RUTH NANKABIRWA, 49, the new government chief whip, has previously served as state minister for Defence, Fisheries, and Microfinance. In an interview with Deo Walusimbi last Thursday, the Kiboga Woman MP for the last 21 years discussed her new assignment, MPs’ absenteeism, presidential age-limit, affirmative action, and a transition from Museveni. Excerpts:
Having served in various powerful ministries, how did you feel when you were named the chief whip last month?
I was very happy because the portfolio puts me at a senior ministerial level and it’s obviously an achievement and I look forward to performing to the expectations of many people.
You sound happy, but some people thought the president could have elevated you in one of the various ministries you served as state minister!
Yeah, I am happy because I have always been minister of state, but I am not only a cabinet minister now, but I am overseeing and tracking other ministers at cabinet and state level to the extent that I am in touch with all of them on a daily basis.
If any minister is moving away or he’s unable to perform in parliament, even in cabinet, they have to come to me and explain, and they have to seek permission whenever they want to leave. You don’t just leave without informing me and I sometimes aise that they stay because we want quorum.
So, it’s like being a prefect in a class and that means that you are ahead of everybody. I have to coordinate parliament, which is not easy and I also participate in cabinet by informing cabinet on issues of parliament on a weekly basis. And I communicate to the president more frequently than any other minister because there are issues he feels he must contribute to.
My whipping [also] goes beyond parliament and cabinet, to the public. The policies that we pass here are a consumption of the public and if you don’t follow up on the implementation of those programmes, then we [Government] are not doing a good service to the people.
How prepared are you for such a huge challenge?
I am a girl-guide, and I am always prepared.
Your predecessor Kasule Lumumba initiated disciplinary action which led to the ejection of at least four NRM members what are you going to do differently to curb absenteeism which is on the rise among NRM MPs?
Well, absenteeism is part of indiscipline, but there are other forms of indiscipline, like opposing caucus positions and I think the Ssekikubos are always in the House, and their case was different.
The general problem now is [not] being present in the House because the other one[opposing caucus positions] was tamed by the action taken by former chief whip together with former secretary general. But MPs don’t choose they are forced to be absent by the prevailing political environment where their constituencies are on fire.
The voters are looking for them the supporters expect them to be attending every function, because our opponents are on ground. So, what I have already started doing although I am not doing it alone, … I am closely working with the speaker’s office and I am grateful to the speaker and deputy speaker because we are working together on the issue of quorum.
And so far, so good and we’ll be taking roll calls and you the press are always there to capture those [MPs] who are not present. This [roll call] will obviously impact on us negatively in the constituencies if we are not in the House.
So, it will force us now to take priorities critically and to reorganize our programmes. So, you can decide to shift to working on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday so that on Tuesday, you are in the house.
For those who have nearby constituencies, you can even use Tuesday morning because plenary is always in the afternoon, but we also need quorum for the sessional committees and, to me, that is where the biggest problem lies now.
We are scrutinizing policy statements in the committees, we have to concentrate and we need to be there in big numbers… so I am calling on my colleagues to attend committees in big numbers to scrutinize these policy statements to guide us as government. I have already held a meeting with all the chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of the committees and we are working out a strategy that will ensure that the work of these committees doesn’t stall because of lack of quorum because we are time-barred and the budget calendar is squeezing us.
You talked about the recent roll call by the deputy speaker, would I be right to believe that you had a hand in it?
No, you wouldn’t be right because you will be indicating that I influenced the speaker, but the chief whip and the speaker, had similar minds.
You have said that the ejection of a group of four MPs tamed opposition to caucus positions but MPs such as Gilbert Bukenya and Amama Mbabazi recently snubbed the NRM retreat at Kyankwanzi and some are promoting their presidential bids for 2016. What are you doing about such individuals?
We received apologies from some people who didn’t attend Kyankwazi, but others didn’t pass on their apologies so, it’s not only Mbabazi and Bukenya who didn’t. But for these two, I think the writing is on the wall in black and white about what their intentions are. We will not pretend these are two people who are planning to contest for presidency and if you are contesting and you have plans, you don’t sit together with your opponent and [strategise].
But they are both members of NRM.
It’s okay [because] they will have to go through the normal structures of NRM. If it’s a delegates’ conference which we are planning to take place in October and contest, it will be okay because we cannot stop them. The NRM caucus, which passed sole candidature in Kyankwanzi, is one of the recognised organs, but there are other organs of NRM which may have different views from what the caucus had in passing the sole candidacy and it’s not [that] all members of caucus support it.
For example, Mbabazi is a member of caucus but he feels that he should contest. Bukenya has never declared that he is no longer a member of NRM which means that he is one of members with divergent views, but democracy dictates that majority take it all.
So, we expect anybody who wants to contest with the incumbent within NRM, to definitely follow the procedure of electoral process of NRM and we are waiting for them in Namboole and the winner will take it and we expect losers to rally behind the winner.
And should they fail to rally behind the winners?
Well, there is a provision for independents, but others might need to quit NRM, which is okay. Those who want will quit because they will have lost. When they quit, they will join other parties or stand as independents.
You vowed to compile a list of ministers who dodge parliament and report them to the president…
Ministers don’t dodge cabinet or parliament, but they fail to attend because of other duties for example, if there is a special cabinet [meeting], it takes precedent for its members.
