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Anita Among power at Parliament

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Anita Among

How former backbencher-turned Deputy Speaker has transformed the No.5 job

Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | On Nov. 01 a dossier by a whistleblower was received by the Inspector General of Government (IGG) calling for a forensic investigation into the conduct of the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Anitah Among.

It was one of several dossiers that made the rounds online accusing Among of soliciting for bribes and also accusing her of extortion from different government officials and business people.

The allegations were attributed to the outsized role Among has carved for herself at parliament and in national politics.

And she responded to the allegations strongly.

“I will not be intimidated by anybody. I am emotionally strong and I want to assure you that I am Deputy Speaker for the next 10 years,” she said. “I want to ask the women leaders not to be intimidated by those who want to bring them down.”

In a show of strength, Among added that she was ready for the other ten years as Speaker in an echo of Kadaga’s leadership trajectory at Parliament.

This was during a plenary session as MPs were paying tribute to Florence Alice Lubega, the first female MP in Uganda’s legislative history.

Equally on social media, a host of MPs came out in defence of the deputy speaker against the allegations of financial impropriety and abuse of office she was facing.

These included Cabinet ministers like Thomas Tayebwa, the Government Chief Whip who defended her in her a tweet. “It’s easy to destroy others but difficult to build our own names. The Deputy Speaker of Parliament is No. 5 in the hierarchy of Govt & must be treated with respect.”

Tayebwa said he has known Among since 2004 and rubbished the allegations against her. It is said President Museveni was briefed on the accusations against the deputy speaker but is keeping his cards close to his chest.

Among’s new role controlling the levers at parliament is a far cry from two years ago who when she was the vice chair of Parliament’s Committee on State Authorities and State Entreprises (COSASE). Abdul Katuntu, Bugweri County MP, was the chairperson of COSASE as it took on a special probe of how Bank of Uganda (BoU) sold off a number of private banks.

At the time, Among kept a low profile as Katuntu took on the BOU top brass at a time they were embroiled in endless scandals. Fast forward to 2021 and Among’s path to power was cleared as she sailed to her current position unopposed. It has been a complete transformation for the then little known former FDC deputy treasurer.

In October, Among made another play for power. Parliament passed the Administration of Parliament (Amendment) Bill 2021, which among others formally makes the Deputy Speaker a Member of the Parliamentary Commission. Among was attending the commission sessions courtesy of her position but it did not have the position in its original ranks.

The Bill, moved by a Private Member, Anthony Akol (FDC, Kilak North), awaits presidential assent. It was also the first legislation presided over by Among. The second one is the East African Crude Oil Pipeline [EACOP] [Special Provisions] Bill, 2021 passed on Dec.09.

Chairing parliament

Away from legislation, Speaker Jacob Oulanyah has been a near no show. Apart from presiding over parliament when the House passed the NSSF Bill that grants workers access to midterm savings, records show that Oulanyah who vied for the Speakership after having been alienated and antagonised by Kadaga’s leadership style, has largely kept away from substantive parliament business.

The spokespersons at Parliament including one attached to the office of the Speaker could not be reached for comment regarding the Speaker’s schedule and that of his deputy on how they allotted time for each other to chair sessions. But Oulanyah had vowed that it would be an equal share for the two principals once he grabs the mace which has not been the case. Up to now it is not clear, whether Oulanyah empowered his deputy or ceded power to her.

The Deputy Speaker of Parliament has been remarkably visible and influential in her so far seven month tenure in office.

In just the month of November, she received Jacob Francis Nzwidalimwo Mudenda, the Speaker of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, on an official visit to Uganda; represented the House at the 147th Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly in Spain and was also at the heart of the controversy surrounding a summon of MPs by the First Lady and Minister of Education Janet Museveni for a meeting on re-opening of schools.

Whereas it was Speaker Oulanyah who received a letter from the minister regarding the meeting, it was his deputy Among who chaired the plenary session when opposition MPs led by Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Semujju queried how a minister can summon MPs that turned the proceedings into a firefighting session for Among early last month.

These are not just incidents of the last few months but a pattern of the first year of parliament under a new leadership. Just before Oulanyah was elected as Speaker in an election where he trounced his then boss, Rebecca Kadaga, he wore a weary look when he told the media there would be a change in the way business is done at parliament.

Meanwhile, many members of the third arm of government appear unconcerned about the power Among has amassed as Number 5 in the National Order of Precedence in Uganda.

“Oh don’t you see it- she chairs parliament more often than he did when he was deputy,” says a second term MP who did not want to be named to discuss the issue candidly. “She is in charge. She handles commission business. He has really put her at the front,” the MP says.

The MP, a member of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), thinks Oulanyah learnt from his experience amid accusations that Kadaga stifled him when he was her deputy. “It is like choosing to be different. That is what I strongly believe.”

Among has also been said to be close to President Museveni even when she was still an ordinary MP, giving her clout – something that earned her more power when she was elevated to her current position in May. A former FDC official, Among has been described as a shrewd NRM mobiliser whose role turned Teso sub region (her homeland) yellow in the presidential and parliamentary elections in January.

However the MP does not buy into this notion. “I don’t think she wields power. It is not his (Oulanyah) nature to be bullied,” the MP says.

Cecilia Ogwal, Woman MP for Dokolo district, downplays the supposed empowerment Oulanyah has handed Among and the deputy speaker’s prominence. “It is not the duty of parliament to evaluate one leadership over another. She told The Independent I believe every leader has a style of managing their affairs. Whoever chairs sessions; that is between them as speaker and deputy speaker.”

Ogwal added that the arrangement has nothing to do with the Rules of Procedure and she also stressed that the same rules do not dictate who should chair the Parliament Commission. The Commission is the top decision making organ of parliament that includes Speaker, the deputy (latest member), the Minister of Finance, the Leader of Opposition and four backbencher MPs.

Francis Zaake, MP for Mityana Municipality, and a member of the Parliament Commission in an interview with The Independent said anyone could chair the body including himself although he could not comment on the internal affairs of the commission.

In a show of her growing influence, Among deals with major Commission work including contractors and major suppliers of parliament. In August, she toured the construction site of the new parliament building which has gone through delays because of financial hardships the contractor, Roko Construction has been going through.

There have been fights at Parliament over the tender that was given to Roko years ago for the deal. According to some reports at parliament, deputy speaker Among has the final say on whether Roko keeps the deal. Those familiar with works on the building say it is just about 35% highlighting the intense pressure the firm is under.

Sources also say she holds keys to whether Parliament keeps renting space at the Kingdom Mall, where the House rents office space for MPs. The Mall belongs to tycoon Sudhir Ruparelia.

Oulanyah has appeared comfortable taking a back seat as the Speaker while letting Among steer the ship. Interviews with a number of MPs reveal a new dynamic from the tumultuous years when Kadaga and Oulanyah openly exchanged barbs in their ten years as Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

In the month of November as Among made the rounds, there was an awkward tweet from the Speaker on Nov. 10. “Following House proceedings as Deputy Speaker Anitah Among chairs today’s sitting,” Oulanyah tweeted. The other significant business Oulanyah did in the month of November when Among was busiest with parliamentary business was chairing a debate on the statement by the Leader of Opposition Mathias Mpuuga on an alternative approach to the Parish Development Model.

This was in stark contrast to Among who was receiving a visiting Speaker from another country and representing Parliament abroad.

For now, the relationship between Oulanyah and Among remains cordial at least publicly. But it is from the same script, ironically, from which the relationship between the previous Speaker; Kadaga, now a deputy prime minister, and her then deputy disintegrated.

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