Behind closed doors at State House Entebbe, President Museveni has held back and forth meetings with his ruling party MPs to plan how to marshal their numbers in parliament for the passage of the age limit removal bill.
Well-placed sources have told The Observer that the meetings started on Tuesday, October 10 when he met the core team that has for months been quietly working on the bill controversially tabled in parliament on September 27 by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi.
The Tuesday evening meeting was attended by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa, ministers; Kahinda Otafiire (Justice and Constitutional Affairs), Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde (Security), Mwesigwa Rukutana (deputy Attorney General), David Bahati (state for Planning) and Evelyn Anite (state for Investments and Privatisation).
These were joined by Parliamentary Commissioners; Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers), Peter Ogwang (Usuk) and Robinah Nabbanja (Kakumiro Woman).
Others were Doreen Amule (Amolatar Woman), Jackson Kafuuzi (Kyaka South), Magyezi, Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda South), James Kakooza (Kabula), Moses Balyeku (Jinja Municipality West), Solomon Silwany (Bukooli Central), Mariam Naigaga (Namutumba Woman) and Margaret Muhanga (Burahya), among others.
According to sources, the meeting discussed the strategy for popularising the bill in the countryside and its eventual passing in parliament.
Wary of the strong opposition to the amendment from within the NRM caucus, Museveni asked the meeting to generate a list of MPs whom he has to meet to galvanise support.
In this, Museveni wants to ensure that he has at least 320 MPs on his side physically present in the House during the bill’s second and third reading before it is eventually passed.
Article 262 of the Constitution requires a two-thirds presence of all members of parliament for any constitutional amendment to pass.
It is for this reason that he had invited the ‘rebel’ NRM MPs for a meeting. The Observer reported on Wednesday that Museveni has been reaching out to the ‘rebel’ MPs, namely Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Monicah Amoding (Kumi Woman), Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West), Patrick Nsamba Oshabe (Kassanda North) and Felix Okot Ogong (Dokolo South).
Others are Sam Lyomoki (Workers), Louis Mbwatekamwa Gaffa (Kasambya), John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya), Alex Ruhunda (Fort Portal Municipality) and Sylvia Rwabogo (Kabarole Woman) for a meeting following their October 4 letter in which they challenged him to disassociate himself from the Magyezi bill.
Their meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday but was called off after the group made what were deemed to be unrealistic conditions. In fact, during the Tuesday meeting with the pro-age limit removal group, Museveni was advised to ignore the ‘rebel’ MPs.
“We told him that it was not necessary to meet them because it would give them political mileage and even then, we can get the numbers required to pass the amendment,” a source that attended the meeting said.
Museveni is said to have taken this counsel and instead met MPs from the core team singled out for him. Some of those that were included on the list are mainly those seen to be sitting on the fence such as Buliisa MP Stephen Biraahwa Mukitale.
In the corridors of parliament, Mukitale, an Independent, is one of the critical voices to the amendment although he has not featured so much in the media.
He fell out with NRM in 2015 when he worked with civil society organisations and opposition political parties to compile the Citizens’ Compact on free and fair elections, a document that listed a number of electoral and political reforms, which were ignored in the final government Constitutional Amendment bill 2016.
He was part of the group of MPs who Museveni met yesterday (Thursday) at Entebbe. According to MPs who have attended the meetings, Museveni asked the lawmakers to tell him the issues affecting their constituencies which he then promised to work on.
“We need to move as a team and on the same level of development; that is why he wants us to tell him the challenges in our constituencies,” an MP who preferred not to be named said.
From this narrative, it becomes evident that Museveni is using promises of public resources such as good roads, electricity, clean water and refurbished health facilities in their constituencies as an inducement to the MPs to pass the bill.
Claims of such inducements were first made by the ‘rebel’ MPs early this week. (See: NRM ‘rebel’ MPs claim Museveni wooing them, The Observer, October 11).
Rwakajara and NRM caucus treasurer Mariam Naigaga confirmed attending the meeting but declined to delve into the details.
“Are you a spy? Why do you want to know what we discussed?” Rwakajara asked before disappearing into the parliamentary lifts.
Naigaga, on the other hand, said, “What we discussed is confidential, it is not for public consumption but we will brief the media after the caucus meeting [today, Friday October 13].”
It is understood that during the Tuesday meeting, Museveni assigned Dr Rugunda to coordinate the age limit removal activities. They also drew a memorandum which will reportedly be read to the ruling party MPs during their caucus meeting today.