Speaker Rebecca Kadaga yesterday rejected the recall of Parliament to discuss the executive’s perceived affront on the independence of the legislature following the controversial death of Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda.
Her decision has been attacked by the petitioners—and hailed by the NRM. The development comes off as a significant coup for President Museveni who had earlier on warned that the House could only be recalled “over my dead body.”
The petition to recall Parliament was handed to the office of the Speaker on January 7, 2013 by the lead petitioner, Ajuri MP, Hamson Obua. The attached list had signatures of 128 MPs, who reportedly wanted the House recalled.
But according to Kadaga’s letter to the petitioners dated January 15, the petition falls short of signatures, citing the withdrawal of some and alleged forgery.
“Prior to receiving your letter together with its attachment, my office had received written communication dated January 4, 2013 from five Members of Parliament informing me that whereas they had earlier appended their signatures to a petition to recall Parliament, they had now decided to withdraw their support to the petition for various reasons.”
Her letter adds: “Additionally, my office received on January 8, 2013 a written complaint from one honourable Member of Parliament strongly protesting and indeed challenging his purported signature in support of the petition.”
Delivering her verdict on the petition, which for sometime now has kept the president on his toes, Kadaga said it’s within the confines of the law for an MP to withdraw his/her signature.
“The signatures on the petition to the speaker can be withdrawn as long as the speaker has not yet acted upon the petition, certainly, at least, if the withdrawal of support is made even before the speaker receives the petition,” argued Kadaga.
Because some signatures were withdrawn, Kadaga noted, “it leads to the remaining signatures to fall below those set by the constitution. For such a petition, then it becomes ineligible for further processing.”
The Observer has learnt that Kole MP, Fred Ebil, is the MP who wrote to Kadaga complaining that his signature had been forged. On the other hand, NRM lawmakers Sempala Mbuga, Beatrice Rusaniya, Boaz Kafuda, Sara Nakawunde, Godfrey Lubega, and Onyango Kakoba wrote to the speaker demanding their signatures to be withdrawn.
“In view of the above,” Kadaga argued, “I find that the petition does not meet the requirements as set out in article 95(5) of the constitution and rule 20 of the rules of procedure of Parliament of Uganda and I am, therefore, unable to act on the petition you submitted to my office.”
The Observer reported in its January 9-10 edition (see: How Museveni will fail MPs petition) that withdrawing signatures and alleging forgery were some of the strategies employed by NRM to kill the petition.
The MPs had sought to recall Parliament to discuss the dramatic events that followed last month’s death of their colleague, Nebanda. While some MPs alleged that she was poisoned, the government produced a toxicology report indicating that she had died of drug abuse. A pathologist appointed by Parliament to initiate a parallel investigation was arrested, as were some of the MPs who opposed the government line, resulting in charged MPs calling for the House to return from recess.
The MPs accused the executive of, among other things, undermining the doctrine of separation of powers. President Museveni made it clear from the outset that he didn’t want Parliament recalled. The president held several meetings with political leaders, including the speaker and deputy speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, to ensure he had his way.
There was even talk that the president was considering removing the speaker as she had become a problem to the ruling party in Parliament. Given the political pressure faced by the speaker, who is moreover deputy chairperson of NRM, the shortcomings in the petition that she used to justify her decision must have come as a godsend.
Not surprisingly, the Shadow Attorney General, Abdu Katuntu, believes the speaker made the “wrong” decision and in the process violated the constitution. He said Kadaga had erred by expunging the signatures of those who changed their minds. According to Katuntu, it is a general principle in law that once someone has appended their signatures, they cannot withdraw them.
“In this case, the Members of Parliament signed the petition and the lead petitioners stopped collecting signatures. Then how could the speaker, after the closure, rule that some members can withdrawal?” argued Katuntu.
Kabale Municipality MP Andrew Baryayanga said Kadaga should have followed the precedent set by the late former speaker, James Wapakhabulo.
“When 17 members wanted to withdrawal signatures from a petition to censure Jim Muhwezi [in the Sixth Parliament] they were stopped from doing it. This is a bad precedent and I think she [Kadaga] is sowing seeds of a bad legacy,” he complained.
Jinja East MP Paul Mwiru, a lawyer, said though he respects the ruling of the speaker, he believes it’s flawed.
“The speaker makes a ruling not bearing in mind that the grounds of withdrawal must be legally satisfying before it is permitted. I think she has abdicated her responsibilities,” he said.
Buyaga West MP Barnabas Tinkasiimire, expressed fear that the Speaker, who had won praise across the political spectrum for being neutral, had started acting like an appendage of the Executive.
“But she should be reminded that we are the ones who voted her to become speaker,” warned Tinkasiimire.
Kalungu West MP Joseph Ssewungu expressed fear that Kadaga’s decision smacks of intimidation by the Executive, while Terego MP Kassiano Wadri described the decision as ridiculous.
By press time, the petitioners were still holed up in a crisis meeting to plan a way forward.
“We want to sit and see what to do next because we shall not support the constitution to be violated,” Ssewungu told The Observer.
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