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NRM faces shock test to its majorities in parliament

By Isaac Mufumba

Last week members parliament went native. They nearly had a fist-fighting in the House. The opposition MPs broke a door of the parliament to force themselves inside after being blocked from re-entering the House where they had walked out to protest the Deputy Speakers refusal to allow them table proposed electoral law reforms.

I just want to be on record that I am the one who broke the door, Aruu County MP, Odonga Otto, told a hastily convened press conference.

The following day, Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, cracked the whip. She suspended MPs Geoffrey Ekanya, Christine Abiya Bako, Bernard Ocula Nyeko, Beatrice Anywar and Odonga Otto over the fracas.

The opposition reacted angrily. Some of the suspended MPs threatened to take the matter to the Constitutional Court, a move that Minister for Regional Cooperation Isaac Musumba says is redundant.

The parliamentary rules say that a member shall on his/her first suspension neither enter the precincts of parliament nor participate in its business for three sittings. But the defiant MPs refused to leave the House. Secondly, a suspension cannot be extended into the next session of parliament. Effectively, the suspension was limited to May 12.

On the whole, however, the suspension raised serious questions about Kadaga’s administrative abilities and tested the strength of her authority.

The air around parliament had been charged since the morning of May 10. Members of the opposition felt they were being muzzled. Opposition Chief Whip, Kasiano Wadri, told the press that he had met Speaker Edward Ssekandi on May 7 and got a nod to make a statement on the flaws in the voter registration exercise.

On May 10, Wadri reminded Kadaga about that arrangement. On the morning of May 11, the House inadvertently discussed a matter related to the opposition’s concerns, something on which Kadaga based to dismiss the oppositions concerns and therefore block them. That was why she ignored attempts by Geoffrey Ekanya to raise a point of procedure, something that prompted the opposition to walk out.

In an unprecedented move, the doors to the chambers were bolted on the orders of Justine Lumumba Kasule (Bugiri Woman MP), setting the stage for acts of violence that compelled Kadaga to prematurely adjourn the proceedings.

They are very ill-mannered. She (Beatrice Anywar) abused Kadaga as if she were abusing her rival, Kasule said.

It is clear that emotions and not reason, informed Kadagas decision to suspend the five MPs. But given the tension that had engulfed parliament, any astute administrator would have waited for calm to return before taking such an action.

While the move was intended to help her assert her authority, it only served to undermine it. Her directive to the Sergeant at Arms to evict the recalcitrant MPs fell flat when they defiantly remained in their seats. All the opposition MPs roared as if in readiness for a fierce confrontation. Sensing impending danger and chaos, the Sergeant at Arms shied away from executing Kadaga’s instructions. In the face of this assault on her authority, Kadaga adjourned the proceedings to the following day.

In a statement to the House, Kadaga alleged that a woman had been caught with stones and coins intended to injure the Speaker. She tabled the stones as ‘evidence’. In a counter-statement, Wadri asked: How did the suspect beat all the security checkpoints and access the gallery? How come the suspect was not arrested for questioning? What are her particulars? Who was the irresponsible arresting officer that let the suspect go free? Kadaga could not answer. It was Justine Lumumba Kasule and Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi who promised to answer by May 19.

But the violence had always been lurking. The NRMs continued employment of the tactics of mob justice to stifle the opposition had earlier led to walkouts which had been inconsequential. This led to frustration that is now translating into resort to violence.

This is not about numbers. Even if they have the numbers, they cannot for example make a law that we should all be killed! Our voice and input must be heard. This is fundamental, FDC President, Dr Kizza Besigye says.

But prior to the drama, there had been an ominous sign that something was amiss. At the gates of parliament was an extremely heavy police presence, some in uniform and others in civilian clothes. Body searches were more rigorous and policemen were all over the corridors and doors leading to the chambers and the gallery.

The atmosphere was however relaxed on May 13 as government finally got parliaments approval to borrow US$100 million to purchase road equipment and fire engines to be distributed to districts.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Nandala Mafabi finally got to present the report about the misuse of Shs500 billion meant for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2007.

The report named the usual suspects. Vice President Gilbert Bukenya was indicted for abuse of office and flouting procurement rules. He was held liable for the loss of over Shs6 billion. The committee recommends that the appointing authority takes action against him.

Ministers John Byabagambi, Isaac Musumba, Mwesigwa Rukutana were indicted for flouting procurement  rules, abuse of office, influence peddling and causing financial loss of up to Shs2 billion.

Ministers Sam Kuteesa and John Nasasira were found culpable for contravening procurement rules to favour Euro Cars bid to supply BMW cars for the Commonwealth summit.

The report finds Security Minister Amama Mbabazi guilty of conflict of interest and holds him liable for the loss of US$1.8 million. Minister Hope Mwesigye was found liable for abuse of office and causing financial loss of Shs617 million.

Attorney General Khiddu Mukubuya was also indicted for abuse of office and causing loss of unspecified amount of shillings. The committee did its job. But the big question is, what next after the report findings? Will the culpable refund the money, be prosecuted or be administratively punished?

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