By Peter Nyanzi
But having Oulanyah as Speaker poses new dangers
Since his election to the lofty position of Deputy Speaker of Parliament on May 19, 2011, Jacob Oulanyah has rarely appeared on radio or TV talk shows. He has turned down almost all invitations. But on Saturday Oct.05, he made an unprecedented appearance on the no holds-barred KFM radio talk show; Hard Talk.
The following day, he was a panelist on the late night show, Fourth Estate, on NTV. As he answered some really hard questions on both shows, Oulanyah’s presentation may have given Ugandans their real first hand picture of the man, his office and indeed a Parliament that has been under the spotlight.
Negative perception of Oulanyah’s handling of parliamentary business has been growing and appeared to have hit the ceiling when Opposition MP Ssemuju Nganda was on Oct.02 violently evicted from the House on his orders.
Oulanyah, while on the KFM radio, suggested that there could be foul play from Kadaga in his being set up to appear as if he is the one being used to put Parliament under the President Yoweri Museveni’s armpits.
“It is beginning to look like that and it is very unfortunate because for example among the things that are cited is that I have mishandled the Mace,” he said.
Oulanyah said claims that he is being used by Museveni are an “insult”.
“To be used shows you don’t have a brain of your own, you don’t think, you are just a machine that is programmed. I have a brain that works and works fairly well,” he said. “There is no instance where anybody has ever called me that ‘Oulanyah do this’ but that is the perception everywhere.”
Asked about his relationship with Kadaga, Oulanyah said he treats her like his “mom.”
But he insisted that Kadaga is not his supervisor, because the two offices are constitutional.
The Speaker apparently has no power to direct the decisions and actions of the Deputy Speaker because, unlike a vice president, the office is constitutional and both have the same job description.
Helen Kaweesa, the public relations director at Parliament, admitted there was ‘a gap’.
The Constitution and the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure, it appears, did not envisage a sour working relationship between the Speaker and the Deputy.
Even the Parliamentary Commission; among whose functions is to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding public office in Parliament, cannot be helpful as an arbiter because it is chaired by the Speaker and deputised by the Deputy Speaker.
If the Deputy Speaker is not happy with his/her boss, he/she has no office to appeal to.
Asked about why he appears to handle the most controversial Bills, Oulanyah said Kadaga always assigns him because he “can handle”.
“It is a show of confidence in me,” he said.
Since his public relations efforts on radio, TV, and the press, pundits say Oulanyah has re-emerged more or less unscathed and evidently more energised.
Kadaga might have thought that Oulanyah would be disadvantaged by presiding over controversial Bills but her habit of pushing the ‘harder’ stuff into her Deputy’s in-tray appears to be playing in his favour.
If the events of recent months are anything to go by, Oulanyah has emerged as a ‘stronger’ Speaker than Kadaga not necessarily in the eyes of the public but as far as the NRM is concerned.
Added to his recent unprecedented decision to apologise on the floor of Parliament over the Ssemuju incident, his maneuvers appear to have scored him more positive reviews.
Unfortunately, his improving image could complicate matters for Kadaga whose job, observers say; Oulanyah is setting his eyes on.
By almost all accounts, the relationship between Kadaga and Oulanyah is less than collegial and has been blamed for an alleged weakening of the institution they lead.
Bob Kasango, a top city lawyer and a director at The Independent Publications Ltd, told The Independent that what is happening – especially the apparent NRM’s preference for Oulanyah – is bad for Parliament and the country.
He said the quality of legislation produced under Oulanyah would suffer and the public would continue to lose confidence in the institution. He said already, Opposition and some Independent MPs switch into “offensive mode” once they know that Oulanyah would be chairing.
Oulanyah also switches into ‘defensive mode’, Kasango says.
He said there is a danger that the quality of debate would be compromised because moderate and reasonable voices would either go silent or keep away from the House all together.
“That would be bad for the country because laws passed in that form would not be easily enforceable,” he says.
