How the disciplinary probe threatens to derail parliament’s agenda
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | The case in which Mityana Municipality MP, Francis Zaake, risks losing his privileged position as a Commissioner of Parliament for allegedly insulting Deputy Speaker Anita Among has taken a new twist. Zaake is now questioning why his privileges as a commissioner, including his official vehicle and security detail, have been withdrawn before the case is concluded. The youthful legislator says such action shows that the deputy Speaker, who now chairs the Commission of Parliament, is playing the role of judge, jury and executioner in the matter against him.
Now the committee is waiting to hear from the Clerk to Parliament over the issue. The committee summoned the clerk to explain the circumstances under which Zaake’s privileges as a parliamentary commissioner are being withdrawn.
Ordinarily the clerk stays above the fray when it comes to politicking in parliament. But in this case, the Clerk is none other than longtime government side legislator, immediate former defence minister, and ruling party top honcho, Adolf Mwesige.
The appearance of Mwesige before the disciplinary committee means an administrator of Parliament and also a non-partisan figure in his position as Clerk, is going to be sucked in the unending battles between the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) that have already consumed an inordinate amount of time and resources of the 500 member-plus parliament.
It will be interesting to see how Mwesige, whose appointment to oversee administration of parliament as Clerk was seen by some to have debased the office.
A tussle of personalities
The tussle between Zaake and the Deputy Speaker has until now been analysed through the lenses of opposition versus ruling party politics in parliament. But the personality of Zaake, Deputy Speaker Anita Among, and Zaake’s main accuser; Bardege-Layibi Division MP Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, have also come under scrutiny.
When Martin Ojara moved the motion in parliament seeking the removal of Zaake from the Parliamentary Commission, he heightened the tension within the opposition camp which is nursing bruises from internal fights. The latest fight was over failure to present a united front during their earlier motion to censure Security Minister Jim Muhwezi. The motion was doomed to fail on the basis of numbers but the divisions within the opposition muddied the loss.
NUP wanted Muhwezi censured for the rampant torture being meted out to government critics and opponents but the censure was called off after barely two weeks.
Mapenduzi is an independent MP, who is allied to the Opposition because NUP appointed him as chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for Local Government. His action has further divided the opposition because many people expected Mapenduzi to look out for the interests of a fellow opposition MP and not to seek their downfall.
According to parliament rules, chairpersons of accountability committees are ex-officios of the Shadow Cabinet. This makes their positions subservient to the Opposition agenda in parliament. It is why Mapenduzi’s motion in parliament against Zaake was received with anguish by members of NUP because Zaake is a key member of the party that elevated Mapenduzi to a plum post in parliament.
On Feb. 23, a day after the Parliamentary committee on Rules, Discipline and Privileges began a probe into the Zaake case, Leader of Opposition (LOP) in parliament, Mathias Mpuuga addressed the matter and expressed concern that the probe was being aided by Mapenduzi, an independent MP, who is allied to the Opposition.
“But all I can say is that we are a House of leaders and if a disagreement of the nature arises, my considered view is that it can be resolved without resorting to legalese because, at the end of the day, if you ask me from my vantage point of view and experience, there will be no winner,” Mpuuga was quoted as saying.
Two days after Mpuuga addressed the issue, NUP started a retreat for the Shadow Cabinet which includes Mapenduzi. It is not clear what was said about the issue during the retreat.
Meanwhile, with the Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah away undergoing treatment in the U.S. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Anita Among’s personality has come under scrutiny.
According to some observers, she appears to view her position, as the de facto third-most senior citizen in the land, as a source of unprecedented power. Critics say she has perpetuated the partisan bickering and abuse of office that has defined the office of the Speaker of the Ugandan parliament for years. Even before Oulanyah’s departure, observers said Deputy Speaker Anita Among wielded enormous power in the 11th parliament and was not shy to use it.
In October 2021, Among as Deputy Speaker formally became a member of the Commission of Parliament after the Administration of Parliament (Amendment) Bill 2021 was passed.
The escalating feud between her and Zaake has fuelled a partisan war in the House that has engulfed the Commission of Parliament where Zaake sits as a member and threatened to derail the agenda of the opposition and the commission.
The Deputy Speaker wants Zaake removed from the commission for an alleged Twitter post where he sharply rebuked her for mocking him as a phony victim of torture. She has rallied MPs to her cause for Zaake’s ouster. The Parliamentary Committee on Rules, Discipline and Privileges which is hearing the case is chaired by Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu, a long-time associate of the deputy speaker. The duo caused a stir when they headed a probe into Bank of Uganda by the Parliamentary Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities, and State Enterprises (COSASE). Katuntu was the chair and Among was the deputy chair.
The probe has, therefore, left NUP, the largest opposition party in parliament and where Zaake belongs, on the defensive.
Joel Ssenyonyi, the MP for Nakawa West, and spokesperson of NUP, said weeks ago on a radio talk show that the motion to remove Zaake was setting a dangerous precedent of woe unto anyone who criticises the deputy speaker.
Zaake’s lawyers Eron Kiiza, Benjamin Katana and Marvin Saasi argued before the Rules committee headed by Katuntu lacks the jurisdiction to try him since the matter is one of individual grievance.
“What crimes, civil wrongs, disparaging remarks, unethical conduct against the Deputy Speaker or Members of Parliament committed outside Parliament are matters for such institutions as Police, Courts or other non-parliamentary related organs are empowered to handle,” the lawyers said.
It is widely believed that that the Deputy Speaker is going after Zaake because he dared to challenge her authority in a House where she has been the de facto Speaker since the inception of the 11th parliament in May last year.
Removal of a Commissioner
Katuntu, the committee chair, said the committee will not inquire outside of the committee but only what was referred to it. Zaake, his lawyers and other opposition MPs interpreted this as a no go area for the comments made by the deputy speaker that infuriated Zaake.
It is on record that Zaake was beaten by police and the army during the by-election for Kayunga in December 2021 and in many other instances.
But the Deputy Speaker questioned Zaake’s torture ordeal. She stated rightly that the legislator earned the Ugandan parliament gold at the East Africa Legislative Games in December last year. But the remarks were made during a debate on a torture statement tabled by the Acting Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Muruli Mukasa. Zaake was unimpressed.
Under the parliament rules of procedure, a Member of the Commission, other than the Speaker or the Leader of Government business, Leader of the Opposition or the Minister of finance may be removed from office by Parliament for incompetence, misconduct, insanity, and inability to perform the functions of his or her office arising from infirmity of body or mind.
“A Motion for a resolution for the removal of a Commissioner shall be initiated by a notice in writing to the Clerk, signed by not less than one third of all the voting Members of Parliament, indicating their intention for moving the Motion for the removal. The notice shall indicate the grounds for the Motion and all particulars supporting the grounds,” the rules further provide.
It is further required that a Motion for the resolution under this rule shall be placed on the Order Paper, fourteen days from the date on which notice to remove the Commissioner shall have been communicated to the Clerk and a Commissioner shall be removed upon the vote of at least half of all voting Members of Parliament. A lot now rests with how the Clerk to Parliament, Adolf Mwesige, handles the case.