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‘Weakened’ Speaker Among faces humiliation from MPs

Leader of Opposition Joel Ssenyonyi signed the motion to censure parliament commissioners. (PHOTO/OMUNAKU ALINA PLAN)

Censure of Parliament Commissioners is a direct attack

COVER STORY | IAN KATUSIIME | The month of May has been a tough one for Speaker of Parliament Anita Among as she battled pressure from powerful quarters including President Yoweri Museveni, the U.K. and the U.S. governments.

On top of that she has faced a gnawing challenge from a section of MPs seeking to censure four colleagues from her inner circle in a parliament that she previously held firmly in check but now appears too weak to restrain.

Trouble started late on April 30 when the UK announced sanctions on three high profile Ugandan politicians including Speaker Among. Deputy Foreign Secretary, Andrew Mitchell said it is the first time the UK government had used the Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions regime on individuals involved in corruption in Uganda.

Then on May 21 it emerged that a section of MPs were preparing a motion of censure of four colleagues, all of them close confidants of Among on the all-powerful Parliamentary Commission. Seats on the Parliamentary Commission which is the government body of the assembly are considered cushy postings.

Trouble for the four stems from a decision overseen by the Speaker to dole out Shs1.7 billion to them as “service awards” in March 2022. Former Leader of Opposition Mathias Mpuuga got Shs500 million, while Shs400 million each went to Solomon Silwany (Bukooli Central), Esther Afoyochan (Zombo Woman), and Prossy Mbabazi (Rubanda Woman).

Then a letter dated May 23 from President Museveni to the Speaker demanding she explains whether she owns a house in London was leaked to the press. In the letter, Museveni appeared to doubt information Among had earlier given him.

“I have got information that is contrary to what you told me, that you, indeed, own a house in London,” he wrote, “Do you own that house or are you renting it?”

Speaker Anita Among

Finally, to cap a bad month for Speaker Among, the US on May 30 announced it has imposed sanctions on her, her husband Budiope County MP Moses Magogo and a slew of other officials over corruption and serious abuses of human rights. It said Among was sanctioned “due to involvement in significant corruption tied to her leadership” of Uganda’s national assembly.

While Among has denied owning property in the UK and has said the UK and U.S. sanctions against her are in retaliation for the parliament of Uganda passing an anti-LBTQ+ law in 2023, she is yet to show her cards on the move by MPs to censure members of her inner circle.

The censure motion attempt is being seen as a direct attack on her and her failure to react as an indicator of either much more pressure she has to deal with or how weakened she has become.

By the end of week, the mover of the censure motion, Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga County) announced they had collected 131 out of the 177 signatures required to move the motion.

The censure gathered momentum when Leader of Opposition Joel Ssenyonyi appended his signature on May 28 to see the censure through. The LOP sits on the Parliamentary Commission so his support for the censure motion is a slap in the face for Speaker Among who chairs the body. Among herself has been under fire since the year started for misuse of taxpayers’ money.

Sarah Opendi, Tororo Woman Representative, and one of the leaders of the censure motion, told The Independent about the procedure of the censure. She said after raising the required number, they will submit the list to the Clerk of Parliament and after that, the Speaker must present the motion on the floor of Parliament within fourteen days. If that happens, it will be a humiliating moment for Among.

Events around censure in parliament are often uncertain as they involve backdoor deals but all indications were that the required signatures could possibly be raised this time to censure the commissioners in an unprecedented move at Parliament. The House has 556 legislators including Ex-Officio members (Ministers who are not MPs).

For those who had signed it, it was jubilation for what they termed as action taken against corruption.

“We are signing this censure motion to show that once an illegality happens, there must be sanctions,” said Ssenyonyi, “For us in NUP, it vindicates us because when we raised an alarm over this regarding our commissioner, some people thought this is an internal party fight.”

Theodore Ssekikubo

FDC Chief Whip Yusuf Nsibambi led some of his party MPs in appending their signatures. Nakaseke South MP Luttamaguzi Semakula signed but expressed caution and skepticism about the process.

“You should walk the talk, now that I have appended my signature, and you know the processes that will take to eject these Commissioners, because when you talked about the Shs23M, at first I thought it was Shs1.7Bn, but when you discovered that these same people awarded themselves a monthly Shs23M salary, that is how I had to come and sign,” he told fellow MPs.

“Let the public know that we were never given Shs25m which they are alleging and I am signing, trusting you. This is my last trust in you, if you don’t finish on what you have started, fire will burn you,” he warned. There was a rumour that MPs who were not pro-censure had received Shs25m adding intrigue and subterfuge to the process.

Reports emerging suggest that there was an alteration of the minutes of the meeting in which commissioners gave themselves service awards. This is according to court documents in a case filed at the Anti-Corruption Court in a private prosecution filed by lawyer Male Mabirizi. The awards were controversial because in Mpuuga’s case, it ‘was personal to holder’ for his time as Leader of Opposition.

The censure reached a crescendo when Persis Namuganza, the Minister of State for Housing, joined the fray. Namuganza was censured by parliament last year in a scheme engineered by Speaker Among after the two had a bitter fall out. She used the opportunity to lambast Among for corruption and misuse of taxpayers money. She also urged Ugandans to vote out MPs who do not sign the censure motion as a way of punishment for betraying the electorate.

Namuganza took a swipe at Mpuuga who was one of those cheering her censure. “Hon Mathias Mpuuga mobilised Opposition MPs against me saying they want integrity. Where’s his integrity right now? If he can get Shs500 million as a service award, which service did he provide and to whom?”

Namuganza’s censure hit a dead end when the President did not sign off on it. The move dealt a blow to Among who would have used the opportunity to consolidate her power in the House. Rather than read the room on what many considered high handedness, Among went after critics and appeared vindictive to MPs and anyone who dared to cross her.

