By Julius Odeke
Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba is one of the NRM MPs whom the party has branded as `rebels’. He spoke to The Independent’s Julius Odeke about the disciplinary action against them.
You left your NRM party retreat at Kyankwazi early. Why?
I am an advocate and the courts have resumed so I had to attend to my private business. My programme was to attend only Saturday and Sunday, there was nothing like any disagreement. We did not participate in any debate. We were simply there to be listening as the president was lecturing.
Why are you ‘rebel MPs’; a problem to your party?
I think the best people to ask are those ones who call us rebels MPs. For us we are not rebels MPs, we are members of parliament who are doing our job as MPs. What we normally insist is about the petroleum issues and the health issues, was it wrong for us to insist in discussing those issues.
What agenda do you, the rebel MPs, have for the party?
The MPs primary duty is to the constituents not to any leader. As MPs we promote good governance, make laws that will develop the country; we legislate, check the excesses of the executive and judiciary.
Will you accept to be disciplined by the party?
As regards the disciplinary issues, I received before we went to Kyankwanzi a copy of a letter written by the government chief whip copied to the secretary general of the party pointing out two reasons why I should be disciplined and the first one was that I opposed the government’s position on the Bill for petroleum exploration and production specifically clause 9 where the government wanted all the powers of negotiating agreements, signing agreements, licensing, reporting vested in the minister. I belonged to the school of thought that these powers are technical in nature and we had established a Petroleum Authority comprising of the technocrats and we had thought that those powers should be invested with the Petroleum Authority and I really have no apologies for taking that position.
The second ground is that during the budget debate, I was among those who were interested that the ministry of Health should be allocated reasonably adequate funds to improve the welfare of the medical officials, have the doctors recruited to either Centre IV for proper service delivery. The government was saying we cannot have this money but the committee had reviewed the budget and seen where Shs49 billion could be got. I was one of those who supported the committee.
The party constitution has provisions on discipline, and I am waiting for a formal complaint from the Disciplinary Committee, then I will determine whether to respond or to ignore.
Will you seek legal opinion about any disciplinary action meted on you?
I will not seek any legal opinion because I am a lawyer myself.
Is Kyankwanzi a place where MPs can go and learn democratic ideologies?
The government has invested resources and it would have been a good place fit for a retreat but the people who organise these retreats do not know what is meant by the word a retreat. A retreat is a place where MPs would go for soul-searching but not to be lectured.
Tell us, was there a threat of poison at Kyankwazi because some MPs are alleged to have carried their own biscuits and water that they ate while in Kyankwazi?
Now you seem to be asking me about what Tinkasiimire said but what I can confirm to you is that I did not carry my own food, and I was there for two days. I do not know who ate and who did not eat. I think I had lunch on Sunday and dinner.
What pertinent issues do you want to be discussed in Kyankwazi?
Well some of us believe very strongly in democracy and good governance and in the African context we strongly believe that the terms in office of the president must be limited for purposes of proper succession. President Museveni has been largely good to this country and it is a high time he peacefully retires to enable the next generation to take over.
If I was the one in charge of the programme; I had wanted a thorough discussion on the constitution particularly in view of the restoration of term limits. I had also wanted a thorough discussion and a candid one on how we can practice democratisation as a party on how we would transform from President Museveni as a leader to another leader which was not discussed. What was discussed was the party discipline, but the challenge is that most members seem to be stuck on the so-called rebel MPs such as Niwagaba, Ssekikubo, Mohammed Nsereko, and Sam Lyomoki. They forgot that as a party,we are supposed to discipline those party members who are in power and are thieves, who receive kickbacks, and have corrupt allegations smeared on their faces. Those who lack a democratic culture; narrowing it to the so-called rebel MPs are missing the point.
Has NRM groomed leaders who will take up leadership if Museveni retires from active politics?
The biggest challenge in NRM party is to democratise itself. Two; the other challenge is the majority of people in the party fear the person called President Museveni but I believe we, the progressive forces in the NRM, will definitely bring up a candidate to stand up against president Yoweri Museveni. The only challenge we have is the party constitution. Some of us believe we must open and we traverse the country the way Forum for democratic Change (FDC) party did recently to get their party president. Talk to the delegates, sell the programme, and continue democratically. If NRM wants to actually practice and cherish democracy, it should allow people traverse the country and come up with a candidate they want to lead them. People should not wait to be brought to Namboole then they are eventually forced to endorse one candidate.
If your name is picked to contest in primaries for presidency would you consider it?
What I know is that a name cannot be picked. It is up to an individual to offer himself first and that is why I insist on democracy, I hate the business of hand picking leaders into offices. An office should be competed for. I am not offering myself as for now but I cannot rule out myself in future.
How do you describe NRM for the last 27 years?
NRM as a movement had a lot in 1986 to 1998 and NRM-O as an organisation is still young and it needs to be reformed and in particular to have democracy within, change of leadership from top to bottom, and focus more on service delivery as opposed to sustenance of specific individuals in particular offices.
When NRM celebrates its 27th anniversary this month, is there democracy in this country?
We have ups and downs; and we still have some hope. I don’t see why we passed a law to finance political organisations and political parties and we are not doing it. I don’t see why the police should be used to promote and serve the interests of some specific individuals. I believe there is room for positive transformation.
What is your comment on the arrests that have been taking place in the country and more so MPs being arrested?
That is one of the things that I was telling you that police should stop being used by individuals. That is unjustifiable. Like the way MPs like Ssekikubo and Lyomoki were arrested. It was very barbaric for offenses you very well know are not there. We are psychologically prepared to bear this once you accept to join politics. I am a lawyer and I am told it’s the president who instructs these arrests.
Your last word
I will not betray my people from Ndorwa East, no matter the threat and intimidation I get.