By Independent Team
On the evening of Wednesday October 29, Adolf Mwesigye, the minister of State for General Duties in the Office of the Vice-President, led a group of MPs to Buziga Country Resort in Kampala. The MPs had earlier attended a meeting at Security Minister Amama Mbabazi’s Akii-Bua Road office to ruminate over the events of the day and plan how to handle presentation of the NSSF-Temangalo probe reports in Parliament the next day.
The meeting attended by a handful of pro-Mbabazi MPs, among them Hope Mwesigye, Saleh Kamba, Kabakumba Matsiko, Jessica Alupo, Amooti Kaahwa, James Kakooza, Tracy Bucyanayandi, Asuman Kiyingi, Mwesigwa Rukutana, Adolf Mwesigye, Pereza Ahabwe, and Sam Lyomoki followed a rather raucous exchange in cabinet earlier that day between Local Government Minister Gen.
Kahinda Otafiire and his junior, State Minister for Local Government Hope Mwesigye.
Mwesigye, apparently, had said that it was shameful for a government minister [Otafiire] to openly fight his colleague [Security minister Amama Mbabazi], including meeting NSSF probe committee deputy chairperson Abdu Katuntu.
But in characteristic abrasiveness, Gen. Otafiire asked whether she [Hope Mwesigye] was bringing up the matter as an issue of government concern or as a personal issue.
‘Are you speaking as a sister-in-law or as a government official,’ Otafiire reportedly asked Hope Mwesigye who is a sister to Mbabazi’s wife Jacqueline.
In the tense moments that followed, with other ministers unsure of how to react to an issue that has become very divisive to the party and government, Adolf Mwesigye posited that cabinet should pronounce itself on the matter as a way of guiding debate in parliament and the party.
Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi, however, ruled that the matter should not be debated in cabinet till it is tabled in Parliament.
So when the majority and minority reports of Parliament’s Commissions, Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises that has been probing the NSSF-Temangalo land deal were formally presented in Parliament the next day Thursday, the stage appeared set not just for the pro- and anti-Mbabazi groups but also for President Yoweri Museveni to finally put his stamp on a process that has appeared to be in free-fall.
For Mbabazi, it is the fight for his political life but for President Museveni, State House sources say, it is the opportunity to trim the wings off one of the most ‘credible’ pretenders to his throne [first in the succession queue] without tearing the party into pieces while leaving Mbabazi looking to the president for protection.
IGG & politics of minority report
The NSSF-Temangalo land probe that has been running for months has not only exposed the divisions in the ruling NRM party, but also demonstrated the increasing loss of control by the president on the party that he has dominated for more than two decades, and exposed the gaping impotence of the hitherto all powerful secretary general and president-in-waiting John Patrick Amama Mbabazi.
Several events before the final presentation of the two reports to Parliament last week are poignant.
On October 7, Mbabazi held a night meeting with 15 members of the parliamentary probe committee to implore them to save the ‘party’ (read him and Finance minister Ezra Suruma) by voting to clear them of any wrong doing. The next day, however, it became clear that the mavericks were not going to do so, prompting him to arrange another meeting on October 10, this time with the president who too implored NRM members on the committee to put the interests of the party first. In the end, eleven of them defied the party president and secretary general, voting to punish Mbabazi for his role in the land scandal.
With the president and his secretary general unsure which direction the matter will take once it gets to the floor of Parliament, option B came into play.
The minority report, sources have indicated, was the first step towards trying to regain the initiative, with the lifeline to be found in the report’s Chapter Two. It deals with the question of whether there was conflict of interest on the part of the parties involved on page 18, point number 13 of the Minority Report.
‘Sections 3 and 18 of the Leadership Code Act, 2002 are also very clear on how the Leadership Code is enforced. Section 3 (1) states, ‘The Inspectorate shall enforce this code’ and Section 18 (1) states, ‘Any person who alleges that a leader has committed a breach of this code may lodge a complaint to that effect with the Inspectorate and the Inspectorate shall register the complaint’. Section 18 (2) states, ‘Upon receipt of a complaint under subsection (1) of this section, the Inspectorate shall inquire into, or cause the complaint to be inquired into.’
