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Why Museveni can’t defend Mbabazi now

As the Amama Mbabazi-NSSF land deal continues to dominate public debate, observers are surprised that President Museveni is reluctant to defend his man against angry NRM party members. The few times Museveni has spoken on this saga, he has been careful not to appear to be backing Mbabazi, his long time confidant. This has given the vocal group of top NRM leaders who want Mbabazi to resign a green light to pursue their party’s secretary general who is also Minister of Security. Mbabazi’s crime is selling his more than 100 acres of land at Temangalo in Wakiso district to NSSF at Shs 24m per acre which is considered exorbitant. Mbabazi and his business partner Amos Nzeyi together sold to NSSF more than 400 acres. Mbabazi is accused of peddling influence to secure the deal, and selling land encumbered by squatters, part of which is wetland, among other accusations.

His critics, including former health minister, Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi, and local government Minister, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, want him to refund the workers’ money, resign, or both.
This group, which has a sizeable following in Parliament, is even considering censure if the minister remained adamant.
MP Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), one of the several MPs baying for Mbabazi’s blood, has told The Weekly Observer that they are waiting for the report of the Parliamentary committee investigating the transaction before deciding on what to do next.
“Our patience is being stretched, especially when the minister continues to put up a brave face as if nothing happened,” said Ssekikubo.

The MP outlined what he said are the only two options available for Mbabazi: To return the money or resign.
If he doesn’t take any of these available options, Ssekikubo says, he will have left the NRM MPs with no choice but to censure him.
The MP added that there is overwhelming support for the censure motion in Parliament if it comes to that. “Why is he pushing us too far?” asked Ssekikubo.
 
The MP said he was now even more energised after the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) told the Parliament probe committee that about 46% of the land sold to NSSF is a wetland. Ssekikubo described this as “aggravated fraud” for which Mbabazi must take responsibility.
Another Mbabazi critic, Henry Banyenzaki (Rubanda West), said that Mbabazi “should own up and save us from the hullaballo of a censure motion”.
Like Ssekikubo, Banyenzaki was excited that NEMA had declared 106 of the 463 acres sold to NSSF [by Amos Nzeyi and Mbabazi] a wetland. Mbabazi had earlier said they were fish ponds. Forty of those acres are part of Mbabazi’s 100 acres. “He is in big, big trouble,” Banyenzaki cautioned.
 
Catch-22

So why is President Museveni reluctant to come to the aid of his man?
Another anti-Mbabazi MP, Margaret Muhanga (Woman Fort Portal), has an explanation. She told The Weekly Observer this week that Mbabazi is a liability to the party and she knows “Mzee (Museveni) cannot side with one man.”
Muhanga faults Mbabazi for being silent as a public enterprise (NSSF) flouted procurement regulations, for his personal benefit.
“This is a deal that went bad. It would be prudent of him (Mbabazi) to step aside,” Muhanga insisted.
 
Muhanga says many NRM leaders will support a censure motion against Mbabazi. “I know 90% of Cabinet and 90% of the Caucus will censure that man,” she said.
President Museveni has defended individuals facing corruption charges before.
For instance, he defended his brother Salim Saleh, against corruption allegations at one time, arguing that there was no evidence to pin him. In fact, the President has used the excuse of “no evidence” to protect some of his supporters facing corruption charges.
However, he may not do the same thing today because the political dynamics have changed. In a multi-party setting, party leaders at all levels wield a lot of power and the President cannot afford to antagonize them.

Museveni knows very well that the anti-Mbabazi movement has a big following.
Besides vocal Muhwezi, Otafiire and the MPs quoted above, there are several NRM leaders known to be anti-Mbabazi.
These include the Vice President, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, who has nevertheless remained silent throughout Mbabazi’s ordeal.
Mbabazi’s name came up prominently when Bukenya spoke out against what he called Mafia in the NRM plotting to pull him down.
 
Besides Bukenya, there is also NRM 1st Vice Chairman, Hajji Moses Kigongo. Kigongo and Mbabazi have for a while now been locked in a power struggle inside the party. Kigongo feels that Mbabazi doesn’t give him the respect he deserves. In fact, one time Kigongo refused to attend a meeting of the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) because Mbabazi had shifted it from the party headquarters at plot 10, Kyandondo Road, to his private office on plot 18A, Nakasero.

