By Agather Atuhaire
Does NRM’s overwhelming Parliamentary majority give it license to silence other voices in the regional assembly?
Uganda’s Parliament risks frustrating commencement of the 3rd East African Legislative Assembly with its unwillingness to implement a ruling of the East African Court of Justice with respect to how Uganda’s delegation to the regional assembly is constituted.
Critics have joined the Leader of Opposition Nandala Mafabi questioning why NRM would sabotage the activities of the East African Community (EAC), given its chairman President Yoweri Museveni’s reported interest in one day becoming president of a federated East Africa.
On May 10, 2012, the East African Court ruled that Uganda remove the requirement for numerical strength from its parliamentary rules of procedure with regard to the election of EALA representatives to conform with Article 50 of the EAC Treaty, which emphasises equitable representation.
Democratic Party legal advisor and EALA candidate Mukasa Mbidde dragged the Attorney General to the court over Parliament’s unwillingness to amend its rules before the EALA elections.
The Independent has learnt that NRM’s foot-dragging was in spite of advice to the Attorney General Peter Nyombi by some of the party’s senior members, against hoarding the lion’s share of the nine seats, even if it enjoys a parliamentary majority.
It’s because of this stubbornness , The Independent has learnt, that Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga decided against presiding over the plenary session when the issue came up for debate, leaving the unenviable task to her deputy, Jacob Oulanyah.
Ironically, it was Oulanyah who, as an Independent Member of Parliament in 2006, first challenged the incompatibility of the Uganda Parliament’s rules with Article 50 of the EAC Treaty in the Constitutional Court.
Court found the rules in contravention of the said Article 50 and various articles of the Uganda Constitution and declared them null and void. The AG’s appeal against that ruling is pending in the Supreme Court.
Oulanyah has since become an NRM loyalist, which might explain why he has struggled to maintain some level of objectivity while presiding over the contentious debate.
On the first day of the debate, Oulanyah urged the House to avoid focusing on the issue of numerical strength, and instead strive to comply with the EAC Treaty. But this was rather difficult, as “numerical strength” and the sense of entitlement it had bred in the ruling party was the basis of the conflict.
“What is NRM’s justification in demanding too much if not numerical strength?” Busiro North MP Medard Ssegona asked.
Ideally if the Parliament of Uganda complied with the ruling and the treaty, the majority NRM would take three seats and each of the remaining parties in Parliament, including Independents, would take one each.
The Independent has learnt from reliable sources that Kadaga met with top members of the NRM and the opposition the day before the debate and suggested that NRM takes four slots, opposition four and the independents one.
The opposition had reportedly agreed to this compromise, which excluded JEEMA and the Conservative Party, but gave FDC (which holds the majority in opposition) two slots. Two would go to UPC and DP, leaving one for the independents. NRM shot it down.
The next day, the NRM Caucus sat and decided to take 6 slots, leaving the opposition to share two and allocating one to the independents.
“A party that has over 260 members in Parliament can’t have the same representation as JEEMA and CP which have one member each,” Luwero woman MP and Minister for Luwero Affairs Rose Namayanja said during the heated debate.
Namayanja argued that Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi had sent 7 members to EALA, leaving only 2 to be shared by the other parties the country’ Parliament.
A similar dispute was feared in Kenya as the Parliament prepared to elect its delegation in the midst of squabbles about members switching party loyalties. The country already dealth with the issue of party representation in 2006 when MP Anyang’ Nyango and 10 others successfully contested the validity of the nomination and election of Kenya’s representatives to EALA.
The term of the current 52 EALA lawmakers expires on June 4 and each of the EAC states — Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi — are to elect nine members to the regional Parliament, making a total of 45. Seven ex-officio members including ministers responsible for EAC, the secretary-general and a counsel, make up the rest of the assembly’s membership.
NRM had seven representatives in the 1st and 2nd EALA, with the main opposition party Forum for Democratic Change taking two, to complete Uganda’s delegation of nine. Parliament is seeking a more diverse delegation in the 3rd EALA.
In Rwanda, where elections are scheduled for May 25, the ruling RPF was reported to have taken eight seats, and left one to the opposition.
It was always going to be near-impossible to persuade even the most progressive in the ruling party to take a less partisan position on this issue.
“Court said it is the duty of this Parliament to guide the process and NRM has deemed it right to have six slots, two slots for the opposition and one for the independents,” said Kinkizi East MP Chris Baryomunsi.
Buyaga West MP Bernabas Tinkasimire told The Independent that EALA was not a board whose representatives were appointed, but a political organization whose representation was determined by the power of the vote.
“Who will vote those opposition candidates?” Tinkasimire asked. “They need the majority votes to go through.”
This is a narrow interpretation of Article 50 of the treaty which demands that members to EALA represent as much as feasible the various political parties, shades of opinion, gender and other special interest groups in a partner state.
The section of the rules that was nullified in the Oulanya case had required the election of EALA members to reflect the proportional party membership in the Parliament. Parliament has been amending the rules since 2008.
In the emended rules, the newly introduced clause requires that election of members of the assembly be conducted after consultations and consensus by the political parties and other members of parliament.
The opposition claims that a consensus that had been agreed with the ruling party was inexplicably ignored by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi on the floor of Parliament.
“Our side will go by what we agreed upon with the delegation from the other side,” said Shadow Attorney General Abdu Katuntu.
“We agreed with the other side after studying the law that the issue of numerical strength is not the basis here,” Katuntu added, saying that the opposition would not settle for anything outside the confines of Article 50 of the treaty.
“The clause that talks about numerical strength has been removed from our rules of procedure so the issue of numerical strength doesn’t count now,” said Aruu municipality MP Odonga Otto.
Kawempe North MP Latif Ssebagala told his NRM counter parts that the treaty sought to cater for the interests of all Ugandans, not just the majority.
“I know this is a bitter pill to swallow for my colleagues in NRM,” Ssebagala said, “but this is about the law, not numerical strength.”
Mafabi also urged the ruling party not to substitute the law with numbers.
“Article 50 of the treaty never mentioned the ruling party and other parties which implies that all parties are equal as far as EALA is concerned, regardless of numbers,” Mafabi said
Opposition MPs wondered who gave NRM the mandate to allocate slots at EALA.
“Let nobody think giving seats to parties in Parliament is a favour,” said Katuntu.
Mafabi proposed to insert an amendment in the rules of procedure that specifically provided for the representation of all six parties – including independents – in the 9thParliament of Uganda, at EALA. When proposal was voted out, opposition MPs stormed out of Parliament, saying they could not be party to a violation of the law. The NRM went ahead to pass the rules.
As opposition members earlier this week sought a court injunction from the EACJ in Arusha to further stay the election of EALA representatives until the dispute was resolved, NRM moved to elect its own representatives on May 22. Nominated were MPs Dorah Byamukama, Nusura Tiperu, Bernard Mulengani, Mike Sebalu, Margaret Zziwa and Dan Kidega, who are expected to sail through the general House elections on May 30. Two-term Lydia Wanyoto was turned down for a third term.
Opposition MPs say that even if they agreed with the amendments, they were only gazzetted in the House on May 21 and no copy was sent to them. FDC Secretary General Alice Alaso wrote to the Clerk of Parliament on May 22 asking her to postpone the nomination exercise to allow the party time to study the rules and choose aspirants.
“A one day notice after gazetting the rules is not adequate to allow political parties to conduct primaries to sieve out aspirants for nomination,” the letter read.
If Uganda does not put its house in order and settle the dispute about how regional parliamentary seats are shared, it could upset the schedule of the EA Legislative assembly which is expected to swear in its new members on June 5.