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Tayebwa: Is he the Speaker-in-waiting?

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Speaker of Parliament Anita Among (left) and her deputy Thomas Tayebwa during a special sitting to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of former Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah at Parliament on March 23, 2023. PHOTO | DAVID LUBOWA

Two years ago, Ms Anita Annet Among and Mr Thomas Tayebwa assumed the roles of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, respectively. Since then, their fortunes have diverged significantly.

On the one hand, Speaker Among now appears to be jumping from one corruption allegation to another, triggering not only sanctions from the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States but also letters from President Museveni to anti-corruption agencies to investigate her. While Speaker Among is getting consumed in these allegation, Mr Tayebwa, on the other hand,  has for now maintained a clean slate.   

The 11th Parliament has had its fair share of corruption scandals, key among them were allegations that the House in 2022 doled out Shs40m to each lawmaker in appreciation for passing a Shs618b supplementary budget. 

Dr Twaha Kagabo, the Bukoto South lawmaker, who has since fallen out with his National Unity Platform (NUP) party, is the one who opened a Pandora’s box. This was after he opted to return the money he alleged was extended to him by Speaker Among.

The Speaker vehemently denied the accusations, adding that she had no idea who Dr Kagabo was.

“He has been an MP here, but I don’t know him. This is a breach of conduct in this House. We can’t allow that kind of behaviour in this 11th parliament,” Ms Among said.

Despite the denials, reports emerged that lawmakers affiliated with the Opposition had received the monies from the residences of  Ms Among and Mr Tayebwa. Those from the ruling NRM  party allegedly got the money from within the precincts of the House. 

Squeaky clean?

If these allegations didn’t gain enough traction then the Uganda Parliament Exhibition an online campaign started this year by activists led by Makerere University lecturer Jimmy Spire Ssentongo and Ms Agather Atuhaire, a journalist-cum-lawyer, exposed the extent to which corruption had eaten up the House.

Whilst the exhibition exposed Speaker Among for increasing her per diem from $900 to $4,000, pocketing allowances for trips not taken, and withdrawing hundreds of millions of shillings through parliamentary staff for so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)  activities, many of which were in her home district of Bukedea, Mr Tayebwa remained unscathed.  This wasn’t lost on online users who kept asking the brainchild of the exhibition why the Deputy Speaker was not spotlighted.  

“Interesting how some people in Parliament try to deflect by asking why information about  Hon  Tayebwa didn’t come out during the Uganda Parliament exhibition yet when you ask them to avail it they don’t! All received and exhibited about him was his role in Roko stuff, King Cesare offices renting and NITA influence peddling,” Dr Ssentongo said, adding, “Once again, I will be glad to receive information about Tayebwa’s travel per diems, CSR and donations. I also want to believe there is, but I won’t cook up what I don’t have for the sake of exhibiting everyone. If you are caught stealing and you say that there are other thieves who are not caught, help us catch them. Or else, just answer for your theft.”

One of the people who wondered why the exhibition had spared Mr Tayebwa was Ibrahim  Ssemujju Nganda, the Kira Municipality lawmaker, who accused the exhibitors of being fixated with Ms Among who is seen to have more power than the Ruhindi North lawmaker.

“…because the exhibitors are influenced by the State, they seem to target specific individuals while overlooking others. I haven’t seen the Deputy Speaker [Tayebwa], who travels more than the Speaker, being exhibited. Additionally, he also has a budget for donations; how does he access and utilise those funds?” Ssemujju said in an interview with The Observer.

He added:  “In my view, once you seek to lead people, they have every right to question each decision you make. However, I believe the exhibitors should have presented comprehensive information, and I don’t think it was too much to ask for clarification.” 

Joined at the hip?

Since taking over parliamentary leadership, Ms Among and Mr Tayebwa have tried to show that they are united. They clearly want to show that they are the antithesis of their predecessors Rebecca Kadaga and Jacob Oulanyah, who rumbled over who should chair parliamentary sessions as a woman district representative showed on the floor of parliament. 

“Madam Speaker, you have a deputy speaker [Oulanyah] who should help you when you are busy. When you are in trouble,”  Ms Margret Baba Diri, then the Koboko Woman MP, told Kadaga. “I want to find out what has happened to the Deputy Speaker...we have not seen him. Is he on leave? Where is he? So that he can help you in this difficult moment.”  

In moving away from the toxic Kadaga-Oulanyah relationship, Among and Tayebwa at least have publicly shown that they are always on the same page.  It’s this good relationship that is believed to have enabled Parliament to pass several Bills.

