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Museveni words renew effort to censure MPs

President Museveni addresses the congregation at the Namugongo Catholic Shrine during the commemoration of Uganda Martyrs Day. He urged religious leaders to lead by example in the fight against poverty and corruption, and warned against promoting homosexuality.

President Museveni blesses Ssekikubo censure motion (PHOTO/Courtesy)

A number of lawmakers who have not appended their signatures say the motion is indirectly targeting to expose and weaken Speaker Anita Among.

When President Museveni stepped up to the lectern at Kololo Independence Ground, shortly after his Finance minister had read the Budget on Thursday, few could have predicted what his comments would have on an ongoing censure motion in the House.

On May 21, lawmakers Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga County), Joseph Ssewungu (Kalungu West), Sarah Opendi (Tororo District Woman), Patrick Nsamba (Kassanda North) and Alioni Odria (Aringa South) kick-started a process to collect at least 177 signatures from a possible 529 in the 11th Parliament. Reason? Four parliamentary commissioners, including Mr Mathias Mpuuga, the immediate past Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP); Ms Esther Afoyochan; Mr Solomon Silwanyi; and Ms Prossy Akampurira, were deemed to have illegally awarded themselves Shs1.7 billion.

“We are cognisant that the removal of those aforementioned commission members will restore the dignity of Parliament and also maintain and strengthen the public trust and confidence in the integrity of the institution of Parliament,” Mr Ssekikubo said during the launch of the signature hunt.

Before President Museveni gave what he called a “brief speech” after the Budget reading on Thursday, the signature hunt appeared to be crawling to a halt. Then the President said of the Shs1.7 billion service award thus: “Don’t involve me in your struggles with the [Parliamentary] commissioners and so on. That is another matter.”

Stop-and-start

Context is key here. Just when the signature hunt was gaining traction, with slightly 100 signatures collated whilst lawmakers were on recess, Mr Hamson Obua, the government Chief Whip, issued a directive on June 1 that slammed the brakes on the process. All NRM-leaning lawmakers were asked not to sign the censure motion. With the signature hunt losing steam, Mr Ssekikubo, on June 7, promised, and indeed made good on his threat, to name and shame lawmakers who had turned the whole process into a cat-and-mouse game.

On Friday, Mr Ssekikubo had a rare hard energy.

“We are no longer panicking, we haven’t. We have a big impetus from the President’s speech yesterday. The signature gathering gained momentum as we ended the day, today, we have 164 signatures,” the Lwemiyaga County lawmaker told journalists from the precincts of the House. “We hope to resume this on Monday when we shall be having the full details and by 164, we are falling short of 12 signatures. [By next week] all the necessary documentation and the process now would commence, but from this side, we hope the figures are good, we are doing well and as you can see, members are very strong.”

At Kololo on Thursday, shortly after the President had left the lectern and his motorcade driven away, with the turning of afternoon into evening, Ms Opendi, one of the architects of the signature hunt, told Sunday Monitor thus: “Let us now deal with the matter as Members of Parliament because these are own representatives in the [Parliamentary] Commission…let us act and stamp out corruption from Parliament. So let’s hold our commissioners accountable.”

New lease of life

On Friday, it was conspicuous that the signature hunt was the beneficiary of a new lease of life. Lawmakers, who previously were shackled, now were in many respects unconstrained. One of them, who now had conceptual clarity after Museveni’s cue on Thursday, is Mr Ibrahim Kyoto, the Budiope West lawmaker. He said thus: “I am here to make sure we stamp corruption out of this country…I hope my people in Buyende will be happy with me appending my signature to this censure motion.”

When Mr Ssekikubo undertook a name-and-shame tactic at the start of the past week, 146 signatures had been collated. He displayed those signatures on June 10. On Friday, with just a dozen signatures needed, the Lwemiyaga County lawmaker was confident enough to make the promise that he will formally notify the Speaker through the office of the Clerk to Parliament during this new workweek or thereabouts.

Critics will say such bravado from the Lwemiyaga County lawmaker is not new. When Mr Ssekikubo started the signature hunt in May, he told all and sundry that the 177 signatures would be collated inside a fortnight. The process, however, proved to be harder than he had initially imagined. On June 6, when Mr Museveni delivered his State-of-the-Nation Address (Sona) in Kololo, Mr Ssekikubo and Ms Opendi were repulsed by the lawmakers they courted for signatures. About 80 percent of the 529-strong lawmakers had squeezed into the tent at Kololo Independence Ground to listen to the President deliver his latest Sona.

