Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s ruling on the suspension of the four rebel NRM MPs.
Honourable Members, you have heard about the much publicised letter from the Secretary General of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Party informing the Speaker that the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the NRM Party had received a report and proceedings of its disciplinary committee and that four members of Parliament, namely-
Hon. Theodore Ssekikubo, member of Parliament for Lwemiyaga County;
Hon. Wilfred Niwagaba, member of Parliament for Ndorwa East Constituency;
Hon. Mohammed Nsereko, member of Parliament for Kampala Central Constituency; and
Hon. Banarbas Tinkasimire, member of Parliament for Buyaga West Constituency had been expelled from the NRM.
The letter also requested the Speaker to invoke her powers to direct the Clerk to Parliament to declare the seats of the said members vacant so as to enable the Electoral Commission to organise bye-elections in their respective constituencies.
Honourable members, you will appreciate that since we embraced the multiparty system of government this will be the first time that a political organisation or party has expelled its members who are at the same time elected members of Parliament and formally requested the Speaker to direct the Clerk to declare their seats vacant. Article 83 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda provides as follows-
“83. Tenure of office of members of Parliament.
(1) A member of Parliament shall vacate his or her seat in Parliament—
(a) if he or she resigns his or her office in writing signed by him or her and addressed to the Speaker;
(b) if such circumstances arise that if that person were not a member of Parliament would cause that person to be disqualified for election as a member of Parliament under article 80 of this Constitution;
(c) subject to the provisions of this Constitution, upon dissolution of Parliament;
(d) if that person is absent from fifteen sittings of Parliament without permission in writing of the Speaker during any period when Parliament is continuously meeting and is unable to offer satisfactory explanation to the relevant parliamentary committee for his or her absence;
(e) if that person is found guilty by the appropriate tribunal of violation of the Leadership Code of Conduct and the punishment imposed is or includes the vacation of the office of a member of Parliament;
(f) if recalled by the electorate in his or her constituency in accordance with this Constitution;
(g) if that person leaves the political party for which he or she stood as a candidate for election to Parliament to join another party or to remain in Parliament as an independent member;
(h) if, having been elected to Parliament as an independent candidate, that person joins a political party;
(i) if that person is appointed a public officer.
(2) Notwithstanding clause (1) (g) and (h) of this article, membership of a coalition government of which his or her original political party forms part shall not affect the status of any member of Parliament.
(3) The provisions of clauses (1) (g) and (h) and (2) of this article shall only apply during any period when the multiparty system of government is in operation.”
Honourable members, as you will note from the quoted Article of the Constitution and indeed from reading of the whole Constitution, there is no specific provision on the expulsion of members of Parliament by their political parties leading to the declaration of their seats in Parliament vacant.
This issue of the effect of the expulsion of members of Parliament from their political parties’ vis-à-vis their membership in Parliament is not new. You may recall it was a subject of vibrant debate during the 7th parliament while considering the Constitutional (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, 2005. Specifically the House was considering clause 26 (g) of the Bill which had clearly provided as follows-
“(g) if a person leaves a political organisation or political party for which he or she stood as a candidate for election to Parliament to join another political organisation or political party or to remain in Parliament as an independent member or if he or she is expelled from the political organisation or political party for which he or she stood as a candidate for election to parliament”.
Indeed, after a spirited debate on the matter the mover of the Bill, the then Learned Attorney General proposed in his own words that “Mr Chairman, the last time we discussed clause 26, it caused alot of controversy. Honourable members expressed serious concern over what it meant. We can go into explaining what it meant and so on, but we propose that in the interest of peace that the clause be deleted”.
Indeed, the words from the clause that were deleted were the following-
“…or if he or she is expelled from the political organisation or political party for which he or she stood as a candidate for election to parliament”
From the foregoing, as a Speaker of Parliament, it is my firm belief that a decision on this matter has the potential of having serious Constitutional ramifications. This is especially so that the office of a Member of Parliament is a weighty office which goes to the core of our democracy and therefore a decision to declare such an office vacant can only be made on clear, unambiguous and unequivocal provisions of the law. I don’t find such circumstances pertaining. The matter calls for caution on all parties involved. I am inclined to err on the side of caution and protect the interests of the members of Parliament as I am duty bound.
