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Bamugemereire: A judge on trial

By The Independent Team

What could she do to cure Kampala’s `multiple-organ failure’?

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire’s tribunal hearing the petition filed by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) councilors against Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago seems set to make Kampala’s politics worse, not better. And it does not matter whether Justice Bamugemereire lets Lukwago be impeached or not.

If Bamugemereire finds no merit in the petition and therefore the impeachment case is closed, Lukwago will have to resume business with the same team with whom they have had a tumultuous two years. It will not be easy.

On the other hand, if the tribunal establishes a prima facie case against Lukwago and the councilors follow through by voting him out; which will require a two-thirds majority, then six months of intense political activity in the city will be set in motion until another election for Lord Mayor will be held.

In fact, attending the tribunal was itself a subject of intense debate. Some of his colleagues, like Kampala District Land Board Chairman Yusuf Nsibambi, wanted him not to appear before the Tribunal but instead start a campaign for re-election in six months’ time and for recalling the councilors responsible for the petition.

On Lukwago’s instigation, some councilors are already being threatened by recalls from their voters.

Those who prevailed on Lukwago to appear before the Tribunal argued that it was an opportunity for him to put his case before the public and “embarrass” his rivals at KCCA a bit.

After KCCA Executive Director Jenifer Musisi went through a grueling cross-examination from Lukwago’s lawyers at the Tribunal, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, the chairperson of the Tribunal, was heard asking: “Who is on trial here?”

Apparently, the grilling of Musisi by Lukwago’s chief lawyer, Abdu Katuntu, appeared to put her on trial although the tribunal was instigated by the councilors to favour her.

Lukwago’s team of lawyers must have relished the discomfiture of the lady who, since her appointment in April 2011, has earned the flattering epithet of “Musisi the iron lady”. They want more and their intended victim this time is Frank Tumwebaze, the minister in charge of Kampala City.

He is the man who appointed the tribunal but Lukwago, while being cross-examined on his evidence last week, hinted that it would be better for him to appear before it. It is, however, not clear what is to be gained by it.

Wrong diagnosis?

As the tribunal has made clear, the key problem at KCCA since Lukwago and ED Musisi started work there is that each of the two camps have been working to outsmart and frustrate the other.

For instance, Musisi would ensure Authority meetings would flop whenever they seemed to serve Lukwago’s interests. At some point, minutes of three Authority meetings remained unsigned because, Lukwago told the Tribunal, staff under Musisi did not present them for signature as required.

This was after the petitioners’ lawyers presented the evidence of unsigned minutes as evidence of incompetence against Lukwago.

On the other hand, Musisi would ask the Lord Mayor to call meetings when she felt there was business important for her purposes. Lukwago would drag his feet.

It has also been raised that Lukwago’s appointments at KCCA are frustrated, with his choice of Sulaiman Kidandala as his deputy and members to the Public Accounts Committee of KCCA not approved up to now.

Lukwago’s team feels that whenever Musisi wants an appointment made, “it is done swiftly.” For instance, President Museveni moved quickly to appoint directors at KCCA when Musisi complained that their absence affected the work of KCCA.

Caught in the middle are the councilors, who have from time to time been oscillating between Lukwago’s and Musisi’s camps, depending on the circumstances. It has not helped matters that the majority of them are of modest formal education with limited ability to grasp the issues at hand.

Also key to the impasse are the other presidential appointees in the city – Minister for the Presidency and Kampala Frank Tumwebaze and Resident City Commissioner Samuel Mpimbaza Hashaka and police bosses.

John Ssebaana Kizito, a former mayor of Kampala, says that the tribunal is a result of a wrong diagnosis of the root cause of Kampala’s problems.

“Kampala’s problems are political, not legal and to try to have a legal solution to the problem is to miss the point,” Ssebaana says.

Ssebaana says Tumwebaze, the minister for Kampala, “was quick to push through with the petition hoping that is what the President (Museveni) wanted.”

The law requires the Minister for Kampala to set up a tribunal chaired by a person qualified to be a High Court judge to consider a councilors’ petition seeking to remove the Lord Mayor from office.

Such a petition needs to be signed by one-third of the councilors – 10 out of the current 30. The petition against Lukwago was signed by 17 councilors.

It emerged during the Tribunal hearings that the Attorney General, the chief government legal advisor, had told Tumwebaze that the petition signed by 17 of the 30 KCCA councilors had no merit, but Tumwebaze pushed on with it.

Lukwago versus councilors

If the President’s appointees had good reason to gang up on Lukwago, their work would be eased by the Lord Mayor’s relationship with the councilors.

