What next for Namuganza?

The State minister for Lands, Ms Persis Namuganza, speaks on the flow of Parliament on December 7, 2022. PHOTO | DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The woes of Ms Namuganza—who is also the Bukono County lawmaker—began after she was deemed to have held the House in contempt when she reportedly used “unfriendly” language while referring to Parliament on her social media accounts.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Thomas Tayebwa in a special plenary sitting on Friday tasked a seven-member ad-hoc committee to investigate and pronounce itself on the alleged acts of misconduct and misbehaviour levelled against State minister for Lands, Ms Persis Namuganza.

“This committee is supposed to be processing the motion within 15 days,” Mr Tayebwa ruled, adding, “This is provided for under Rule 109(10) of our rules of procedure.”

Mr Mwine Mpaka (Mbarara City South) will lead the ad-hoc committee that consists of Mr Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo North County), Ms Betty Ethel Naluyima (Wakiso Woman), Mr Bumali Mpindi (MP for Persons With Disabilities), (Nancy Acoro (Lamwo Woman), Mr Charles Bakkabulindi (Worker’s MP) and the Shadow Attorney General, Mr Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East).

The woes of Ms Namuganza—who is also the Bukono County lawmaker—began after she was deemed to have held the House in contempt when she reportedly used “unfriendly” language while referring to Parliament on her social media accounts.

Mr Amos Okot (Agago North County) consequently moved a motion to have her censured. Mr Dan Kimosho (Kazo County), Mr Gilbert Olanya (Kilak South) and Ms Evelyn Chemutai (Bukwo Woman MP) seconded the motion.

When an investigation process ran its course, a key finding reported by the Rules and Privileges Committee—led by its deputy chairperson, Mr Charles Onen—recommended that Ms Namuganza be censured. This proposal was upheld by the majority of the legislators in a plenary session just days before Christmas last year.

Before all of this, Ms Namuganza had been given an opportunity to bury the hatchet by way of making an apology. What she mustered—at the prompting of Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja—was instead construed as, one lawmaker said, “a blatant display of arrogance.” This emboldened the House to uphold the report’s proposal to kick-start a censure process that needed a bare minimum of 190 signatures to be deemed successful.

President Museveni, who doubles as the National Resistance Movement (NRM) chairman was on December 23, last year notified through a communique wired by Mr Tayebwa. This was premised on Rule 109 (8) of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure mandates the House to notify President Museveni of their plan. This was done on December 23, 2022, through the deputy Speaker.

Excessive pride?

Last May, the Ad hoc committee that probed the Nakawa-Naguru land feud found Ms Namuganza guilty of abuse of her powers after she allegedly directed the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) to influence the allocation of land to some individuals. The junior Housing minister retorted that the House has no powers to suspend her.

“On this basis, first of all, I belong to the Executive and I know that I will have to forward the resolutions to the Executive for confirmation,” Ms Namuganza told NTV Uganda, adding, “I am sure the executive is sober and it will not act the way they (the House) acted.”

This wasn’t the first time Ms Namuganza was being dismissive of Parliament. In 2018, Ms Namuganza and then Speaker Rebecca Kadaga faced similar misunderstandings. 

Jacob Oulanyah, the then Deputy Speaker, referred Ms Namuganza to the Rules, Privileges and Discipline Committee in a bid to draw a line under the bitter exchanges.

Relatedly, in a heated contest for Second National Vice Chairperson (Female), Ms Namuganza openly accused Ms Kadaga of being disloyal to a party they both subscribe to—NRM. Ms Kadaga, who was also accused of working with the Opposition at the time, went on to beat Ms Namuganza in the poll by 6,776 votes to 3,882.

Fighting back

Ms Namuganza has not taken the latest blows while lying down. She has for instance taken Fr Onen (Gulu East) to the Constitutional Court “because I was the one who chaired the committee” that gave the green light to the censure process.

“The work of the committee is like a fumigating instrument to remind MPs that decorum and dignity have to be maintained. Without the rules of procedure, there is no Parliament. Every game has rules,” Mr Onen said, adding, “Taking me to court is making her look like an ex-communicated Buffalo which is struggling for its survival.”

Mr Onen also told Sunday Monitor that he will neither “go to court [nor] attend the hearings.” He said “suing me as an individual puts my life at risk.”

“I am now afraid of Namuganza because she can do anything. And should anything happen to me, it means Namuganza will be squarely responsible,” he said on Friday.

Executive overreach

Mr Onen said Ms Namuganza is “flying on the wings of pride and we need to trim that.” He has further urged the executive to allow “the legislative [arm] to do its work.” While observers say the House is powerless in the face of the Executive’s overreach, Mr Onen thinks otherwise.

“We derive our powers from the Constitution and [therefore] Namuganza is not going to survive,” he said.

A straw poll conducted by this newspaper showed that—among the three arms of government—the Legislature was the worst performer as far as living up to the expectations of Ugandans in 2022 was concerned. 

Uganda’s legislative body polled two percent from the more than 12,000 votes cast. The Judiciary (3 percent) and Executive (3 percent) also fared abysmally, with 91 percent of people who took part in the poll saying all three arms of government underperformed.

This came after President Museveni made it clear that the Executive would not follow Parliament’s counsel to terminate a controversial deal with Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited. Parliament asked the Executive last May to terminate the deal and report to it on the same in six months. Neither happened, with President Museveni warning last month that “whoever wants a fight, we shall sort it out.”

Dr Arthur Bainomugisha from the Agency for Cooperation in Research and Agency says Parliament can use the Namuganza censure to show that it has bark and bite. He adds that this is important because “democracies are built around those three arms” offering checks and balances.

Neutral take 

Mr Ivan Ojakol, a city lawyer, nevertheless says it will be counterproductive in Ms Persis Namuganza’s case if the committee is seen to be personalising the matter.

“Let the committee allow her to put her defence and let’s see how solid it is and how far she can go with the case. I think that will be very important for Parliament,” Mr Ojakol said.