The Independent has learnt that as debate of the reports goes on in Parliament, we are likely to see pro-Mbabazi MPs pushing for the matter to be referred for further investigation by an impartial body, the Inspectorate of Government (IGG). They will argue that the matter has turned political and judgment against Mbabazi in Parliament will be based on politics, not facts or the law. It is a view that came up in the NRM Caucus meeting on November 3.
Kabula County MP, James Kakooza, who is one of the authors of the minority report confirmed to The Independent the thinking of the group; that only the IGG can legally rule over matters to do with breach of the Leadership Code, but refused to say whether or not this was the strategy the group was going to push.
However Katakwi Woman MP Jessica Alupo who has been rooting for Mbabazi was less ambiguous, saying: ‘If the occasion demands, I have no objection to that. For example, if we say that we are to censure Mbabazi basing on the breach of the Leadership Code, we are lying to ourselves because the constitution gives those powers only to the IGG,’ she said, adding, ‘So in this case Parliament can only point out the anomaly but do nothing.’
Both Mbabazi and the president, our sources say, are trying to push this line interestingly for entirely different reasons. For Mbabazi, referring the matter to the IGG will buy him time which he can use to try and break down or neutralize the machinations of his NRM opponents like Jim Muhwezi, Kahinda Otafiire, Gilbert Bukenya, Crispus Kiyonga, Henry Banyenzaki and Theodore Ssekikubo, among others. So far he has not been successful but any chance to keep the matter unresolved favours him.
For President Museveni, however, it gives him an opportunity to regain control of the process. While the IGG is supposed to be independent of any authority, in the past the current IGG Faith Mwondha has acted as the president’s attack dog. She set out to investigate former Health ministers Jim Muhwezi, Mike Mukula and Alex Kamugisha over the GAVI funds and her findings have been used by the president politically against Muhwezi.
For instance, in a State House meeting in 2007 between President Museveni, his wife Janet, Muhwezi and Mrs Kabonero, mother to Muhwezi’s wife Susan, the president told Muhwezi to apologise to him personally for misappropriating GAVI funds and promised that if he [Muhwezi] did so, he [the president] would forgive the ex-minister and that he would hush the investigation and likely prosecution of Muhwezi over the GAVI funds. Muhwezi refused to do so. He and his colleagues are currently being prosecuted by the IGG, though the Constitutional Court recently ruled to stay the trial.
The president would therefore most likely have his way if the matter went to the IGG; either to declare Mbabazi in breach of the Leadership Code or to declare him innocent. But more importantly for the president, it gives him the best chance to finish Mbabazi’s pretentions to lead the party and in the process condemning him to the status as his poodle. A weakened Mbabazi is better than a broken down Mbabazi, according to sources close to the president. He will be useful as a buffer around the president against NRM leaders like Bukenya and Otafiire without being a threat to the throne.
NRM rebels dig in
So will Mbabazi and the president get their way this time round in a 333-member House where they failed with the 20-member committee? Well, if what transpired in the committee is anything to go by, the president may have a riot on his hands. Some of the anti-Mbabazi MPs in the NRM whom The Independent spoke to say they will have none of this.
Said Rubanda East MP Henry Banyenzaki: ‘To say that an independent body, like the IGG, should handle the NSSF issue since it has been overtaken by politics is being diversionary. Politics cannot be avoided when politicians commit crimes. Nobody has stopped other bodies and institutions in this country from investigating the NSSF saga. The workers have taken this issue to police and to the judiciary. Parliament will continue to perform its oversight role and nobody will stop it. The problem in Uganda today is that politicians and powerful individuals are trying to break down institutions so that they do not function as they should. In the end, issues are left to the accused persons to determine their own punishment. If you say that Parliament should stop investigating Mbabazi and Suruma, and the IGG should take over, it would mean that this institution is incapable of performing its oversight role over the executive. Many things will go unexposed and unpunished.’
