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Chaos, SFC mar age limit debate

It was chaos and drama as debate on the Magyezi bill continued well into the night on Day Two yesterday

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga yesterday afternoon asked for a full report from parliament staff explaining how suspected presidential guard troops came to hide inside the Protestant and Catholic chapels, blatantly ignoring her Monday instructions banning non-parliamentary security from the precincts.

The government was left with egg on its face as Amuru Woman MP Lucy Akello rattled the mid-morning debate on the divisive ‘presidential age limit bill’, when she announced that soldiers had invaded parliament in a near-repeat of the widely-denounced September 27 raid by Special Forces Command (SFC) troops.

During the infamous September invasion, opposition MPs were viciously attacked and violently dragged out, leaving two seriously injured.

Opposition MPs display plates in the parliamentary lobby

The SFC attack drew parallels to the 1966-67 crisis when then executive prime minister, Apollo Milton Obote, ordered an army siege of parliament  and stampeded MPs into passing the ‘pigeon-hole constitution’ – in order to concentrate power in his hands.

Tuesday’s already tumultuous sitting ended almost immediately an outraged Akello demanded to know whether the parliamentary chapels had been turned into military barracks.

Akello is head of the Catholic chaplaincy. Pandemonium broke out in the chambers as she said cleaners informed her that the place of worship had been occupied by soldiers yet prayers were scheduled there for 1pm.

“I went to the chaplaincy right before coming into the House and [found] the whole of the Anglican and Catholic chapels occupied by soldiers. They even asked why and how I had accessed those chapels. Madam Speaker, this parliament dedicated places of prayers. If we want to cancel prayers, let us be clear…,” she said.

Both chapels are located in the basement on the eastern wing of parliament while the mosque is in the basement of the northern wing. NRM caucus vice chairperson Solomon Silwany (Bukooli Central) tried to undo the damage, but only succeeded in inflaming the situation.  

“It’s true there were some soldiers but these people were praying and I saw them in the mood of prayer. Is it in order for an honourable member to stand here and confuse members?” Silwany mumbled.

He was quickly accosted by an outraged Aruu MP Odonga Otto who grabbed the microphone from him. The speaker abruptly adjourned the House as opposition MPs rushed out and down to the chapels which they found desecrated.

Dirty plates and cups, together with mineral water bottles, some filled with what suspiciously looked like urine, littered the chapel floors.

Since the chapels are just a floor below the press office, The Observer had arrived before the MPs to see an officer helping the presidential guard soldiers escape through a back door leading into the parliamentary gardens. The troops then made their hurried getaway through the gate facing the National theatre across the street.

Angry MPs carried back the dirty utensils but were ambushed by police in the foyer, leading to a physical confrontation. Some of the plates fell out of the crate in the commotion and scattered on the floor. The MPs fought off the police, hanging onto some items as exhibits.

By 2pm, the entire floor housing the chapels was sealed off, with a gun-wielding police officer standing guard.

“All things used for service have been removed to another place. There are no prayers here,” the officer told The Observer when our reporter tried to access the chapels.

Last week, Kadaga directed all non-parliament security to withdraw and instructed all parliament police to wear uniform with nametags. Since Monday (December 18), an unarmed police officer attached to the speaker’s security detail sat on the stairwell leading to the chapels. On Tuesday, this officer was replaced by a presidential guard soldier.

There were also other strange deployments in all corridors of parliament. When yesterday’s session resumed, Kadaga asked the security minister to explain the presence of strange men in the chapels.

Internal Affairs minister Gen Jeje Odongo said that while it is true that there were some unknown people in the chapels, their presence could be better explained by the leadership of the two chapels who have sole custody of keys to these places.

He was shouted down. Leader of opposition Winfred Kiiza and other members slammed him as a liar but the speaker only ordered the Clerk to Parliament to compile a report for her action.

HOUSE TAINTED

The director of communication at parliament, Chris Obore, noted that the speaker had warned against soldiers in the House and if it was true that they sneaked in, then it had tainted the image of parliament.

“We only have the authority of the speaker and these premises are not for any other authority, apart from the speaker; she leads the House and no soldier is allowed in without her notice,” he said.

Buyaga West MP Barnabas Tinkasiimire was convinced this was the work of President Museveni.

“Museveni, we know you want power but you are not above God; you are not God,” he said.

EXPLAIN 7-YEAR TERM

Earlier, Speaker Kadaga had asked the Legal Affairs committee chairperson, Jacob Oboth-Oboth, to explain how a proposal for extension of the tenure of parliament and presidency to seven years, as well as restoration of term limits, had been sneaked into his report.

Happy NRM MPs at parliament

When Oboth-Oboth presented the committee report on the age limit bill on Monday, one of the recommendations was the tenure extension through a referendum. But Kadaga said this was not related to the age limit bill referred to the legal committee by parliament.

The Constitution Amendment (No 2) Bill 2017 tabled by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi seeks deletion of Article 102 (b) which bars people below 35 years above 75 years from standing for president.

Oboth-Oboth laboured to justify his recommendation. He named law professor Frederick Ssempebwa as the one whose submission proposed reinstatement of term limits. He ascribed tenure extension to former presidential candidate, Prof Venansius Baryamureeba.

“An attempt to say we got this thing somewhere else [is wrong]. We thought we could not ignore the views of people we met, including President Museveni,” he said.

But Kiiza waved the committee report, challenging Oboth-Oboth to show her where Baryamureeba proposed a seven-year term of presidency.

Committee members Medard Lubega Sseggona (Busiro East) and Monicah Amoding (Kumi Woman) backed Kiiza, saying nobody had proposed a seven-year term for MPs and president.

Sseggona said the seven-year extension was introduced by committee member Gaster Mugoya while term limits came from Hamson Obua.

It is believed that the tenure extension and term limits have been floated by Museveni as a trade-off in the face of resistance to the age limit bill which would open the door to life presidency for him.

“Not everything that was said in the committee was captured in the report,” Oboth-Oboth snapped.
Debate continued till late.

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