So, a minister can’t attend parliament when there is a special cabinet. It falls on any day and it’s always chaired by the president and you find this cabinet taking a longer time eating the parliamentary work and it’s in Entebbe. So, what does that minister do?
I have already recorded every time we are in parliament, I do a duty roster I record ministers who attend, those who attend and don’t finish and those who don’t attend at all and I apportion percentages of performance and I draw it to their attention.
If you are a ministry of 13, 10 ministers and you fail to raise four ministers in parliament you have to explain to me what really happened so that together, we look for a solution.
Since you joined CA in 1994 as the Kiboga Woman delegate on affirmative action, you have never turned back. What do you make of the proposal to scrap the affirmative action?
I am happy to be one of those who participated in the debate and promulgation of the 1995 Constitution which has a provision on affirmative action. We knew that time would come when both genders are moving at par.
Therefore, we provided for a review of the affirmative action… you don’t just wake up and say you are abandoning it. We actually need a referendum on affirmative action because affirmative action towards women does not stop on MPs only, it goes up to LC-I.
People must also know that affirmative action doesn’t stop at numbers it also means vertical progression. I didn’t start as a minister, I came to parliament as an MP, but I am vertically progressing. If it’s the one that has kept me progressing vertically, you may kill the aantage if you remove it.
The other example is the speaker of parliament [Rebecca Kadaga] she’s a very big person. One would think that she can now go and fight with men and women because that is how you measure strength, but you may end up losing her because we want vertical progression as well. We want to see Kadaga serving the world, not the nation only and I am praying that she goes beyond to help other women in the world.
Vertical progression includes one’s elevation even to become the president would you support Kadaga if she made up her mind to stand against Museveni?
That is not there because she hasn’t declared and I am one of those who supported the [Museveni] sole candidature proposal. So, I can’t turn around.
Leader of Opposition Wafula Oguttu told us in a recent interview that Kadaga leans towards Museveni against the opposition and from the positions you have taken on the floor on various contentious issues you are obviously a radical character.
Assuming Oguttu is correct, how do you project a combination of a speaker who is not neutral and a radical government chief whip?
I have also heard the LOP after the by-election they lost claiming that there was rigging and that the EC wasn’t impartial. So, when they lose on a motion in parliament, they will say the speaker is biased in favour of state if they win, they will sing “our lady.”
So, they keep on changing positions, but Kadaga is one of ladies whom you can’t predict. Even if she’s a vice chairperson of NRM (Eastern), you can’t just go to bias her she is objective. So, if you lose it, then you go on quarreling that she’s biased…
You were also recently pinned by parliament’s committee report for having taken part in mismanagement of funds meant to uplift market vendors…
I wasn’t convinced by that report because the recommendations were based on misinformation.
Then what are you planning to do about it now that your name was involved into this scam?
I don’t feel the danger it has caused because it has no ground. Even if CIID or IGG investigates, they will find nothing anyway, investigations were done and that is why I am not bothered.
The allegations in the report were based on the milk coolers which are on ground in my constituency and I am the Kiboga Woman MP who is supposed to lobby for them, and the committee said that that was abuse of office I am yet to see a minister or a leader who leads others and leaves out his or her people out. It’s not true that there was influence peddling and Kiboga district was one of the beneficiaries.
Would you support the proposal to lift presidential-age limit?
No, personally I will not.
It’s not necessary because [the] 75-year [cap] is a reasonable age for one to relinquish him or herself, from that [presidency] job because it’s so tasking. If I see how President Museveni is really doing the work, if you really need the person to be in the driving seat, at 75 years, one must rest.
You can only be used on consultation but when there is somebody who is driving because you still have wisdom, but [you don’t have] the energy to move.
So, you can sit there as a senior citizen who can aise. So, personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to lift the presidential-age limit.
That would mean that President Museveni can’t rule beyond 2021. Do you see someone who has been groomed to ably take over from Museveni now that people like Mbabazi, Bukenya have been condemned?
Nobody has [been] condemned, we are just saying that Museveni is still qualifying and that is not a condemnation they are not matching with the incumbent and they can’t put on Museveni’s shoes now because he’s still fit.
But after 2021, I am sure that there are many people especially those who have been pro-Museveni. They have been learning from him, patience, commitment and I am sure when Museveni ceases to be the president, you will see many coming out.
That leaves it too wide is there an individual you can point at?
No, I don’t want to put that person in danger. By the way, that is why I don’t support the people who have been asking for an heir from Museveni because he will make that person insecure for nothing. Then you begin spending money on that person by providing extra security because you have identified that person because there are many who want [the position].
So, those people who have been around, have learnt and seen how President Museveni who has been a darling of many, talented and blessed by God, has been running the country, will come out because it will not be like they are opposing Museveni and the conflict will not be there.
He [Museveni] will be there aising us and we really need him to be in NRM. So, he will be playing a role in party and nation building because it’s a continuous [process].
And you will be surprised because there are people who are quiet there [are people] who have qualifications, but they just didn’t want to contest with President Museveni because he was doing the work [well].
What kind of legacy would you want to leave behind?
A very hard-working, transparent and loyal member of parliament to my party and patriotic to my nation.
Source : The Observer