At about 3pm on Monday afternoon, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga drove into parliament for a scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda.
Minutes later, Doris Akol, the under-fire commissioner general of Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), Christopher Gashirabake, commissioner for legal advisory services in the attorney general’s chambers, Moses Kaggwa, commissioner for tax policy at the ministry of finance, and one Mayende arrived at parliament.
Their mission was primarily to persuade Kadaga to block a motion by some MPs calling for an investigation into the Shs 6bn doled out to at least 42 government officials who played a part in winning at least $700m in capital gains tax from the oil dispute between Uganda, Heritage Oil and Tullow Oil.
Two MPs, Michael Tusiime (Mbarara municipality) and Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) had battled to move the motion until it was agreed to let an NRM MP do so. The two MPs were backed by their colleagues, Peter Ogwang (Usuk), John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya), Elijah Okupa (Kasilo), Denis Hamson Obua (Ajuri), Anita Among (Bukedea Woman) and Paul Amoru (Dokolo North).
Akol and her team’s presence at parliament stirred some commotion as journalists chased after them. The group vanished into one of the parliamentary offices. They were later smuggled into the speaker’s boardroom by Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa, in time for Kadaga’s scheduled meeting with Dr Rugunda, a source close to Kadaga’s office told us.
Though the premier requested for the meeting with the speaker, he delegated his deputy, Gen Moses Ali.
“The meeting was requested last Thursday, purposely to discuss the legislative agenda [processing of bills] and the performance of ministers,” Chris Obore, Parliament’s director of communications and public affairs, said on Monday.
When the meeting got underway, Kadaga reportedly ignored Akol and her team, limiting herself to the day’s agenda.
“Parliament had no prior knowledge of the visit of the officials who accompanied the prime minister and the government chief whip, and as such the meeting was limited to discussing parliamentary business,” Obore told The Observer.
As the meeting progressed, Nankabirwa brought up the issue of the Shs 6bn cash gift that has been christened the “presidential handshake”. She told Kadaga that Akol, Gashirabake, Kaggwa and Mayende were in the meeting to justify their share of the Shs 6bn sanctioned by President Museveni.
According to sources privy to the meeting, most of the talking was done by Gashirabake and Kaggwa who likened the ‘presidential handshake’ to similar handshakes the president has extended to sports personalities such as Dorcus Inzikuru, an award winning athlete, and Stephen Kiprotich, the Olympics and world marathon champion, among others.
Gashirabake also told Kadaga that such bonuses are not illegal within the civil service. Akol spoke about URA’s performance in terms of tax collections and how much money had been saved for them to deserve the bonus payments.
Kadaga was reportedly not moved. She told the visitors that she couldn’t stop the MPs’ motion for an investigation.
“When the matter of the now controversial oil bonus payments christened ‘presidential handshake’ came up, the speaker said the motion prepared by some Members of Parliament would be tabled. She advised [that] the minister concerned [should] prepare to provide MPs with an explanation,” Obore said in a statement on Monday evening.
Akol and her team walked out of the meeting crestfallen and declined interviews from journalists.
A few rooms away from the boardroom, MPs Tusiime, Among and Ogwang, among others, fine-tuned their motion. Unknown to them, at the Constitutional court, Justice Steven Kavuma was issuing an interim order restraining parliament from investigating the cash bonanza.
“An interim order is issued restraining parliament, any person or authority from investigating, questioning or inquiring into the impugned bonus payments and or staying all proceedings of whatever nature, if any, which may be pending before any forum whatsoever arising from the impugned payments until the main application No 006 0f 2017 has been determined,” Kavuma ordered.
Kavuma’s orders were based on an application by NRM supporters Robert Rutaro and Eric Sabiiti, a legal officer at the Electoral Commission (EC). But parliament appeared unfazed by the court order. Some MPs told The Observer on Monday evening that the speaker would invoke parliament’s rules of procedure to allow debate on the motion.
Indeed, as parliament resumed on Tuesday morning, Kadaga announced that the day’s order paper would be amended to accommodate the motion. Her announcement drew wild cheers from both sides of the house. Kadaga leaned on Rule 64 (2), which gives her discretion to determine whether debate on the motion would prejudice fair determination of the court case.
“Writings by courts don’t necessarily stop parliament from determining a matter unless the speaker ruled so. When you look at Rule 64(5), it tells you it is not the courts to rule in the House, but the speaker…,” Obore said.