The much-needed parliamentary approval of 72-year-old Sam Maale as the country’s new ambassador to Cairo, Egypt, came after a fierce debate that swerved from his advanced age to his unkempt appearance.
Maale made the list of new ambassadors announced on January 27 by President Museveni. He will replace Richard Laus Angualia who resigned in 2015 to contest the Maracha parliamentary election that he lost.
Others on the list included former Defence minister Crispus Kiyonga and Busoga’s king, Kyabazinga William Gabula Nadiope IV. Some MPs argued that Maale, born in 1945, is too old to be an ambassador and more so to Cairo, a mission that deals with many hot-button security issues.
They also queried his seemingly-unkempt nature, which they said mirrored non-seriousness. According to insider sources, when questions were asked, MPs noticed Maale had some hearing difficulty and his hair was littered all over his coat.
The hair on his coat, according to some MPs, demonstrated that due to his advanced age, Maale was no longer capable of taking good care of himself and by extension, the interests on his country.
“If a member asked a question, you would realize that he [Maale] does not hear well. However loud a member tried to be, he could still show that he was not hearing well. Even pronouncing words is hard for him [Maale],” a source who attended the meeting told The Observer last evening.
“You could really see that Mzee [Maale] is not stable. When he hears the question, he reasons well but you could see him struggling to hear. Then his combed hair was all over his coat, you could really see the effects of his old age,” a source added.
Committee members criticized the president for appointing very old people to sensitive jobs yet there are many redundant young people who can do those jobs well.
Rukungiri municipality MP Roland Mugume Kaginda, who represented Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza, reportedly insisted that Maale shouldn’t be approved.
“The president needs to be sincere in the appointments he makes. How do you send such an old man as an ambassador for Uganda as if there are no other people, really? Even if it is a way of rewarding him, you can give him a better job within or send him to a place like Nairobi. But Cairo has a lot of issues to do with security. What do you expect that old man to do there?” Kaginda reportedly said.
At the urging of Kaginda, sources said deputy speaker Jacob Oulanyah, chairing the proceedings after Speaker Kadaga left for the parliamentary plenary, asked other members for their views before he could make a ruling. Kibuku MP Herbert Kinobere reportedly asked for a legal opinion.
“Before we proceed, members, I am in support of what Hon Kinobere has said. It is important that we get legal guidance on the age issue. What does the constitution say about the age of ambassadors?” Chwa West MP Okin-Ojara asked.
Maale later was approved with support from seven of the 14 MPs present. A couple of MPs abstained. By and large, it was smooth sailing for most of the appointees.
Apart from vetting the ambassadors and deputy ambassadors to foreign missions, the committee also approved the former chief of defense forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, as minister of state for works. His approval met some resistance especially from opposition MPs.
Kadaga, who chaired the morning session, objected to calls from opposition members to drop Katumba on grounds that he is still a serving UPDF officer.
Kadaga cited the precedent of another serving UPDF officer, the late General Aronda Nyakairima, who was approved as internal affairs minister in 2013.