In the circumstances therefore, I am not persuaded beyond doubt that I should direct the Clerk to Parliament to declare the four seats vacant. I am fortified in taking this position by the decision of the Supreme Court of Uganda in Brigadier Henry Tumukunde v. Attorney General & Another, Constitutional Appeal No. 02 of 2006.
I would like to conclude by quoting the unanimous decision of Supreme Court of this country in the above cited decision-
“The reactions and powers of the Speaker should always be much more vocal and clear when the person of a Member of Parliament is threatened or its rules are challenged. The oldest rules and conventions which have guided Parliaments, Speakers and Governments in free and democratic countries, particularly those of the Commonwealth of Nations date back to centuries. In 1642, when Charles 1 of England, at the time, an absolute monarch attempted to arrest five members of the House of Commons and demanded that its Speaker Identify them so that they could be arrested, the then Speaker of Parliament, Lenthall, bravely, politely but firmly responded to the King, thus;
“Sire, I have neither the eyes to see no ears to hear except as directed by this House whose servant I am.”
I have communicated this position in my response to the letter to the Speaker from the Secretary General of the NRM that I earlier alluded to in this communication.
This is my ruling on the issue. We shall proceed to the next item of the agenda.
Speaker’s ruling undermines the spirit of pluralism – Rugunda
Following the Rt. Hon. Speaker’s ruling made of May 2 in response to the NRM Secretary General’s notification to her of the party’s decision taken on the four Members of Parliament as a result of their conduct, asking her to notify the Clerk to Parliament, that their positions had fallen vacant, and her subsequent refusal to honor the request, the NRM responded to her ruling.
The NRM takes exception to the Rt. Hon. Speaker’s ruling to retain in Parliament the four MPs who ceased to be its members, and on whose ticket they were elected to Parliament.
1) The Rt. Hon Speaker’s decision was selective, convenient and ignored to read and apply the provisions of the Constitution holistically and fell short of taking cognizance of Article 1 (2) which empowers the people of Uganda to choose how they shall be governed.
2) The people of Uganda, during the 2005 Referendum adopted the Multi Party system of governance as the political framework under which Parliament operates.
3) Art. 78 of the Constitution supported by the Parliamentary Elections Act, the Administration of Parliament’s Act and the Rules of Procedure of Parliament of Uganda, provide for the sitting arrangement in Parliament based on parties, independents and special interest groups. So the decision of the speaker to retain in Parliament the four MPs, creates another group in Parliament that is legally strange.
4) In taking her decision, the Rt. Hon. Speaker should have taken consideration of the entire constitutional provisions so as to give Article 83 (1) (g) of the Constitution its rightful meaning. Having failed to do so, she limited the operation and development of parties in the Multi Party system dispensation, which the people of Uganda adopted in 2005.
5) The affected MPs having ceased to be Members of NRM, ipso facto, and as such ceased to be Members of Parliament. This is so because, there are four sides of representation in Parliament; namely, Government (NRM), the opposition, independents and for UPDF.
6) By purporting to create special accommodation for the (4) four Members of Parliament, in front of the Speaker’s desk, she effectively recognizes the fact that they ceased to belong and represent NRM in Parliament which defeats her earlier interpretation of Article 83 (1)(g) of the Constitution.
7) We contend that, it was an error of judgment for the Speaker to have purported to create another category of representation in Parliament outside those provided for in the law and this will be vigorously challenged.
8) It is also worth noting that the Speaker is the 2nd National Vice Chairperson of the NRM, member of Central Executive Committee (CEC), and having attended and actively participated in the unanimous decision regarding the status of the four named MPs in the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of NRM, it would have been prudent to disqualify herself from presiding over the same subject matter in Parliament.
9) The Speaker’s decision notwithstanding, the NRM takes the firm position that the membership of the four MPs in its ranks ceased, and their continued stay in Parliament does not only offend the clear provisions of the Constitution but also undermines the will of the People who exercised their power to decide on how to be governed.
10) The ruling of the Speaker is not only an issue of NRM as a political organization but sets a serious and dangerous precedent that undermines the spirit of Pluralism. Consequently, the NRM disagrees with her ruling, and has taken a firm decision to refer the matter to the Courts of law for adjudication.
Hon. Ruhakana Rugunda
Chairman NRM Electoral Commission