It is a view echoed by Tororo Municipality MP Sanjay Tana, one of the MPs who have drawn the line against Mbabazi.
‘The IGG can also investigate the matter but that does not stop us from debating the NSSF report and even taking action on the guilty members,’ said Tana. ‘It can’t be a delaying move because Parliament has its own powers and the IGG the same. So in the circumstance that we punish the offenders and the IGG also finds them guilty of any wrong, she can also go ahead and punish them,’ he said.
IGG Faith Mwondha has been conspicuously silent since the NSSF-Temangalo land scandal broke in August. When she spoke out once, she only referred to an earlier investigation her office had purportedly done that found that the organisation was a ‘den of thieves’ without giving specific names. Should the matter come her way now, then this could easily be the hottest potato she has ever handled with the potential to burn her fingers irreparably.
Ssekandi holds trump-card
According to a survey of 180 MPs conducted by The Independent two weeks ago to establish the likely position they would take if the anticipated motion of censure against Mbabazi and Finance Minister Ezra Suruma finally comes to the floor of Parliament, more than half (63% or 113) indicated they had already made up their minds to vote for censure while 17% (31) are still undecided, 6% (10) would abstain and only 14% (26) indicated that they would oppose the censure motion.
Of 153 legislators, out of the total House membership of 333, who we did not speak to, 13 are ex-officio and therefore will not vote anyway, and one constituency, Kyadondo North, has no representation having recently lost its MP Kibirige Sebunya. Also, two MPs ‘ Jim Muhwezi and Kahinda Otafiire ‘ whom we did not speak to have publicly spoken against Mbabazi and would therefore most likely support his censure. Therefore if the remaining 137 voting MPs were equally distributed to the four positions (i.e for censure, against censure, undecided, abstain), Mbabazi could still have a fighting chance as those supporting censure would come to 148 MPs, 13 short of the simple majority required for censure.
It is the undecided MPs that both sides will be trying to convince in the next weeks as the House debates to either reject the recommendations of the majority report in totality or, as a compromise, adopt sections of the minority report that recommends further investigation by an ‘impartial’ organ like the IGG.
And the person to watch is Parliament Speaker Edward Ssekandi. Hitherto a respected figure, the Speaker has in the recent past made many questionable rulings that favour the state but are against established procedure.
For instance, during debate of the First Constitutional Amendment of 1999 when Ssekandi allowed a Bill to be tabled and passed in two hours and within the next hour the president had assented to it, making it law. The Constitutional Court later ruled that Ssekandi never complied with the correct procedure ‘ i.e between first and second reading, a bill should take at least seven days.
He also recently ruled, in October, that for a document to be tabled on the floor of Parliament it has to be certified by the author, meaning that if an MP came across a classified document and the state or author is not willing to certify it, then Parliament cannot entertain it!
Last week, Ssekandi added another of those when he ruled that the majority NSSF-Temangalo probe committee report be given to the minority to use as a basis for drafting theirs’, a view disputed by deputy speaker Rebecca Kadaga who ruled that the minority group should use the records of proceedings to write their report and that the two should be handed in at once. When committee chairman Johnson Malinga refused, Ssekandi ordered the clerk to hand over the report immediately. The report was in the end given to non-committee members, some of them ‘ including key accused Mbabazi ‘ were thus able to help the dissenting MPs compile a counter report.
Ssekandi has obviously either been under pressure from the executive to make such clumsy rulings or he stopped being impartial as his job requires and identifies more with the party than the country.
Given that he owes his current term as MP Bukoto Central, Masaka more or less to a technicality in law than to popular electoral mandate, having been controversially declared winner against DP’s Jude Mbabaali in the 2006 parliamentary elections, Ssekandi will likely be more inclined to make rulings that favour the party secretary general and the president. In which case he could easily rule that the matter be referred to the IGG for further investigation as President Museveni and Mbabazi may wish.
The next few weeks will therefore test not just the resolve of the 8th Parliament to enforce accountability but also Speaker Ssekandi’s statesmanship as Mbabazi struggles to save his political life.