Opposition couldn’t look on as Museveni praised corrupt cadres
Kasese Woman MP, Winnie Kiiza, was recently named Opposition Chief Whip in the 9th Parliament. She serves in a Parliament where her husband, Yokasi Bihande Bwambale, is also an MP. Michael Mubangizi spoke to her:
Did your recent appointment as opposition FDC Chief Whip come as a surprise, or did you expect it?
I hadn’t applied for it; so, it took me by surprise. I was humbled. Even though I hadn’t shown interest, the party just trusted me and believed that I would deliver on their behalf, for which I am grateful.
So, do you have what it takes to deliver – since you had not planned for it?
That I hadn’t applied for the position doesn’t mean I don’t have what it takes; I do and was ready to serve my party in any capacity.
What does your work involve?
I coordinate the opposition MPs to ensure that they appear in Parliament, present their statements in response to government policies, and that they are fully prepared. I also coordinate between Parliament and other opposition whips to ensure that our members are in harmony. I do my work in consultation with the Leader of Opposition.
Previous parliaments have had a perennial lack of quorum. What do you intend to do differently to ensure that MPs attend Parliament?
We have to establish a culture of people knowing why they were elected. I’m happy that one of the issues covered during orientation was attendance. If members don’t attend, Parliament business is hampered. As whips of all parties, including government, we are working together to ensure that members come and that there is always quorum.
It is a matter of building a relationship with members and understanding them. The other issue is that Parliament runs co-currently with other parliamentary business; so, some members may not be present in the House because they are attending to other parliamentary business.
As a whip, I need to find out where each [opposition] member is and what they’re doing. We shall have time to meet and discuss with members who may not be present. I’m not going to be militant; it’s all about coordination and for that, you have to be friendly and, understand members with their different dimensions.
Are you empowered to take any disciplinary action on absentee MPs?
The only action I can take is to report them to their parties, which would use the disciplinary measures in their codes of conduct and constitutions to discipline them.
The Speaker will also be concerned about members’ absence because she is empowered to ensure that members attend.
Actually, we do our job on behalf of the Speaker, who is mandated by the law to suspend members who don’t come to the House or inform the electorate that their representative is not attending the House. If for a certain period a member is out of the House without any justifiable reason, he or she can be dismissed and a by-election held.
The opposition numbers in Parliament are very low compared to the NRM. Won’t that present a challenge in pushing for your causes in Parliament?
It is a challenge because sometimes even when we have some issues that should be given attention, the other side just uses numbers to quash it. But what we have shown the world is that it is not the numbers that matter but the issues we present.
Although we are few, we have been pushing for issues affecting people and we have been seeing government implementing them even when they don’t want to admit that they are implementing them just because we have raised them.
Aren’t some of your (opposition) actions, like the recent walk-out when the President was giving the state of the nation address, counterproductive, given that you are seeking consensus?
That one showed you the consensus we have as the opposition. The issue over which we walked out was corruption. The opposition, through the Public Accounts Committee, came up with a report pinpointing various leaders, who are now in key leadership positions in the NRM government, as corrupt.
When we put it to the head of state, he said those “cadres” are clean and we can’t do anything about them. So, the President says he is ready to fight corruption, yet he is glorifying the corrupt. We said we’re not going to accept to be lied to in broad daylight and just keep quiet.
Couldn’t you have waited and made your response while debating his address?
That was also a statement because when the President is making a statement, you are not supposed to speak. He is supposed to be heard in silence, and we also made our statement in silence. That is perhaps why you are discussing it now. If we had kept quiet, would you have known that we were against it? Although we shall still respond to the President’s address, he won’t be in Parliament to listen to us.
There are more women in leadership – the Speaker, you, women in key cabinet positions . . . Has the women’s movement finally achieved its objectives?
This is just the beginning. You’re about to see even more powerful women coming out. We want the world to know that given the opportunity, women can serve even better than men.
Until recently, Kasese was the only district in western Uganda where FDC had MPs. Could that have contributed to your appointment – as a reward?
In FDC, we don’t base our work on rewards. We appoint people we think can serve. If other [areas] didn’t vote for [FDC leader, Dr Kizza) Besigye, [their representatives] shouldn’t suffer or be denied an opportunity to serve. There could be other reasons for that and, in fact, it should be our interest to find out why they didn’t vote for him.
That’s the very reason members from those areas should be empowered to find out why their people did not vote for us, instead of concentrating on just the areas that voted for us.
In previous elections, FDC’s success in Kasese was attributed to Besigye’s promise to restore Obusinga. Did the restoration of Obusinga by the NRM government affect your support in the district this time?
I doubt. We’re still three MPs [from Kasese]. Christopher Kibanzanga didn’t seek re-election as MP; he contested to be district chairman, and what happened there was total thuggery.
I don’t think our politics was based on just Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu because if it had been so, FDC would have lost in Kasese after the restoration. It was just one of the issues that the people of Kasese were pursuing, but there are other issues, like President Museveni’s many empty promises.
When he started the bush war, we were among the people who gave him initial support. However, most of our people who helped him fight have never been considered, like they considered the Luwero war veterans. The few [assets] we had are no more –the railway is broken down; Mubuku irrigation scheme is now a grazing area; many of the things we had before Museveni came to power have gone down.
We’re saying, revive our things. We also want our roads worked on, which he has been talking about for some time. So, he answered question one (Obusinga), but the rest of the questions are still unanswered.
How does it feel to be an MP in a Parliament where your husband is also an MP?
It is not a special thing because he is in Parliament in his own right; we aren’t there as a couple. He is there as Hon Yokasi Bihande and I am there as Hon Winnie Kiiza, just like Janet Kataaha is in Parliament in her own right, not as wife to President Museveni.
But I feel it is a challenge in some ways. For instance, people imagine that we get a lot of government funds which should have been going to other people, which is true to some extent because, if there was a different person [as MP for one of our constituencies], the resources would go to that person. But then, the demands are also very high, plus we have different constituencies to attend to.
Won’t it be difficult for him to work under you as Chief Whip?
It’s not a problem. My work doesn’t require holding whips and beating up people; it requires having a personal relationship with the people you’re ‘whipping’. In our case, my work is actually easier because I already have a personal relationship with him. I’m not acting as his boss, but as a colleague.
If I’m going to Koboko on parliamentary duty, for instance, he’s aware. Some people have been having problems with their spouses, who are suspicious of them going on trips. That’s not a problem in our case because I know his parliamentary schedule and travels.
Doesn’t being together all the time affect your love for each other, in that you don’t miss each other?
Does missing each other increase love? It doesn’t.
You’re always together – at home, Parliament . . .
That’s even better for us. It makes our love stronger because you begin to appreciate each other more and more. It has brought us closer to each other than it would have been if we were in a long distance relationship.
Your last word?
The opposition is more than ready and willing to serve this country. We are ready to carry the mantle and give the country the best that we can. Although we are few in number, we have the potential and quality that the 9th Parliament deserves.