It’s not just about money
Kampala, Uganda | ISAAC KHISA | Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga is facing a public relations disaster for allocating Shs20 million to each MP, ostensibly to do supervisory and advocacy work in the government fight against the Coronavirus disease COVID-19.
But her reaction to President Yoweri Museveni publicly criticising her for taking the total Shs10 billion out of the fund to fight COVID-19 is raising more concern. Kadaga appears to have considered the matters settled during a private meeting with Museveni.
Instead Museveni on April 28, during his now routine COVID-19 addresses to the nation, said the MPs taking Shs20 million each out of the COVID-19 Taskforce Fund caused confusion and raised legal and constitutional issues. He ordered the MPs to return the money to the COVID-19 Taskforce.
“It would be morally irreprehensible to give themselves money for personal use when the country is in such a crisis and totally unacceptable to the NRM,” Museveni said.
Kadaga has reacted as if Museveni ambushed her. Taken together with an earlier April 21 move by a mid-level judge of the High Court in Kampala to effectively overturn her decision on the money, Kadaga sees Museveni’s move as a concerted ploy to scandalise her. The question is why?
“It’s clear Parliament is under attack from the Executive and the judiciary,” she said at a press conference, just two days after President Museveni publicly lashed at her and MPs. And she warned Museveni: “We are going to take appropriate action on that.”
But her order to MPs to disregard the orders of the head of state and the courts and only obey and act on orders from her has left MPs confused.
“The guidelines I gave follow the National Audit act and the rules of procedure,” she told them.
“We are three arms of government, we all have responsibilities under the Constitution and we are carrying out responsibilities. So there should be no interference in our work as long as we follow the Constitution,” she added. She is also appealing the High Court decision.
Watching the events, Prof. Mwambutysa Ndebesa, a political science lecturer at Makerere University College of Humanities and social sciences, told The Independent that such outbursts from Kadaga “are usually about winning the hearts of the MPs so that she is elected back as the speaker”.
Mwambutysa says the MPs are not concerned with service delivery to the citizens but to enrich themselves.
“If MPs were really interested in service delivery, why were they going ahead to write names on the bags of food? They are actually involved in campaigns so that they are elected again and subsequently elect Kadaga as speaker.”
He says even the Shs20 billion Kadaga gave each MP was meant to reward them ahead of next year’s general elections so that she is re-elected again as speaker.
But Gerald Karyeija, an Associate Professor of Public Administration and Management at the Uganda Management Institute told The Independent that in the COVID-19 money case there could be forces trying to undermine Kadaga’s work that are invisible to the public which is outside the corridors of power. He said the clash with Museveni could be a manifestation of Kadaga reclaiming territory that she feels either the executive or the judiciary is trying to diminish.
“You know, democracy is built on the idea of checks and balances and constitutions are put in place to legally establish this. But the strength of an institution is also defined by the leader of that institution,” Karyeija said.
“So, how she conceives herself and the leadership of parliament determines how parliament is perceived.”
He said though there are things that are clear cut: parliament is to do oversight functions and allocate money, executives to come up with policies and implement them, and the judiciary to arbitrate and so on, there are situations where the law does not spell out clearly where these institutions can share roles in practice.
He said Kadaga may also be fighting political battle where some member of judiciary and executives are seen or perceived or may actually be involved in undermining her as speaker or her political activity as an individual.
“What may be seen as a battle, may be a reaction, a response to overcome what she sees as her political threats,” he said, adding that the other possibility is that the speaker is looking forward to be seen as the best speaker of Uganda’s parliament and the first female to assume that position for that matter.
“The other thing is that we are getting closer and closer to (next general) elections and it is clear for the presidency that the NRM will select President Yoweri Museveni as the flag bear yet her position is threatened evidenced with many contestants last time for her current position.”
In response, Karyeija says Kadaga wants to project herself as being capable of handling the speakership position and that she is the only one capable to defend parliament and confront whoever be it the executive led by the president or the judiciary led by the chief justice.
Karyeija says Kadaga’s clashes with the executives are mostly not accidental.
“They are well thought out and some of the outcomes are expected,” he says.
It can be her passion, it can be her party, it could be for a group of people who want to dominate, and it could be for salvaging the institution, both noble and otherwise. It is a cocktail of issues.”
Karyeija points out that Kadaga’s frequent clashes with the executive including the National Resistance Movement party structures that she subscribe to, could be that she is always striving to ensure independence of the parliament.
He says as much as there’s a perception that parliament is subdued by the ruling party (and Kadaga is a leader in the ruling party), her actions try to demonstrate that she is ready to pursue ideas that she believes in or parliament is convinced about.
“It (clashes) also shows that we have seen a rise in aspects that seemingly strengthen parliament but also appear to weaken it,” he said. He cited the independence of parliament, strength of caucuses, especially of the NRM, and the presence and versatility of parliamentary forums other than the normal committees.
He says because Kadaga holds two positions in parliament as Speaker and Member of Parliament, she strives to demonstrate that she understands MPs, understands their interests, will pursue their interests and defend them at all costs, even if along the way she clashes with the executive.
He says the other reason could be as a result of intra-NRM politics.
“Us being outside actors, we may not know their fissures and fractures but there’s no party that has absolute cohesiveness,” he said. “So, she might be standing on the platform to project that she can defend her position, and one does not necessarily have to toe a line or for that matter stamp the executives pleasures without question.