not yet handled. Remember what we said about the system of governance? We said it would dismantle decentralisation because it has since failed. The regime has since resorted to centralisation. We offered a framework in our documentation on how we would evolve a very clear framework of devolution of powers with a clear formula on how power and resources are shared across the nation. We have articulated how we would reduce the size of Parliament, deal with affirmative action and related matters, how would we change the way Parliament is elected because we are for proportional representation? So these are well articulated and they are part of what the agenda is about. If you interviewed any of my shadow ministers, we speak the same language. That’s what I said. If you have nowhere to go, every road takes you. But now that our destination is well articulated and shared, the legislative agenda guides in that realm and therefore, we are happy to be working. So, if you ask me, like you said, what our major achievements have been over the last two years, the Opposition agenda cannot be mistaken anymore for anything. It is well articulated. It is well structured. And I think for me, that’s the biggest [achievement]. Forget about this and that, but if you have a well-articulated agenda, nobody can claim anymore that the Opposition has nothing to say, or the Opposition doesn’t know what to do. We know what we would do if we were in the government. We have articulated it. We have published it. 

President Museveni ahead of the 2021 election promised that by 2021, there would be no Opposition, but somehow Opposition survived. However, he is not done yet, we have seen what happened in FDC, we saw what happened in DP and UPC and now the focus is on NUP. As a party, how are you confronting the monster that is threatening to swallow all the Opposition? 
I think it depends on how one understands the Opposition. If the Opposition means political parties in Opposition, then Gen Museveni is right, but if the Opposition is the collective sum of Ugandans opposed to the Museveni rule, then General Museveni was speaking about something different, which is why these fascist threats that the Opposition would be no more by 2021. Opposition to his regime is actually growing. If the growth of people joining him is growing arithmetically, those deserting him are growing geometrically. So I don’t think that the threats will be realised.

Opposition to the regime is growing by the day and a few people being compromised or bought off can never represent, and no one time will this represent the views of Ugandans who are opposed and are tired of the regime. I am happy to state without contradiction that the growth of support for the NRM is negative. Even when you had the few hungry souls from the Opposition because what reason apart from hunger and wanting to eat, would you offer the nation for joining Gen Museveni? That is articulating a clear agenda for the nation with abductions, enforced disappearances, runaway corruption and you expect that the nation is on a clear path and therefore you join them? Whoever is really clear in their suit or tie to join Gen Museveni, I think I’m afraid their ambitions are misplaced. They should look at those who joined him from the Opposition, where they are, and how frustrated they are in making that wrong decision. So growth of the Opposition is phenomenal, it will never be extinguished, I am very sure the end game will be a redeeming change, I have no doubt about that. As to those who are joining, probably they have their right to cross, but they have no right to claim that they are speaking on behalf of the rest they have left behind.

We have seen Opposition and political parties in Kenya during every election forming alliances and working together, why is it difficult for the Opposition in Uganda to unite against the ruling NRM party?
I think there are two issues here to talk about. First of all, the law governing political parties in Uganda and Kenya is different. There is a lot of flexibility in the Kenyan law that enables coalitions and mergers to be considered without a lot of legal impediments. The Ugandan law is very rigid, and it’s one of the inhibitions to forming reliable and durable alliances between parties. Actually, I have been sharing with colleagues over time that’s one of the issues we need to look at going forward if we are going to reform the entire electoral and political legal regime.

The law relating to parties in Uganda is extremely rigid and it was deliberate because the majority numbers making that law in Parliament intended to make it impossible for political parties to legally merge and form a formidable body. I think it’s one of the laws we need to look at with a view to revising it to consider flexibility. Again, the formation of parties in Kenya is rather different. Kenyans are more direct in their intentions. There’s a lot of regionalism in the way parties are formed and they don’t have projects for that. You find a regional party, they will say this is the party for the Kikuyu, this is the party for this group, the Kalenjins are here, so for them, and it’s not a big problem. It’s a big problem here. For example, because NUP got more members of Parliament and more votes from the central [region], there’s been an attempt to make NUP look like a regional party, yet actually, we have countrywide membership and representation at various levels. The other challenge here that is inhibiting cohesive mergers probably and alliances is because again particular political actors are a lot more in-looking than outward-looking. I think the business of political cocooning has inhibited political actors from looking beyond their small groupings, smaller communities... They prefer comfort, they prefer to work with those that do not threaten their existence and their small ambitions. If the political actors could broaden the spectrum of their view of politics and the country, it would have made alliances easier. But I have a feeling right now that Ugandans will force political groups to work together from the Opposition because that’s what Ugandans desire, an opportunity to, if we are going to give ourselves a chance to dispose of a military regime, then we must compromise, we must eat humble pie and consider working with those that we would rather not work with for the sake of the country. They don’t have to be our friends, they don’t have to be our neighbours, and they don’t have to be our tribesmen and women for the sake of the country. We have no choice but to consider working with everyone, regardless of background, colour or creed. 

How would you assess yourself and the Opposition in the last two years and if given another chance as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, how different would you handle that docket?
One of the intended objectives of the Opposition and of my leadership is to hold the government accountable. The government may appear not to be accountable, but the government, the regime is feeling the heat from the Opposition at various levels. I think for the first time, the Opposition-led committees have produced more reports than ever before.

