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Suspension of opposition MPs casts doubt on parliaments independence

By Dicta Asiimwe

While speaking to The Independent on April 28, 2010, the government chief whip Daudi Migereko said: It is not realistic to expect a completely independent parliament, which is why our constitution provides for the government chief whip to be a member of cabinet.

This independence of the legislature suffered an even bigger blow in the eyes of the opposition following the Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s decision to suspend five opposition MPs on May 12 for disrupting a parliamentary sitting. They are: Odonga Otto, Michael Ocula, Geoffrey Ekanya, Beatrice Anywar and Abia Christine Bako.

Kadaga invoked rules of procedure 72 to 76. Flanked by senior ministers in government Kabakumba Masiko, Cryispus Kiyonga, Daudi Migereko, Omara Atubo and Matia Kasaija, Kadaga announced at a press conference that she would severely punish the MPs who heckled her into adjourning parliament on May 11.

The opposition heckled her after she refused the leader of opposition, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, a chance to make a statement in parliament about the ongoing voter registration. Kadaga also refused to allow the opposition to table electoral law amendments.

It seems the speaker wants to take parliament as if it is an NRM parliament and not a multiparty parliament, said Kizza Besigye, the FDC president, who was at parliament when the fracas ensued.

He added that he was surprised the speaker denied Latigo to make a statement about elections yet her political party, NRM, is a product of rigged elections.

UPC chief whip Okello Okello said Kadaga’s refusal to allow Latigo to make a statement on anything shows a lack of respect for the opposition in a multiparty parliament.

The leader of opposition shouldnt fight for space on the order paper, Okello said.

Kabakumba supported Kadaga saying the deputy speaker couldn’t have allowed Latigo to raise a matter about a subject that had already been discussed in the same sitting.

But, the opposition Attorney General Erias Lukwago accused Kadaga of killing the independence of parliament and turning the House into  classroom. He said parliament could suffer the same like the judiciary when an anti-terrorism military squad raided the High Court in 2005 to re-arrest treason suspects, including Besigye, who had been released by the judge. After the Black Mamba invasion of the High Court the judiciary never recovered its independence, Lukwago said.

Kadaga has created a crisis of confidence and compromised the independence of parliament, he added.

He said Kadaga’s conduct amounted to abuse of office and the opposition would challenge it in the Constitutional Court. He explained that the critical thing in Kadaga’s decision was not just the three-sitting suspension but it had stained the suspended MPs careers which they could only correct with an apology from her.

He said Kadaga should have asked the Rules and Privileges Committee to handle the issue so that the accused could get a fair hearing. He said her decision to suspend the MPs made her the complainant, witness, prosecutor, judge and executor.

Members of the opposition say they walked out to the parliamentary chambers to caucus and agree on the way forward after Kadaga blocked Latigo from speaking but were surprised when they came back to find the door locked.

However, Kabakumba argued that if the MPs were caucusing, they would leave the House calmly and close the doors behind them without disturbing their colleagues who remained inside.

How can she punish those who banged doors without punishing the one who locked the door? Alice Alaso asked. She said it showed the executive had influenced Kadaga into suspending the MPs, a charge Kabakumba denies.

Kadaga said she did not know the door had been locked because she was listening to the parliamentary proceedings.

Alaso warned Kadaga that the opposition will not look on as she denies them the right to speak. She said the opposition know their vote does not count much in the House but they want to speak for the record.

She said Kadaga denied them the right to seek permission of parliament to introduce constitutional amendments. The amendments sought to remove army representatives from parliament, restore presidential term limits and reconstitute the Electoral Commission.

Kadaga said she had never seen the amendments and therefore could not put them on the order paper.  However, Lukwago had a copy of the proposed amendments bearing the stamp of the speakers office dated February 25, 2010.

Its intriguing why the NRM had to block the amendments yet they could defeat the motion on the floor of parliament using their numerical superiority in the House. But probably the reason was to block the amendments before they are tabled so they are not on the Hansard record.

Some observers say donor pressure is forcing the government into panic, so they dont want the opposition to raise contentious issues in parliament which will easily be picked up by the donor governments. The situation may be more tricky now that the new government in Britain has a close relationship with the FDC. The FDC spokesperson Wafula Ogutu said the UK

Conservative Party and FDC have a memorandum of understanding to work together. The Conservative Party gave FDC money to buy bicycles for the partys district and county chairpersons and district heads of the Women League. The bicycles were meant for mass mobilisation.

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