Grabbing gavel from Kadaga was the easier part
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | Until recently, it would have been impossible to imagine Omoro County MP Jacob Oulanyah sitting with maverick Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake to discuss national issues. But now they must, after Oulanyah, who has been deputy Speaker of Parliament, was elected Speaker and Zaake, who is one of the youngest legislators and firebrand of the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP), was a few days later nominated to be Commissioner of Parliament, the top most administrative body of the legislature.
It is a high powered forum chaired by Oulanyah as Speaker, and will include the Leader of Government Business at Prime Minister level, the Leader of the Opposition, Mathias Mpuuga, the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, and four back bench MPs.
Zaake, who has been a constant victim of the state’s brutality, might want to condemn the continued brutality only to cause the embarrassment of having the state harass a sitting Parliamentary Commissioner.
Oulanyah will chair parliament at a time of great confrontation with the opposition. NUP is the leading opposition party with 57 MPs. With hundreds of NUP supporters still locked up and many others unaccounted for, there is a likelihood that questions about those abducted will make their way in plenary sessions more often than not.
Newly appointed Leader of Opposition (LOP) Mathias Mpuuga, known for his eloquence and articulation of issues has been tipped as the right person to test Oulanyah’s leadership.
John Baptist Nambeshe, the new Opposition Chief Whip and formerly in NRM but who never shied away from going against the party makes up the new team by NUP that will put Oulanyah on the spot for how government business is conducted in parliament.
Military in parliament
There are also fears that the military invasion of parliament as seen in 2017 during debates on amending the constitutional presidential age limit could be a mainstay in parliament. Some people were shocked but perhaps not surprised when soldiers of the Special Forces Command (SFC), the president’s security detail, invaded the first sitting of parliament at Kololo Independence Grounds on May 24 during the election of the Speaker. A scuffle ensued as the SFC soldiers were involved in scuffles with opposition MPs which some saw as a harbinger for what lies ahead.
It only took the intervention of President Museveni for the soldiers to vacate the chambers even after the Chief Justice while presiding over proceedings ordered the “strangers” out, in parliamentary parlance.
The military has been carrying out abductions on supporters of opposition leader and NUP president Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine since the election. Many will be looking out on how firmly Oulanyah as Speaker presses ministers on making statements on the floor of parliament regarding the abuses meted out on opposition politicians in the country.
As someone seen as a loyal cadre to Museveni, Oulanyah may have a lot to prove for his stated impartiality to MPs belonging to NUP whose public following; the People Power movement, has proved to be a thorn for Museveni.
From inquiring about kidnaps, appointing special committees to probe government, resolutions condemning executive overreach, it will be a tall order for the former member of Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) turned NRM vice chairman and now Speaker, analysts say.
Oulanyah who has often complained about the quality of debate in parliament and hammered unprepared cabinet ministers during sessions, is expected to attempt major reforms.
“Things must change from how we have been doing them in the last ten years,” Oulanyah said after he swore in as the Omoro County MP. But how much can he do?
It only took a day for the balance of power to shift at Parliament. With the new Speaker making high sounding remarks about public service, gestures of reconciliation with some staff being recalled to work, and the wheeling out of the ex-Speaker’s personal belongings in rather unseemly haste, both the public and MPs and parliamentary support staff could feel the new changes coming to Parliament building.
Already, six seasoned legislators have been tasked to conduct orientation on Rules of Procedure for the large cohort of new MPs. Jacob Marksons Oboth (West Budama Central County), Abdul Katuntu (Bugweri County), Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East), Medard Sseggona (Busiro County East), Kennedy Obote Ongalo (Kalaki County), and Robinah Rwakoojo (Gomba West), have in a three-day seminar attempted to give the new MPs skills in the management and conduct as well as mechanisms of handling parliamentary business in plenary and committees through Rules of Procedure.
But according to some of the older MPs, the poor quality of debate was mainly a factor of a crowded House and in which only a few minutes could be accorded to an MP to make submissions. Oulanyah will not be able to fix that – at least in the short run. In fact, he might have an even bigger task lifting the level of discourse among 529 MPs where the previous parliament had 450 with a host of issues to air out in plenary sessions.
Finding work space for the new MPs to conduct business will be a big challenge for the new leadership, Oboth says.
“You can’t talk about quorum when you do not have space,” Oboth argues.