‘Let us do our job,’ opposition tells Uganda's Speaker

Saturday January 5 2019

Uganda parliament probe

Abdul Katuntu (right) and Bank of Uganda team led by Governor Prof Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile (centre), when the officials appeared before the State Enterprises Committee. PHOTO | NMG 

By DICTA ASIIMWE
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By HALIMA ABDALLAH
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For the second time in less than six months, the Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament Rebecca Kadaga has stopped the Forum for Democratic Change from changing the leadership of the House Accountability Committees.

Ms Kadaga announced at a press conference on January 3 that the leadership of the Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) would stay beyond its tenure of two-and-a-half years, until it has completed a probe into Bank of Uganda’s closure of several commercial banks.

“I am the Speaker of the House, I am the head of this institution and my proposal is good for the institution,” she said.

FDC had appointed new leadership for the four oversight and accountability committees that are in the hands of the opposition. Abdul Katuntu chairs the COSASE Committee, deputised by Anita Among.

FDC has only been allowed to replace the leadership of the committee on government assurances, local government and the public accounts committee, which will hand over on January 13.

However, the leader of opposition in parliament Betty Aol Ochan argues that the Speaker must follow the existing parliamentary regulations and allow the opposition to do its job.

Ms Aol told The EastAfrican that she expects the Katuntu-led team to hand over come January 13, alongside other committees.

“The Speaker is the alpha and omega of parliamentary businesses but she is also governed by the rules of procedure, which she can’t dump at any time. It’s her choice to be a dictator or to obey the law,” Ms Aol said.

The rules of procedure mandate that the ruling party appoint the leadership of 16 different parliamentary committees, while the main opposition party in parliament is allowed to appoint heads of the four accountability committees.

Commentators say that as Speaker, Ms Kadaga has the right to guide the process of constituting committees, as it is crucial to how parliament conducts its business.

But Ms Aol says that the Speaker’s role has to be guided by the rules of procedure and in the case of Cosase, this has not been the case.

Constitutional lawyer and former Member of Parliament Wandera Ogalo said that the Speaker’s decision to keep Mr Katuntu as leader of Cosase was right, as changing leadership would delay the probe.

However, Mr Ogalo hastened to add that decision was illegal for it wasn’t based in law.

“The Speaker must exercise her powers in conformity with the rules of procedure,” he said.

As a solution, Mr Ogalo says the speaker should have sought the FDC’s advice and persuaded the opposition party to allow Mr Katuntu to complete the investigation of Bank of Uganda.

“If she cannot persuaded FDC of the need to keep the Cosase leadership in place, then she should stick to the law,” said Mr Ogalo.

Mr Ogalo said that the Uganda Constitution recognises cases where judicial institutions have to serve longer than their legally mandated periods. He cites the provision that allows a judge who has clocked retirement can serve out three extra months to complete his or her cases.

Jeopardy

Legal experts say Ms Kadaga’s move to extend Cosase’s term will jeopardise the legitimacy of the committee findings on the Bank of Uganda probe, with some members of the opposition saying the committee’s report will be quashed.

But it is the same Ms Kadaga who allowed the NRM-led committees to change leaders much earlier than the prescribed time.

FDC first appointed the leadership of accountability committees in August 2018. The ruling National Resistance Movement had been allowed by parliament to change the leadership of its committees in July 2018. But Ms Kadaga stopped FDC’s change, saying the committees should be allowed to serve out their full two-and-a-half years as guaranteed by parliament’s rules of procedure.

FDC waited for the term to end and asked that the committee leaders hand over on November 17, 2018 but the speaker asked for time to consult and that’s how they arrived at the January 2019 date.

Ms Aol says they are interested in the accountability committees doing well — which is possible even with a change in Cosase leadership as the new and old team can both work together to scrutinise the Bank of Uganda, she added.

To Ms Aol, the Speaker is “undermining and weakening” FDC by creating a parallel constituency to which its members can account.

Over the FDC has previously complained about what it terms attempts to undermine its position as the main opposition party in Uganda, citing the fact that for two terms now, it has been kept out of the East African Legislative Assembly.

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