 These include: the Anti- Homosexuality Bill; the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill, 2022; the Labour Unions (Amendment) Bill; the Kampala Capital City Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021; the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2022; the Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill, 2022; as well as the Uganda Human Organ Donation and Transplant Bill, 2022.

Mr Tayebwa also showed his willingness to remain in Among’s good graces when he presided  over a parliamentary sitting that saw the censure of  Ms Persis Namuganza, the junior Lands, Housing and Urban Development minister, who is widely seen as the House Speaker’s nemesis.

Although officially the censure was prompted by allegations that the minister had invented a presidential directive resulting in Uganda Land Commission allocating portions of the Naguru-Nakawa estate land to certain investors, Ms Namuganza insisted that the motion was a brainchild of Ms Among. This was after Ms Namuganzi called out the Speaker for arranging a “phoney marriage” with Moses Magogo, the Budiope East lawmaker. 

Service award debacle

Although they are showing togetherness in the corruption scandal, Mr Tayebwa has tended to stay clear of  Ms Among’s moves. One of the questionable money allocations that have emerged thanks to the exhibition; included the service award that was given to parliamentary commissioners Mathias Mpuuga (Nyendo-Mukungwe), Solomon Siliwany (Bukhooli Central), Prossy Mbabazi Akampurira  (Rubanda Woman) and Esther Afoyochan ( Zombo Woman).

A drive to censure the beneficiaries of the impugned award gained traction this week. In this allocation, Mpuuga, the immediate past Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP) got Shs500m while the other three each pocketed  Shs400m.  The minutes show that this meeting that sanctioned the payments was chaired by Speaker Among but Mr Tayebwa skipped it instead, sending his apologies.

The payments were recently the subject of a letter from President Museveni in which he asked the Attorney General to look into the legality of the payments. 

“Such conduct is contrary to the revolutionary principles of the NRM. When we were fighting Obote and Amin, we used to call it a primitive accumulation of wealth. Why? Officials under those regimes were trying to get themselves as much money as possible, in the easiest way possible. We used to ask them, ‘Where does this leave your country?’” Mr Museveni wrote.

He added: “What special services did they provide? Who approved the awards? I’m told that it was never by Parliament or the committee on legal affairs. Find out. When we are struggling to find the money for roads, electricity, and other sectors of our economy? However, conduct which is only immoral but not illegal may not be punished legally but politically.”

While Mr Museveni suggested that Among, Mpuuga, Akampurira, Siliwany and  Afoyochan might not be criminally held liable, lawyer Hassan Male Mabirizi has since dragged them to the  Anti-Corruption Court.

“I know that the code—naming of the payment ‘one-time payoff service award’ was a fraudulent trick to conceal and hide the illegality and criminality of the payment to which the accused persons are liable,” Mr Mabirizi said.

Delicate balance

With his boss soiled, many experts say that Tayebwa, without coming out to say, looks to have positioned himself to take over the speakership. It’s expected that Speaker Among, who still has considerable backing within the NRM and Opposition lawmakers, will pull all the stops not to fall on her sword.    

“Tayebwa is now trying to strike a balance between remaining on talking terms with the Speaker and also fashioning out his path to speakership. That’s why he is trying to show that he is clean,” a source close to the Deputy Speaker said on condition of anonymity. 

Mr Tayebwa has had ambitions of being the Speaker, first contesting for the deputy speakership in 2021. His NRM party, however, opted to give him the docket of the Chief Whip, with Among taking the docket of deputy speakership. 

In the aftermath of Oulanyah’s death, Mr Tayebwa cautioned northern legislators who had wanted to ring-fence the speakership. 

“If  Oulanyah was still alive, his voice would describe these people agitating for ring-fencing of this position [speakership] as stupid,” he said. “These are voices of doom they should be condemned because when the MPs from northern Uganda are mourning they should do it the right way. The rules of procedure of Parliament don’t stick to a particular region.”

He would later apologise for the comments after landing the deputy speakership. 

It’s not that Tayebwa, who has represented Ruhinda  North for two terms, is scandal-free or without blemish. In 2020, he was accused of assaulting Bonny Bukenya, a contract staff of Umeme in the video that went viral. Bukenya complained to the police, but later withdrew a case he filed after meeting with Tayebwa who apologised.

In the joint statement, Mr Tayebwa, a former member of the Forum for Democratic Change ( FDC) party, apologised and asked the country to move on.