Key hurdles

Some of the several stumbling blocks that Mr Ssekikubo and company faced, and maybe continue to do so, include the personal friendship lawmakers share with the targeted commissioners. For instance, Mr Ibrahim Ssemujju (Kira Municipality) and Joyce Bagala (Mityana District Woman) have deliberately distanced themselves from the motion in favour of their long time friendships with Mr Mpuuga.

Sunday Monitor also understands that a section of the anti-censure motion lawmakers reason that the same House, which reportedly allocated and approved the Shs1.7 billion service award to the commissioners cannot take action against the beneficiaries. These, among others, include: Mr Bumaali Mpindi (PWDs), Mr Milton Kalulu (Kagulu South), Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo) and Medard Sseggona (Busiro East).

Some eligible signatories to censure motion, including Mr Wilfred Niwagaba, the shadow Attorney General, have accused the movers of the motion of flouting both the Constitution and Parliamentary Rules of Procedures. Mr Niwagaba argues that it is not legally possible to impeach the former LoP and backbench commissioners through an omnibus motion. Mr Ssekikubo, who has been a lawmaker since 2001, says he has adequately done his homework and will not fall afoul the line.

A number of lawmakers who have not appended their signatures told Sunday Monitor that the motion is indirectly targeting to expose and weaken the House Speaker Anita Among. They are therefore hesitant to ruin their cordial relationship with the House’s presiding officer.

“There is no way you are going to impeach the commissioners and spare the Speaker who chaired the meeting, which approved the service awards,” said one of the lawmakers on condition of anonymity.

Earlier, the chairperson of the more than 30-member Parliamentary Rules Committee, Mr Abdul Katuntu, refrained from taking a position on the censure motion and also encouraged his committee members to do the same. The veteran lawmaker emphasised that “it is more likely the matter (censure motion) will be sent to his committee.” He also hastened to add that the law requires that the committee members should have no conflict of interest on the subject matter before the committee.

A number of legislators yet to append their signatures to the motion continue to demand that the motion be amended to include Speaker Among, who chaired the commission meeting, her deputy Thomas Tayebwa and all those who attended the meeting which awarded the commissioners. This group argues that the current motion is only targeting the beneficiaries and exonerating those who conspired in committing the illegality.

The fate of previous similar censure motions has also not helped matters, with some lawmakers citing last year’s parliamentary stand to red-flag Minister Persis Namuganza. To date, she continues to sit on the front bench.

Sub judicial matter?

On June 5, Mr Asuman Basalirwa (Bugiri Municipality) confronted Mr Ssekikubo in the full glare of the public. Mr Basalirwa, who is also the Justice for Forum (Jeema) party president, was displeased that Mr Ssekikubo had moved to seek answers to a question that is already before the courts of law.

Earlier, in April, city lawyer Male Mabirizi filed a case against the Commission over service awards. Equally, Mr Daniel Bwette, who described himself as a concerned citizen, filed a lawsuit before the High Court against the Commission, last month over the same. Against this background, some lawmakers reason that it is useless to sign a motion which cannot be discussed by Parliament.

Add to that the tinge that the motion plays into the interests of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party that reportedly has a score to settle with Mr Mpuuga and it appears Mr Ssekikubo and company have their work cut out. Yet, all said, Mr Ssekikubo remains confident that he will even surpass the 177 signatures needed to green light the censure motion.

What next?

In the event that Mr Ssekikubo gets the required signatures, Rule 110 (2) of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure proves instructive on what happens next. It states that “a motion for a resolution for the removal of a Commissioner shall be initiated by a notice in writing to the Clerk, signed by not less than one third of all the voting Members of Parliament, indicating their intention for moving the Motion for the removal,”

Further, Section (5) of the same Rule (110) directs that, after receiving the fully signed motion, the Clerk shall without fail put the motion on the Order Paper for discussion within a period of two weeks.

“A motion for the resolution under this rule shall be placed on the Order Paper, fourteen days from the date on which notice to remove the Commissioner shall have been communicated to the Clerk,” rule 110(5) states.

Upon debating the matter on the floor of Parliament, the commissioner(s) can be removed from the Commission, if the motion attracts a green light from at least half of the voting legislators, as prescribed by Section 6 of Parliamentary Rule 110.

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