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Why Kadaga letter worries age bill MPs

Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga’s letter to President Museveni seeking an explanation to the invasion of Parliament by security agents and arrest of opposition MPs on September 27 has rattled some ruling party legislators.

The NRM MPs, who are the biggest supporters of the Raphael Magyezi bill, which seeks to clear the president’s last hurdle to re-election in 2021, worry that in writing the letter, the speaker may be gravitating toward mending fences with the opposition, the draft legislation’s harshest critics.

It is feared within NRM, according to sources, that the tone of her October 23 letter suggests that when the Magyezi age limit bill returns to the House for final approval, she could be less enthusiastic to mute opposition voices and steer it through.

At 76, Museveni will be ineligible to run for re-election in 2021 unless the bill is carried and Article 102(b) of the constitution is amended.

L-R: President Museveni, First Lady and Speaker Kadaga at a recent NRM event

Kadaga’s letter was copied to Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Internal Affairs minister Gen Jeje Odongo, Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura and the Commander of the Special Forces command (SFC), Col Don Nabasa.

In the letter, she appears to put the president, who is also her party chairman, on the spot. Questions are also popping up over her ability to tell the truth.

Top security sources say that, contrary to her public posture, the speaker was intimately involved in the planning of the invasion that has been widely condemned.

A senior security officer who asked not to be named told The Observer on November 2 that Kadaga is not so forthright in claiming that she knew nothing about the operation.

“We were with her all through. She was deeply involved in the planning and execution of that operation,” the security chief said.

Parliament’s director for Communications and Public Affairs Chris Obore, however, refutes the security officer’s position that Kadaga was a party to the attack.

“If she was involved, she wouldn’t have written that letter. By writing, it shows that she was not privy to the security arrangement outside parliament [and] by asking for information, she wants to know so that she can make better decisions on the matter,” Obore said.

On the fateful day, Kadaga suspended 25 MPs – mainly those opposed to the bill, before suspected SFC commandos stormed the parliamentary chambers and dragged them out. The arrests happened during the chaotic tabling by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi of the bill, which seeks to remove the 35 and 75 age limits for presidential candidates.

Several MPs were left with severe injuries. The most affected, Betty Nambooze Bakire (Mukono municipality) and Francis Zaake (Mityana municipality) have been flown out of the country for specialised treatment in India and USA, respectively.

Three others, Moses Kasibante (Lubaga North), Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West) and Robert Kyagulanyi (Kyadondo East) later survived grenade attacks on their homes. In days that followed, Kadaga reached out to the opposition to the chagrin of the NRM camp pushing for the amendment.

Speaker Kadaga visits MP Betty Nambooze in hospital

The pro-Magyezi bill MPs had passed a resolution praising and congratulating Kadaga for having steered the House through the storm that forced the entire opposition, and moderate NRM members, to boycott parliament until the expiry of the suspension.

Speaking days later at a gathering in eastern Uganda, Kadaga boldly said she couldn’t allow some MPs to stage a coup d’état in the House. So, the sudden change of tone is quite unsettling for NRM MPs.

The Magyezi bill’s steering committee is expected to sit this week to review things in light of current developments where Kadaga is seen to be trying to repair damaged ties with opposition MPs.

THE LETTER

In her letter to Museveni, Kadaga wonders how unknown people entered the chamber and started beating up MPs.

“I have had the opportunity to view camera footage of what transpired and noticed people in black suits and white shirts who are not part of the Parliamentary police or the staff of the sergeant at arms beating members. Additionally, footage shows people walking in single file from the office of the president to parliament precincts,” Kadaga wrote.

“I am, therefore, seeking an explanation as to the identity, mission and purpose of the unsolicited forces. I am also seeking an explanation about why they assaulted the MPs,” the Kamuli Woman MP wrote.

She demanded for the identity of the commander of the operation, reasons why MPs were arrested and confined at police stations.

Many in the NRM top hierarchy are reportedly not happy with the Kadaga letter. Some wonder why, instead of writing to Ruhakana Rugunda who is the leader of government business in parliament, she chose to write directly to Museveni.

“You also wonder why she had to copy the letter to the SFC commander instead of the CDF [Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Muhoozi] being that he works under the CDF,” the source said.

It is widely believed that SFC, the elite formation which guards Museveni and his family, conducted the infamous raid on parliament. According to security and NRM sources, Kadaga is suspected to have written to Museveni out of pressure from within the country and on the international scene given her hitherto admirable record of parliamentary leadership.

She is the current president of the African geopolitical group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Indeed, questions about the fracas in parliament came up during her interface with visiting members of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) at parliament’s conference hall on November 3.

The APRM delegation wondered why despite the encouraging things that other African parliaments can learn from the Ugandan parliament, embarrassing scenes were witnessed on September 27.

“For more than 50 years, we have never fought in parliament but there is a reason why there is tension in the country and that tension was also reflected in what happened in the House,” Kadaga said.

“There is a proposal to amend the constitution to remove the age limit so that people of 100 [years] can stand for president, something that is causing tension in the country,” she added.

She went on to explain the circumstances that led to her suspension of 25 MPs under the Rules of Procedure, and how the Leader of Opposition directed the suspended MPs not to leave, leading to the fracas.

The MPs being ejected by security officers 

“For about a week before we had that problem, the whole of this parliament was surrounded by military tanks…,” Kadaga said.

“What complicated issues on this occasion and unknown to me, is that it was not only the sergeant-at-arms who was here, there were other forces and when I found that [out], I wrote to the president and told him that I want to know who these people were because they are not known; they are not workers of parliament, they are not Sergeant at Arms staff,” she added.

Kadaga’s change of tone, according to the pro-Magyezi bill MPs, is out of the influence of Kasilo MP Elijah Okupa and his Bugweri counterpart Abdu Katuntu. The two opposition MPs are also said to have been busy over the past month helping Kadaga to mend fences with their colleagues.

During what looked like choreographed visits to the hospitalised MPs, Kadaga was in the company of Okupa.

“I was called by her office to escort her to see our sick colleagues and I have no idea why she chose me or why her office contacted me,” Okupa said on November 4.

Katuntu declined to comment on the letter to Museveni, but confirmed that there have been efforts to reach out to victims of the invasion of parliament.

“It is not about anybody helping her but there have been deliberate efforts to reach out to MPs who were affected by the crisis,” Katuntu said.

“Many of them had immense respect for her and had looked at what befell them as an act of betrayal by somebody they held in high esteem despite their political affiliation,” the Bugweri MP added.

sadabkk@observer.ug

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd