NUP calls crisis meeting as Speaker sticks by Mpuuga

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Mr Mathias Mpuuga 

What you need to know:

  • Senior leaders of NUP convened a crisis meeting following Speaker’s refusal to accept the withdrawal of Mathias Mpuuga from a key House position, amid allegations and defiance within the party’s ranks.

Senior leaders of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party spent most of  March 26 evening locked up in a crisis meeting after Speaker of Parliament Anita Among rejected their withdrawal of Mr Mathias Mpuuga from a top House position.

The Nyendo-Mukungwe MP had earlier on Tuesday morning thrown down the gauntlet at a press briefing, daring his party as he continued to defy calls for him to resign from the position of parliamentary commissioner.  

The crisis meeting held at NUP headquarters in Makerere-Kavule was reportedly called by acting party president, Ms Lina Zedriga, shortly after Ms Among’s March 25 letter rejecting the request to withdraw Mr Mpuuga went viral on social media.

In a day during which events moved rapidly, the Speaker addressed her terse response to the NUP Secretary General, Mr Lewis Rubongoya, quoting the Constitution, Administration of Parliament Act and the House Rules of Procedure.

Her message was clear and unequivocal: “NUP, just like other political parties, cannot recall individuals they nominate to the Parliamentary Commission.”  

“Parliamentary commissioners are elected by Parliament by virtue of Section 2 of the Administration of Parliament Act… and Rule 11(4) of the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament… The role of parties under the law is limited to nominating candidates for election to the office of commissioner of Parliament…,” Ms Among wrote. 

Seven days before this, Mr Rubongoya had written to the Speaker on March 18, asking her to withdraw the former Leader of the Opposition, and replace him with Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake as the stand-off with Mr Mpuuga enters its third month.

But the Speaker on March 26 said: “Once elected by Parliament, the commissioners so elected cease to serve individual party interests and serve Parliament as a whole. As such, they can only vacate the position or be removed therefrom in conformity with the law… 

“Parties lack the requisite legal mandate to recall a commissioner of Parliament once elected by Parliament. To do so would amount to fettering the authority vested in the House by the clear and unambiguous Section 5 of the Administration of Parliament Act resulting in undesirable legal consequences in line with the decision of the Constitution Court in… Fox Odoi-Oywelowo and James Akampumumza versus Attorney General, Constitutional Petition No. 8 of 2003…your letter therefore, and desire of NUP, has no basis or foundation in law. I can, therefore, not implement it”.

House Rules of Procedures say removal of a commissioner is only possible on grounds that include the terms provided for under Article 83 of the Constitution, and an inability to perform the functions of the office arising from infirmity of body or mind, misbehaviour, misconduct or incompetence. 

The other option would be for NUP to, through a notice to the Clerk, file a motion for a resolution of Parliament seeking the removal of a commissioner. The motion would have to be signed by one third of voting MPs, in this case 177 members.

At the heart of the stand-off is a NUP accusation that Mr Mpuuga engaged in corruption when he, as LoP, alongside four ruling party backbench commissioners allocated to themselves a ‘service award’ totalling Shs1.7 billion just a year into their tenure. Mr Mpuuga walked away with Shs500 million of that money, an action his party has denounced as corrupt.

Mr Mpuuga, a lawyer and legislator for 13 years, has admitted to accepting the cash but yesterday insisted the “law has been clarified” in respect to the legality of service award. On Tuesday, he maintained that he has done no wrong and instead suggested the party leadership is hounding him out for selfish reasons. 

Early this month, NUP leader Robert Kyagulanyi revealed that a meeting of the National Executive Committee at the head offices on March 1 resolved to remove Mr Mpuuga as commissioner due to the party’s zero-tolerance for corruption. 

But the under-fire former LoP has taken the view that his colleagues are grandstanding and deliberately slandering and defaming him for short term political gain., hence his determination to remain put. 

Already-strained relations between him and colleagues deteriorated in December last year, culminating in him being relieved of the LoP job and essentially getting kicked upstairs to serve as a parliamentary commissioner.

His determination to stick around may not be as straight forward for him after the deputy party spokesman, Alex Waiswa Mufumbiro, told Daily Monitor if Mr Mpuuga “is really a member as he asserts he must then follow what the party is saying. But I can guarantee that if he doesn’t follow that position, the party will follow other procedures as provided in the law”. 

A week ago, guidance offered by Mr Bernard Oundo, the president of the Uganda Law Society (ULS), the statutory body that assists the public and government in matters of law and legislation, interpreted the actions of the parliamentary commission in granting the so-called service award as illegal.

In a statement, the ULS indicated that while Parliament is empowered by law to determine benefits of its staff and members, new emoluments or privileges such as the contentious service award, it should have been processed through a Bill or motion -- the absence of which contravenes Article 93 of the Constitution because it constitutes an illegal charge on the Consolidated Fund. 

So far, Mr Mpuuga has also not addressed himself to Section 9 of The Anti-Corruption Act of 2009, which criminalises conflict of interest.

According to that provision of the law, conflict of interest arises when one “participates in the deliberations of a public body, board, council, commission or committee, of which he or she is a member at any meeting at which any matter in which he or she has personal interest is to be discussed; or attends a meeting of a public body, board, council, commission or committee and fails or neglects to disclose the nature and extent of his or her personal interest”.

The offence, on conviction attracts a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 years or a fine not exceeding Shs100 million.

Gloves off
At the March 26 press conference held in the commission boardroom on the 5th floor of Parliament, Mr Mpuuga vowed he will not be forced out of NUP. 