Lukwago was destined to have it rough from the start, having been the first opposition Kampala Mayor to have a council dominated by ruling party councilors. He had won in a repeat election, the first having been cancelled after an aborted attempt to stuff ballot boxes in favour of the NRM candidate, Peter Sematimba, was discovered.

Even President Museveni had heavily campaigned for Sematimba and on being declared winner, Lukwago said that he had won not just against Sematimba but against Museveni and the entire state machinery.

With at least most of the ruling party councilors theoretically out of his reach, Lukwago would ordinarily be expected to court opposition councilors and have them solidly behind him. But this was not to be.

Lukwago, who campaigned on the banner of “cleaning Kampala”, had taken swipes not just at ruling party politicians, but also at those within the opposition who he considered “unclean.”

Some of the battles he waged immediately he came into office, like the one against the Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (Utoda), also alienated him from some opposition councilors, who had long-standing relationships with Utoda.

One opposition politician who usually clashed with Lukwago is Rose Namayanja, then-deputy mayor during Alhaj Nasser Ssebaggala’s tenure who is now an MP. Another is Bernard Luyiga, who was re-elected to represent Makerere University at KCCA.

Lukwago accused them of at least not doing much when the defunct Kampala City Council “sunk” into corruption.

Luyiga feud

Of the 10 opposition members of council, therefore, Lukwago was sure of only about six. The others eventually drifted away and found a natural ally in Musisi.

The opposition councilors who have stuck with Lukwago seem to consider it politically profitable, for Lukwago is deemed to be popular in Kampala. But some opposition councilors, most notably Luyiga, fell out badly with Lukwago.

Luyiga, for one, says he is ready to risk his political future to fight Lukwago. He knows his constituency, Makerere University, is strongly opposition and may not forgive him for fighting Lukwago. But he says Lukwago is “dictatorial and selfish.”

At some point, Lukwago sought to make amends by reaching out to the majority NRM councilors. After a series of meetings, the NRM councilors even agreed to okay Lukwago’s choice of Kidandala as his deputy.

Musisi, who seems bent on ensuring that Lukwago fails in his bid to have Kidandala approved as his deputy, seemed to be at a loss.

But the councilors would backtrack, probably because Musisi pulled a few strings. Lukwago had reportedly mobilised the councilors on the basis of money, telling them that a disunited KCCA council could not push through proposals, even those that affected their interests.

Lukwago’s agents told the councilors, particularly those from NRM, that they needed to unite and push to be paid comparable salaries to what the technical people at KCCA get.

Musisi, however, moved to show the councilors where power truly lies at KCCA. Whenever there would be disagreements, she would threaten not to pay them, saying the Authority’s finances were suffering.

Lukwago courted the NRM councilors after realising things were getting out of hand. Luyiga had threatened to impeach him.

Luyiga, also from DP, like Lukwago, had considered himself the “natural candidate” for the deputy lord mayor job and Lukwago’s decision to appoint Kidandala was the final straw in their relationship. Luyiga considered himself more knowledgeable in KCCA matters than Kidandala, a first term councilor.

Not even the Lord Mayor’s attempt to appease Luyiga by appointing him to represent KCCA to the Makerere University Council worked.

When Luyiga threatened to raise a petition against Lukwago, an irked Lukwago reacted by withdrawing him from the Makerere University Council, an issue which turned up at the Tribunal.

Lukwago was accused of removing Luyiga from the Makerere University Council without the consent of the KCCA Council, which the lawyer for the petitioners said is against the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act.

“The problems of the Authority are being created by the position you have taken that you are almighty,” Kiryowa Kiwanuka, lead lawyer of the petitioners, told Lukwago at the tribunal, “Honourable councilors are subjected to your will; you appoint and disappoint at will.”

What really is wrong?

The lawyer, of course, was not telling the whole truth. He was raising an important issue, however, that Lukwago has failed to win over the trust of the councilors. And one cannot govern without being able to influence his council.

But on the other hand, as Ssebaana pointed out, the bigger issue is about the battle for Kampala between the ruling party and the opposition.

Ssebaana says: “As long as Museveni continues to be president, he will never stop fighting opposition mayors in Kampala.”

The former mayor, who had ugly exchanges with the President when he was mayor, says the President’s appointees do whatever they do to fight Lukwago to “please the President.”

Lukwago has responded with defiance: “I am the President of the Authority,” he told the Tribunal.

Whatever decision the Tribunal makes, therefore, can only lead to the start of another round of politicking between those in the ruling party and those in the opposition who hold sway among voters in the city. But the tribunal could recommend a new way forward being mooted by some members of parliament; that Museveni appoints a Lord Mayor instead of having him elected. That would make Lukwago and the opposition’s popularity in the city politically pointless.

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