The tables have turned quickly. Not only is Namuganza still firmly in place as minister but she is turning up the heat on the beleaguered Speaker.

Meanwhile Opendi and Ssekikubo have been making the rounds in the halls of Parliament gathering more signatures for the censure although some MPs were undecided on the matter.

Charles Ayume Koboko Municipality told The Independent he had not signed the motion yet and needed to acquaint himself with it more.

“I am not around. But if I get the opportunity, I will sign it,” he said, “I will need to acquaint myself with the merits of the motion.”

Other MPs said they did not have time to sign the document as they were busy in their constituencies.

Others who have not signed the petition have advanced various reasons. Bugweri County MP Abdul Katuntu said as the Chair of the Rules and Privileges Committee of Parliament, he is an arbiter in the process. Katuntu said he cannot be party to the process that would accuse MPs who would potentially end up in his Committee.

Bukanga County MP Nathan Byanyima said he would not sign the motion because of the past experience in censuring Namuganza. “When I censured the Minister, people asked me, did we send you to censure Ministers or we sent you to work for us? As somebody who has been in it, I would like something to be transparent so that you can package something and it succeeds,” he said. Byanyima also defended Mpuuga saying the former LOP did a good job. His worry is that MPs like him are being threatened for refusing to approve the motion.

Other prominent MPs who have declined to sign the motion include Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba and Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Semujju.

Mathias Mpuuga

Censure politics

Although the current censure motion was fronted to deal with a case of corruption and abuse of funds, the current parliament has used censure, which is a disciplinary measure against errant behavior, as a tool for settling political scores. The worst case scenario was Namuganza’s censure early last year.

In January 2023, MPs appeared before Parliament’s Select Committee on the matter to supposedly table evidence to support the censure motion against Namuganza, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Thomas Tayebwa had appointed the committee, an action which he carried out on the Speaker’s bidding.

MPs presented video footage streamed where Namuganza allegedly made offensive statements against Parliament and Among which the Committee was supposed to consider and act on.

In the end, Parliament’s Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline, presented a report that was adopted by the House. The committee recommended Namuganza’s removal from office over misconduct and utterances believed to undermine the integrity of Parliament. Speaker Among wanted Namuganza disciplined so badly that she implored Tayebwa to cut short a trip from abroad to preside over the censure.

The President vetoed the censure. But it was not the first censure motion in the parliament where Among had taken over power. Early on in the eleventh parliament, National Unity Platform MPs had wanted to censure Security Minister Jim Muhwezi over torture of opposition figures.

The motion failed not because of numbers but because there was consensus that Muhwezi was not the central figure in the kidnappings and torture dungeons where hundreds of Ugandans have been held since the 2021 election. His ministry though presides over security agencies; CMI, ISO which are said to be behind the torture.

The botched censure of Namuganza was in the same spirit in which Among wanted Mityana Municipality MP, Francis Zaake removed from the Parliament Commission. Before the case was even concluded, Among had directed officers to withdraw Zaake’s privileges such as his official vehicle and security detail.

Zaake accused Among then a Deputy Speaker of playing the role of judge, jury and executioner in the matter against him. Zaake’s case thrust the Clerk to Parliament in the spotlight over possible abuse of office.

The committee hearing Zaake’s case summoned the clerk to explain the circumstances under which Zaake’s privileges as a parliamentary commissioner were withdrawn. Ordinarily the clerk stays above the fray when it comes to politicking in parliament. But in this case, the Clerk was 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 meant that an administrator of Parliament and also a non-partisan figure in his position as Clerk, was going to be sucked in the unending battles between the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP). To some parliament watchers, it was a debasing of the office.

Finally on March 10, 2022, the parliament resolved to remove Zaake from the Parliamentary Commission for alleged indiscipline based on a report by the Rules, Discipline, and Privileges Committee chaired by Abdu Katuntu.

But Zaake petitioned the Constitutional Court which invalidated the parliamentary resolution to remove him. In a majority decision with four judges in favor and one in opposition, the Court ruled that the then Deputy Speaker Among, who presided over the matter, had violated the principles of natural justice by not recusing herself as the complainant.

The Constitutional Court also found the resolution evicting Zaake was passed without quorum and that the motion had been irregularly added to the order paper. The Justices noted Parliament breached its own rules of procedure. At the time, then Deputy Speaker Among was at the ascent of her power and was possibly goaded along her poodles, including mover of the anti-Zaake motion Gulu City Bardege-Layibi Division MP Ojara Mapenduzi.

Today, most of these are quiet as the noose is being tightened around Speaker Among. Even with the Parliament Director of Communication Chris Obore and Among’s Principal Press Secretary Joseph Sabiti whimpering on like dogs too scared to bark, the Speaker has taken up her own defense in the court of public opinion.

She was again on the defensive after the letter written by President Museveni on May 23 asking her about her properties in the UK surfaced on social media.

In a log rant posted on X (formerly Twitter), Among appeared to accuse the UK of uttering falsehoods against her.

She said: “Since the UK government claims I own property, it should be prudent of them to state which property I own as Anita Annet Among.”

She doubled down on the assertion that she was being targeted for the Anti-Homosexuality Act passed by parliament.

Hardly had Among held her breath when another wave of sanctions, this time from the U.S., landed on her head on May 30. The U.S. State Department noted, “Speaker of Parliament Anita Among is designated due to involvement in significant corruption tied to her leadership of Uganda’s Parliament.” Among was sanctioned alongside her husband Magogo, also FUFA President, with whom they have had lavish displays of wealth. The Speaker must now hope June will bring less pressure than May.

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