If there were doubts on the seriousness of President Yoweri Museveni's threat of abolishing parliament, a cabinet minister has said that the president can indeed and will legally abolish the House if the MPs don't get their act together.
State minister for East African Affairs Julius Maganda Wandera said President Museveni has the powers to abolish parliament if it continues to fail its mandate.
Wandera's comments come after The Observer story published on Wednesday, when we reported that Museveni threatened to abolish parliament after the MPs instituted a probe into Arua chaos in which Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi's driver Yasin Kawuma was shot dead. The arrested suspects accused of stoning the presidential convoy were also allegedly tortured including MPs; Kyagulanyi and Mityana municipality MP Francis Zaake.
“Between 1971 and 1979 (Idi Amin dictatorship - editor), 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 is quoted to have told ruling party MPs at State House on August 27.
The story report, which has since gone viral on social media, drew mixed reactions from readers with many criticising the president for harbouring dictatorial thoughts while others argued that abolishing parliament would actually save the country money since MPs are always legislating at the whims of the president. Many cited last year's constitutional amendment to lift presidential age limits despite strong citizen resistance.
Now, Wandera says there actually exists laws through which the president can pull the trigger and lock down parliament. And if such laws and procedures are followed, Wandera argued, then the president can legally abolish parliament. The minister said the president's warning should be taken seriously and in good faith and as a reminder to the MPs to get their act together.
"Parliament can be abolished if they completely lose out on what they are supposed to do. It can be abolished, the rules are there. There will be a process a president can undertake to abolish parliament. So warning parliament is not in any way bad from the president. He is just trying to remind parliament that; 'please do your mandate.' He has not closed it yet, he’s just saying 'parliament please go and do your mandate. Don’t fight, don’t go out there and cause confusion in communities that are very peaceful.' But in the circumstance there is a situation which we feel that parliament is not doing its mandate, the laws can be revisited and it can be dissolved." said Wandera.
Wandera said the president is just trying to remind legislators to stick to the mandate of buttressing economic development of the country through enacting enabling legislations rather than political bickering.
"So if we realise that the whole country is not moving well for the conduct of the way of how members of parliament are, the laws will be revisited. But I just want to appreciate that the president is trying to remind us on what our mandate is, what we can do under our mandate to help this country." Wandera added.
Wandera made the remarks while responding to questions from civil society actors at the opening of the regional conference on advancing civic space and democratic accountability in shrinking environment in East Africa.
The two-day conference themed: civil society's role in pushing back shrinking civic space in East Africa, kicked off on Thursday at Metropole Hotel, Kampala.
The conference attracted representatives of CSOs from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan. Wandera officiated the conference opening as minister for East African Affairs.
He reiterated remarks made by Presidency minister Esther Mbayo that government is investigating some NGOs for funding and organizing recent post Arua chaos protests. Wandera said at an appropriate time, government will give a report.
Wandera further stated that there should a clear way on how government should operate with NGOs.
"We should appreciate, we have not to a certain extent not been so much strict as a government on the performances of NGOs and even on how money comes in. To a certain extreme there could be an abuse of the freedom that we have given," he said.
Compared to other countries, Wandera said NGOs in Uganda were allowed to operate freely until they started engaging in sinister activities. However Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG) deputy executive director, Sarah Bireete argued that accusations by government that NGOs were funding recent anti-government protests is outrageous.
She said there is no NGO with such funding to finance spontaneous global protests as they occurred condemning and calling for release of MPs who were detained after Arua chaos.
"There is a very big misunderstanding between government and the work of civil society organisations. And what I can assure citizens is that there's no NGO that can go out to fund illegal activities because that organisation would be deregistered, it would lose the support and cooperation of its partners both local and internationally." she said.
"No civil society organisation can operate outside its budget because they would lose whatever they are doing…There’s no way a civil society organisation can fund protests. These protests were spontaneous in Uganda. There were protests in Kenya, there were protests in Ghana, there were protests in South Africa, there were protests in Europe and the US. So which Ugandan NGO would have such a budget for global protests about the torture and arrest of MPs? It can’t exist."