Hassan Basajjabalaba, the NRM chairman for the Entrepreneurs’ League, has also spoken out strongly against Mbabazi. He told him to resign in front of President Museveni, during the recent CEC meeting.
With this level of opposition inside his own party, Mbabazi finds himself in a situation where out of about 20 NRM Central Executive Committee (CEC) members – the top-most organ of the ruling party- at least 15 members would like to see him out.
 
Capt. Mike Mukula (NRM Vice Chairman, Eastern) may have been quiet but he certainly doesn’t belong to Mbabazi’s camp.
Museveni cannot risk alienating this strong camp by openly siding with Mbabazi. He could provoke a rebellion, particularly inside the CEC where the members can easily oust Mbabazi using their numbers.
Thus the President’s strategy has been to hide behind the investigation being carried out by the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises. The President has consistently said that the probe’s findings will determine the next course of action.

But like an NRM National Executive Committee (NEC) member, James Magode Ikuya, argues in an article in this news paper (see page 9), a political party should ordinarily have its own values and code of conduct. It can’t rely on what Parliament decides to discipline its member.

Mbabazi camp

What makes Mbabazi’s situation even more precarious is the fact that his camp is full of middle and junior ranking party and Cabinet colleagues, without much influence.
Senior Cabinet members such as John Nasasira (Minister of Works and Transport) and Sam Kutesa (Foreign Affairs) are said to be on his side, but their silence means he hardly benefits from their support.
Another senior Cabinet member named in Mbabazi’s camp is gender minister, Syda Bumba. She too is quiet.
 
Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere (Disaster Preparedness), NRM Chief Whip Kabakumba Mastiko, and Minister for General Duties, Adolf Mwesige, are also said to be Mbabazi’s supporters.
But the only active member in this camp has been Mbabazi’s own in-law, Hope Mwesigye (Minister of State, Local Government), who almost got into trouble with the Parliamentary probe committee for sending out text messages urging MPs to protect Mbabazi.

According to Muhanga, Mbabazi’s other supporters are “clowns” such as Buyaga MP, Barnabas Tinkasiimire, who has since been dismissed as “mad” by the anti-Mbabazi group after he made u-turn from opposing Mbabazi to supporting him.
Others in Parliament on Mbabazi’s side reportedly include George Wopua (Bubuulo East) and Abraham Byandala.
The third category of NRM leaders are playing the wait and see game on the fence, while others simply don’t care as long as their tuff is not under direct threat. In case of a censure vote in Parliament, this category could either abstain or vote either way.
 
What next?

That President Museveni faces a difficult task taking a decision on this matter is now obvious.
Muhwezi, Mukula and Saleh have argued that they didn’t get an opportunity to defend themselves, just like Mbabazi, when they faced corruption allegations.
Even Zoe Bakoko Bakoru, the former minister responsible for NSSF who fled the country after charges of mismanaging the Fund were brought against her, makes the same allegation. In fact, the West Nile politician even cites tribalism.
 
An attempt by Museveni to rescue Mbabazi is likely to give further credence to these claims, that Mbabazi is getting special treatment.
If the Parliament committee decides Mbabazi has a case to answer, Museveni might be forced to ask Mbabazi to resign his position as Security Minister. If the committee decides that Mbabazi has no case to answer, the President would find good reason to defend him.
As of now, it appears that the President is buying time, not really sure what to do.

Also, while President Museveni holds the key to Mbabazi’s ministerial post, he has no power to remove him as NRM Secretary General even if he wanted.
The NRM Secretary General or any other top leader can be removed on the following grounds set out under Article 42 of the party Constitution:
. Ceasing to be a membe of NRM
. Abuse of office
. Conviction that carries a  nine-month sentence
. Misconduct or misbe   haviour
. Incompetence
. Physical or mental incapacity

The process of removing a Secretary General is a long one. The disciplinary committee would have to conduct a hearing upon receipt of a signed complaint. The disciplinary committee must then recommend the CEC.

ssemujju@observer.ug

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