Forget about the lambasting and the characterisation they have suffered from various circles. They have worked so hard and I have not heard any accusations of corruption in the committees we lead, which is very, very comforting on my part. They have produced a lot of reports, which is very, very good. Secondly, the end of a term, or the lack of it for me is not even an issue because when you are appointed as the head of the Opposition, your appointment does not have an expiry date. What is important for us as the Opposition is that I’ve been working for is unity of the Opposition and clarity of intention. I think that we have achieved. Our objectives have been well articulated. Our path is very clear on every matter. Our intentions are very clear. We have communicated verbally, we have written, we have authored.

These intentions are a big plus to my team and we have reached every area of this country to articulate our intentions. Probably a few corners haven’t been reached. And if you want to look at our legacy as a team, for the first time the Opposition has been with the communities, not in the comfort of our offices. We have traversed the length and breadth of this country to bring to bear to the nation our intention as the opposition. We have moved to expose the failures of the last 40 years of the regime. We have not just talked about it from the comfort of our offices. We have been to the trenches and made an exposure of regime failure, how corruption has curtailed service delivery in the country, and how the regime has offered lip service to service delivery. That we have done with distinction, and we can never apologise for doing that. We have spent a lot of time and energy in the field to share with the people. We have shared their frustrations and their daily experiences with failed service delivery. If you look back, it’s something we have done with distinction. And until now, the Opposition has been working together, by and large, despite the fact that at the beginning there were multiple voices regarding our capacity as a young organisation, NUP, to offer the Opposition leadership. I think the nay-sayers have since eaten humble pie, and they can now not make that statement again, that, you know, these are young... a young party with young people. The young people have been well-oriented, they are now focused, and they know what to do. I have no doubt in my mind that NUP as the big Opposition party in Parliament has been able to bring to the fore, trained enough, and capacitated enough MPs to take on the amount of leadership in this country. 

The Parliament’s effort to fight corruption seems to be frustrated by the Executive which doesn’t respect parliamentary resolutions. We have seen the President and the Executive ignoring a number of resolutions, especially where it touches either corrupt ministers or technocrats who seem to be well connected. Where does that leave the Parliament with its oversight roles?
Invaluably it leaves an egg on the face of Parliament, and especially when Parliament fails to follow up on its own resolutions. The challenge, the task is on Parliament to follow up because we have legal space for example to refuse to handle the MPS [ministerial policy statements] of these entities where ministers have been censured and remain in office and we force the Executive to act. The problem we have in this House is that the majority of NRM MPs believe that any matter touching one of their own, they are a part. The collective of Parliament is yet to be seen. Whereas members who are happy to censure minister Namuganza, enforcing it against their leader Gen Museveni is a problem. I think members of Parliament from both sides of the House have never understood the huge duty we have to follow up on our resolution.

The resolution of Parliament must be impactful. In fact, they define Parliament when you resolve, because Parliament works by resolution. If you resolve and you don’t follow them up by way of action taken, then there’s a problem. So I contend with the fact that one of the huge voids in the way we have done our business over the last three years is failure to follow up on our resolutions for impact because the intention is to have impact on the way we manage business here. But also, don’t forget the fact that we have failed to cultivate a bipartisan, non-partisan approach to corruption. When corruption gets colour, then there’s a problem and what I see here is that corruption here has a colour.

You see people jostling and falling over each other to protect so and so. It’s a bit of a challenge and the jury’s out there on all of us to make sure that we enforce our work. You remember two months ago, I tabled a list of 50 issues raised by members of Parliament and the Executive has refused to answer them. I tabled these issues and the presiding officer promised that they would force the Executive to answer them. I requested the House to reject any work from the Executive until they have responded to the question raised by members. I think we need to demand more from our presiding officers to enforce these issues because the presiding officers are very important in enforcing parliamentary resolutions. We need to really have an up-close conversation with them, an up-close conversation probably will make the presiding officers understand that there are challenges. Because Parliament handles so much it’s very easy for people to forget, to follow up on certain things unless they are reminded. That’s the duty of all of us, to the House and the people. 

Your parting shot? 
I think for the first time the Opposition agenda in Parliament is well defined. And I’m glad that I’ve worked with the team that best understood from the word go what our intentions are. What remains to be done is for Parliament, especially the Opposition, to progressively connect with the people, because what we do daily is in the name and on behalf of the people.

Therefore, I want to invite members of Parliament to always remember that whatever we do is in the name and on behalf of the people, and therefore we should never abandon the cause of the people. No matter the pressure, no matter the expectations, we need to speak for the people. That should be our legacy, because the pride of every Member of Parliament is to represent their people, to be the voice of their people, that’s the expectation. 

Demands of the opposition in parliament
The Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mr Mathias Mpuuga, recently released a seven-point list of demands on human rights.
They are:
• The fate of the 18 missing persons. The State should account for their whereabouts.
•Stop targeting and victimising Muslims. For any attack or murder committed, the State targets Muslims whom they discriminately kill  and or imprison without trial.
•Detention without trial. Respect the provisions of Article  23 (4)(b) of the Constitution.
•Violation of human rioghts of fishing communities. Many Ugandans in the fishing communities  have been killed, maimed and dishonoured by the UPDF.
•Shrinking civic space. mistreatment of politicians, the media, etc. 
•Trying civilians in the Miliatry Court Martial. Release all political prisoners who are facing tramped charges before the military courts.
•Grabbing of Acholi’s customary land by the Balaalo. No one should purport to rewrite the Acholi culture by issuing directives that infringe on their land rights.
On November 23, Mr Mpuuga posted on X, formerly Twitter, saying: "...the the regime’s Ministers of Defence, Security and Inter Affairs undertook to make a comprehensive response to each of the issues we raised. They had a time frame 30 days which elapsed...on November 19... At no one time are we going to return to #PlenaryUg without our demands being responded to.’’