In the confines of the Parliamentary VIP room last Friday, the opposition scored a major political triumph with a deal agreed with government to allow ousted Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago to return to office by February 2015.
The deal, which includes an agreement to pay Lukwago Shs 208m in salary arrears by this month’s end – if it sees the light of day – may end years of hostility between government, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) administration on one side and the opposition on the other.
Government succumbed to opposition pressure after it failed to mobilise the numbers to get the much needed World Bank loan of $ 175m (Shs 500bn) passed by Parliament on December 19. The opposition, which had more MPs in Parliament at the time, piled pressure on government to allow Lukwago back into his office before the loan is approved.
The World Bank loan, needed to finance the second Kampala institutional and infrastructure development programme phase II (KIID II), was among the items hurriedly muscled through Parliament before MPs broke off for the Christmas recess on Friday.
There were hardly 20 MPs by the time Parliament convened at 10am. The opposition side at one point had more attendees.
With government desperate to have the loan passed, it had to find a way to win over the loud opposition MPs, notably the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP) Wafula Oguttu, Betty Nambooze Bakireke (Mukono Municipality), Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala), Medard Lubega Sseggona (Busiro East) and Roland Mugume Kaginda (Rukungiri Municipality).
The request for the loan passage was first brought to Parliament on Thursday, December 18, but speaker Rebecca Kadaga deferred it to Friday after Budadiri West MP Nathan Nandala Mafabi raised the issue of lack of quorum. Kadaga skipped the Friday session, leaving her deputy Jacob Oulanyah to steer the stormy session on the KCCA loan.
On one hand, Oulanyah had to contend with the government side led by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda that demanded that the loan be passed while the opposition consistently raised legal issues including a lack of quorum to defeat the government bid.
With both sides deadlocked, Oulanyah adjourned the house for 15 minutes. The government Chief whip’s office used the break to send out messages calling NRM MPs to the House to vote for the loan. After 30 minutes, NRM managed to get only a handful of MPs and on resumption of the House Oulanyah invited Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central) to the floor. Nsereko asked the two sides, government and the opposition, to settle for a win-win situation to get the loan passed.
Rugunda then took to the floor and told MPs that government was ready for dialogue to resolve the political leadership deadlock at KCCA, which the opposition cited as reason for blocking the KCCA loan. Before Oulanyah put the matter to a vote, Muwanga-Kivumbi shot up and warned the speaker against circumventing the law.
“Why is it that every time a matter about Kampala is on the floor, it is always me in the chair? This is the last time I am entertaining KCCA issues if the leadership question is not addressed,” Oulanyah said, as he announced a second adjournment, this time for an hour.
To the opposition, government’s desperation, presented an opportunity to score some triumphs. When Rugunda realised that he couldn’t raise the numbers with a second adjournment, he invited the opposition for talks inside Parliament’s VIP room.
Oulanyah chaired the talks attended by Rugunda, ministers Muruli Mukasa (Security) and Henry Banyenzaki (state for Economic Monitoring) and the NRM caucus vice chairperson David Bahati.
The opposition was represented by Oguttu, Nambooze, Sseggona and Kivumbi. According to a source familiar with the talks, Rugunda excused himself at the start for 30 minutes to “consult someone” after Nambooze questioned his clout to make meaningful concessions.
“We don’t discuss with someone who is of no value because we had similar talks with [former Prime Minister Amama] Mbabazi around the same time last year and nothing conclusive was reached and the consequences were bad for him,” Nambooze reportedly told Rugunda.
On coming back, Rugunda told the meeting that he had been given full authority to discuss with the opposition. In the closed meeting, Oulanyah reportedly told the government team that the KCCA governance issue is not a legal matter but a political question that can be resolved politically.
After the deliberations, the government eventually conceded to the opposition’s demands. The opposition made three key demands. One government had to withdraw a case in the Court of Appeal that is delaying the implementation of Justice Lydia Mugambe’s orders for Lukwago to resume his duties as lord mayor.
On March 28, Mugambe in a landmark ruling overturned Lukwago’s botched November 2013 impeachment until conclusion of a case he filed before the High Court challenging the KCCA tribunal report that formed the basis of his impeachment. The second demand was for Lukwago to be paid his salary arrears before the year’s end. The lord mayor was last paid in November last year. With a monthly pay cheque of Shs 16m, the arrears have accumulated to Shs 208m.
Banyenzaki instantly made a call to KCCA executive director Jennifer Musisi to communicate an instruction for her to meet this demand. The final demand was for government’s commitment to be captured in the Hansard, the official record of Parliament.
Indeed, on the resumption of Parliament after the adjournment, Oulanyah invited Rugunda to brief the house on the outcome of the talks. Rugunda then read out loud everything he and the opposition had agreed in the closed meeting.
He promised that the issues keeping Lukwago out of office will be resolved before February 2015 when Parliament reconvenes from recess.
“I have said what I have said. I want the people of Uganda to know that we mean what we say,” Rugunda told The Observer on Friday.
Rugunda further told The Observer that government was aware Lukwago’s issues had both legal and political implications but they would address the governance issues.
“In as far as the [issues in] courts are concerned, there are well qualified people to talk about that,” Rugunda said. “But all I can say [is that] we respect the rule of law and that is what we’ll stick to.”
Contacted for comment late last week, Lukwago sounded cautiously optimistic.
“Well, we hope this time round the government is committed to what was agreed upon,” he said, “because we have had similar engagements in the past only for the government to play ping pong.”
Nevertheless, with the above deal announced to the House, Oulanyah put the matter of the loan to the vote and it sailed through. With political consensus achieved, the matter of quorum was not raised. In the words of one senior opposition legislator, this is not the first motion to be passed without quorum.
Source : The Observer