By Sadab Kitatta Kaaya
In the past, fights between President Museveni and parliament have broadened into uneasy standoffs but there’s no sign either side has learned anything about avoiding them.
In the aftermath of the Arua by-election violence both sides are inching closer to another fight. Ahead of an anticipated debate on the findings of a parliamentary probe into the Arua violence which led to the brutal arrest and torture of MPs and others, President Museveni, opposed to such a debate, has warned that he can do away with the House.
Museveni reportedly made the threat while addressing ruling party MPs at State House on August 27. He reportedly advised them to tread carefully.
“Between 1971 and 1979 (Idi Amin dictatorship – Ed), there was no parliament… Don’t think that you are in heaven; do what took you there. You should know where the power of that parliament comes from… in fact, I can do away with that parliament,” Museveni, also a retired army general, is quoted to have said.
“And we brought it [parliament] back, so do whatever you are doing knowing… ” Museveni reportedly said.
Museveni, according to MPs who attended the meeting, also took a swipe at Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga. The president reportedly faulted the speaker for instituting an adhoc committee to probe the brutal arrest and torture of MPs yet there was an ongoing court process.
The president said the committee hasn’t even bothered to interface with him yet it’s his convoy that was pelted with stones.
Parliament was meant to debate the report compiled by an ad-hoc committee set up by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on August 16 before the matter ran into headwinds.
ZAAKE, BOBI WINE
The committee carried out inquiries after photos of a badly wounded Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake was circulated on social media.
For three days, Zaake and Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine’s whereabouts remained only known to security agencies.
With mounting pressure in parliament, the government revealed that Kyagulanyi, who musically trades as Bobi Wine, was in army custody in Gulu, while MPs Paul Mwiru (Jinja Municipality East), Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality), Kassiano Wadri (Arua Municipality), former Makindye East MP Michael Mabikke and 30 other suspects were detained at Gulu police station.
The discoveries by the committee, testimonies of the torture victims and a medical report on Zaake by Lubaga hospital forced Kadaga to write a letter to Museveni, demanding for the arrest and prosecution of whoever was responsible for the vicious attacks on MPs, journalists and other ordinary citizens.
Museveni put on a tough face as he went to address the NRM caucus meeting that was also attended by some independent MPs leaning to the ruling party.
“I have seen that parliament set up a committee to investigate what happened in Arua,” a source quotes Museveni as having said before going on to express his displeasure with this move which he reportedly dismissed as a waste of time.
“Suppose you summon the soldiers and they don’t come, what will you do?” Museveni wondered.
There was silence as Museveni then launched into his own account of how the Arua violence unfolded. This is when he reportedly made the threat to dissolve parliament. Museveni also promised to find out how European Union ambassadors went to the Makindye Military Police barracks to see Kyagulanyi without following due process.
This was after Kabula MP James Kakooza asked him whether he had allowed the ambassadors to go the barracks.
“I find it funny for the ambassadors to go to a military barracks without following the due procedure. If the citizens cannot easily go there, how did the diplomats go there?” Kakooza asked.
At a press conference at parliament on August 31, MPs Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya), Mbwatekamwa Gaffa (Kasambya), Francis Mwijukye (Buhweju) and Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) dared Museveni to live up to his threat.
“We want to tell you, Mr President; go ahead and dissolve parliament. We cannot be intimidated by your threats. In any case, you’ll not be the first to do so, Idi Amin did it in the 1970s and ruled without a legislature, you can also go ahead and do the same after all none of the MPs was born in parliament neither will they be buried in parliament,” Ssekikubo said.
“Parliament as an institution cannot die at the whims of one person unless he wants to overthrow the Constitution. Parliament is not cabinet that he presides over, it is an independent arm of government whose roles and functions are clearly outlined in Articles 77, 78 and 79 of the Constitution,” the Lwemiyaga legislator added.
According to Article 96 of the Constitution, parliament can only be dissolved “upon the expiration of its term prescribed by article 77… ” And that term is five years.
Ssekikubo, Mbwatekamwa and Nambeshe are part of the 27 NRM MPs who opposed the December 2017 amendment of the Constitution to scrap presidential age limits amidst widespread public outrage.
Some of them have since identified themselves with Bobi Wine’s People Power movement. Their criticism of the president was boosted on Monday by the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Betty Aol Acan who also challenged Museveni to dissolve parliament.
This was at a press conference she addressed in Gulu. Several NRM caucus leaders declined to comment but the group’s vice chairman, Bukooli Central MP Solomon Silwany told The Observer that much as he did not attend the August 27 caucus meeting, it would be unwise for Museveni to dissolve parliament.
“It is not wise; he should instead work with parliament because it is a key arm of government in any democracy. I think that era of a government without parliament ended,” Silwany said.
Some MPs, however, said that the president could have made the statement in jest.
“So many times when we are in State House, we joke. It could have been one of those jokes that the president makes,” Bujenje MP Lt Patrick Kasumba said.
This is not the first time the president has signaled his intent to block parliamentary proceedings that go against his interests.
When MPs demanded the recall of parliament to debate the government’s poor handling of the death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda in 2013, it was reported that Museveni told Kadaga that parliament would only be recalled over “my dead body.”
While this was denied, it was clear that in several meetings, the executive pleaded, cajoled and, literally, threatened the speaker to avoid a recall of parliament.