He raised doubts about the abilities of its current leaders, whom he described as “clueless”, standing on the sidelines yet the country faces major challenges, including President Museveni’s “dynasty agenda,” apparent in the elevation of his son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to the army leadership.

Mr Mpuuga slammed the Kyagulanyi leadership as “arbitrary, obscurantist with deviant work methods, lack of internal conflict resolution mechanisms, nepotism, corruption, greed and abuse of office, extortion, blackmail, defamation and slander, including lack of internal democracy”. 

He vowed to stay and institute reforms to save the party. “NUP is my party and I harbour no intentions whatsoever of leaving. I am going nowhere, rather I’ll in the coming days embark on a process of instituting internal party reforms to make it a credible and competent government in waiting,” he said

“I wish to state that I am a founder member of NUP where I serve as a deputy president. I am not leaving the party...  If you’re a leader, foot soldiers with data to abuse and insult, you’ll insult me from within, and I am here for keeps,” he added

Ugandans in the diaspora, he added, are desperate to contribute to change in Uganda, beyond “social media commentary and material support which seem to be a major pre-occupation of many in leadership [at] home”. 

NUP leader Robert Kyagulanyi

The rift
The rift between Mr Kyagulanyi, and his deputy in Buganda, a region where NUP is most influential, is widening and threatens to turn into a full-blown leadership challenge. While both gentlemen publicly profess no “personal problems” with each other, there seems to be no end in sight.

The MP said the Opposition party with the largest representation in Parliament should “be embarking on a joint push for major reforms in our electoral laws and major constitutional shifts to enable diaspora citizens’ participation in our electoral activities beyond manipulating the change agenda by selfish individuals here”.

Buganda’s premier, Charles Peter Mayiga on March 26 said the kingdom, to which both gentlemen pledge allegiance, has yet to consider playing mediator. 

Before he joined Parliament, Mr Mpuuga served in the kingdom as minister for youth affairs. It is believed he still has roots in the powerful cultural institution where Mr Kyagulanyi is similarly said to enjoy a certain degree of patronage. “[We are still] trying to understand what is going on,” Mr Mayiga said, advising the two leaders to “sit down and talk about their misunderstandings”. 

Part of Mpuuga Statement
This morning, I addressed the media on the state of affairs in our party. Attached hereunder is my PRESS STATEMENT. 

Colleagues, I come to you this morning after days of silence and meditation to address two issues on my next plan in the fight for total liberation of our country.  Questions and speculations have been on as to whether, where and when I am going.

I wish to state that, I am a founder member of NUP where I serve as a Deputy President. I am not leaving the party I founded and I’m not doing anything that destroys a young party I participated in establishing with conscience and conviction. At least I’m not yet moved to that level.

Secondly, I have seen a copy of a letter circulating on social media. The owner of the copy is visible from the bottom. The letter is addressed to the Rt Hon Speaker of Parliament and I’m only informed of the contents by copy. I will not respond thereto, save to restate my position as communicated to the party and the country. 

I wish to affirm that I confess no wrongdoing whether in law or elementary common sense. The position of the law has been clarified to whoever wished to understand; but to not deliberately slander and defame me for short term political security. 

I wish also to re-assure all comrades in the struggle for a fair Uganda that, my commitment has never waned; that I am not and shall never be part of any form of corruption. When we find ourselves disagreeable on anything in our midst, we must find mechanisms for mature resolution; which is different from grandstanding and desire to settle political scores, at the expense of reputations of comrades with whom we struggle to offer the country better leadership.

Ugandans must be encouraged at all times to question the decisions of their leaders; especially those in higher offices, and making critical decisions on their behalf. In the current circumstances, it is also not difficult to tell that the objective was never on accountability, because no one provides financial accountability at press conferences and on social media. 

The previous days have cast much doubt within the Ugandan populace as to whether our party is capable of handling the humongous task of liberation and effecting solutions to the political and social challenges our country is facing.

We must regain public confidence, trust and demonstrate that we are worthy the peoples support in leading the charge for change and transformation that the Ugandan masses are yearning for. 

Whereas Gen M7 has been candid on his dynasty agenda, including the latest reshuffles in the UPDF that saw his son ascend at the helm of the country’s military, the largest opposition party looks clueless and unable to guide its bruised cadreship. Even the renewal of term of the EC Commissioners who bungled and fidgeted with the last election did not raise the curiosity of the supposed vanguard opposition party!

Let me now assure the entire NUP leadership, membership, supporters and the general public, that NUP is my party and I harbor no intentions whatsoever of leaving; I am going Nowhere, rather I’ll in the coming days embark on a process of instituting internal Party reforms to make it a credible and competent Government in waiting.

To our supporters and followers in the diaspora, we immensely appreciate your contribution to the building of our young party and the quest for a new Uganda in general. You interact with a lot of information, but largely misinformation targeting your justifiable desperation for change. I pledge to you my availability and clarity of mission and purpose in whatever we do to change the trajectory of our country.

Ugandans in the diaspora are desperate to cement their contribution towards change; beyond social media commentary and material support which seem to be a major pre-occupation of many in leadership home. We should be embarking on a joint push for major reforms in our electoral laws and major constitutional shifts to enable diaspora citizens’ participation in our electoral activities beyond manipulating the change agenda by selfish individuals here.

By the end of the planed NUP reform process, arbitrary, obscurantists and deviant work methods, lack of internal conflict resolution mechanisms, nepotism, corruption, greed and abuse of office, extortions, blackmail, defamation and slander, including lack of internal democracy shall only but be practices of the past within our great party.

Finally, in the near future, I’ll be unveiling to the public what next. 

For God and my country