What is clear is that the gap between Kadaga and Oulanyah appears to symbolise the struggle of Parliament for independence from Museveni.
Some observers have told The Independent that the apparent rift between Kadaga and Oulanyah should be blamed on President Yoweri Museveni’s desire to totally control Parliament. It is all part of his penchant for control, which Kadaga resents, and Oulanyah appears ready to embrace.
Kadaga did not answer when The Independent sought her views about her style and relationship with Oulanyah.
But those who have worked closely with Museveni say he detests what he calls “paralysis” and more so when he cannot have his way, and saying ‘no’ to him often invites reprisals.
Meanwhile, Ssemuju says Oulanyah’s behavior can be explained by his desire to show gratitude to Museveni for the favours bestowed upon him and an ambition to be given Kadaga’s job one day.
Ssemuju at once describes Oulanyah as a “tool of President Museveni’s “oppression” and “a victim who needs our collective effort to liberate him.”
“Part of his problem is that he looks at the office of the Deputy Speaker as a reward from [Museveni],” Ssemuju says. “He must forever be grateful as he aspires to dislodge Speaker Rebecca Kadaga.”
Analysts say Museveni has always shown that he does not need a strong Speaker or a strong Parliament that will stand in his way.
At Oulanyah’s wedding at Munyonyo on Jan 19, 2013, President Museveni, who also donated “a few cows” to the couple, gave a stamp of approval of Oulanyah. He credited him for his role in helping the NRM win back the Acholi sub-region from what he referred to as “a sectarian political class.”
This is because in the 2011 general elections, Museveni won more votes in the region than his opposition rivals for the first time since 1996.
“Initially, we had a problem with a reactionary and sectarian political class in Acholi. But with the help of people like Betty Bigombe, Oulanyah, and Okello Oryem, things have changed,” Museveni said.
Oulanyah, therefore, appears less dispensable to Museveni and the NRM than Kadaga.
Oulanyah would not mind running Museveni’s errands because he does not have anything to lose but everything to gain.
He is a Johnny-come-lately to the ruling party. When Museveni was fighting to capture power in the 1980s in the jungles of Luwero, Oulanyahh was a white-shirted school boy at St. Joseph College Layibi and Kololo Secondary School.
He entered politics barely 10 years ago in 2001 and moreover on an opposition UPC ticket until 2006 when he crossed to NRM.
But even as a UPC MP, Oulanyah did good work for Museveni in the 7th Parliament when he chaired the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. The Committee, which largely criticised for being “a mere rubber stamp,” was responsible for ‘okaying’ the Bill that amended the Constitution to scrap term limits, which gave President Museveni the leeway to continue in power.
Oulanyah subsequently lost his Omoro County seat to his UPC rival but was never out of a job. He eventually bounced back as an MP in 2011 thanks to the robust financial backing by the NRM to help him beat his rival Simon Toolit Akecha with just over 1,900 votes.
He is also the only NRM MP among the four in Gulu District and was lucky to retain his seat after a court petition almost overturned his victory.
To become a Deputy Speaker who is now exercising authority over diehard NRM supporters including bush-war ‘historicals’ is like a dream come true. Many pundits did not expect him to wrestle the Deputy Speakership from NRM stalwarts such as Wilfred Nuwagaba who had been widely tipped to take the job.
At just 48, Oulanyah is relatively a young man with a bigger portion of his political future still ahead of him; so he knows that he has more to lose if he does not remain in the good books of the NRM.
Oulanyah therefore knows that he owes his political career to President Museveni and toeing the NRM line appears to be the most reasonable thing to do.
Even if he were to lose the Omoro County seat to the Opposition in the 2016 elections, he knows he could be assured of a good job in the government.
Kadaga, on the other hand, is unlikely to lose her Kamuli District Women seat in Parliament.
Her showing of more resolve in ensuring the independence of Parliament from Museveni has been praised by some MPs and political observers. But it appears to be brewing trouble for her.
Highly placed sources suggested that moves had been made to remove Kadaga from Parliament and shunt her into the Judiciary as a Supreme Court Judge, but she did not appear to show any interest.
The Speaker or Deputy Speaker can be removed with a petition of not less than one third of signatures (120 members) and two thirds of votes in the plenary. Kadaga is aware that Museveni can easily garner those votes. As a result, she possibly has to constantly look over her shoulder because there is a precedent of a Speaker being removed from office prematurely.
The late James Wapakhabulo, a man dubbed Uganda’s best ever Speaker of Parliament, was in 1998 dropped in the middle of his term.
Having steered the Constituent Assembly across the turbulent constitution-making waters, Wapakhabulo was a natural choice for the role of Speaker when he was elected as MP in the 1996 general elections. Barely two years later in the job, he lost the Speakership and was instead pushed to be National Political Commissar.
Pundits claim he was punished for being too principled, too balanced, and too fair in the House, to the chagrin of the executive.
Only days before he died in early 2004, Wapakhabulo wrote to Museveni warning him against his attempt to lift term limits from the Constitution so that he could remain in power.
Wapakhabulo was replaced by Francis Ayume who did well for the NRM and was later rewarded with an appointment as Attorney General.
Ayume’s successor Edward Ssekandi also worked well for his party and was rewarded with an appointment to the lofty office of Vice President which he occupies today.
Danger to parliament
Apart from the direct danger to Kadaga, Prof. Frederick Jjuuko, a professor of jurisprudence at Makerere University, says her rift with Oulanyah and Museveni might hurt Parliament.
Jjuuko says Kadaga is selfishly more focused on keeping her personal record intact than protecting the integrity of Parliament. He says Kadaga, as an individual, needs to be viewed apart from her office.
“The two are different,” he said. “The Office of the Speaker is a constitutional office and must get more protection from the one who holds it. Unfortunately, it is Kadaga and not the Office of the Speaker that is being protected.”
He added, “But the underlying problem is that the regime long ago switched into survival mode and the reality is that President Museveni’s government has no capacity to contribute to democratic governance as its capacity to do so was exhausted many years ago.”
Jjuuko said Parliament as an institution has been reduced to a group of personalities each seeking his/her own interests and not the interests of Ugandans or the country at large. Aaron Mukwaya, a Makerere University professor of political science, agrees and sees an even bigger problem, which he calls “de-instutionalisation” of Parliament, the Office of the Speaker and the office of the MP. He says this is a deliberate result of the ruling NRM party’s apparent objection to the existence of other strong and independent institutions.
“What you have here is a Parliament that is supposed to be the voice of the people but has become an omnibus of self-seekers to whom loyalty to Museveni is all that matters,” he said. “It’s beyond reclamation; what this country needs now is a re-awakening of national consciousness to get new leadership.”
However, despite all the goings on, Hellen Kaweesa, the Parliament spokesperson, continues to dismiss claims that there is a rift between Kadaga and her Deputy.
She said they can and have always been able to resolve their issues amicably as “mature people.”
Even Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre and a government spokesman, continues to speak of a “symbiotic relationship” between parliament and the executive.
But observers like Kasango say the various stakeholders – Kadaga, Oulanyah, Chief Whips, caucus chairpersons, the Leader of Government Business (Prime Minister) and Leader of Opposition need to have more behind- the-scenes engagements to resolve the impasse.
Veteran legislator Cecilia Ogwal agrees and blames the situation on the character of leaders this country has, adding that it is difficult to understand why for instance Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi would find it easier to speak to the media about the Speaker than to have a dialogue with her personally.
Ogwal says, however, the situation is not beyond redemption. But if Museveni continues to make “Parliament an extension of the Executive,” Ugandans should only brace themselves for the worst because even the government would not function properly as it should, and the country would only sink deeper into despondency.
As Prof. Mukwaya told The Independent, in every democracy worth its name, the three arms of the State must offer the checks and balances that enable the state to function properly. The extent to which the Executive will allow that to happen is what remains to be seen.