Right now, the math still favours the ruling NRM in parliament but the growing number of members defying party positions on critical legislative agenda has got the government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa worried.
During last Tuesday’s vote on the contentious Excise Duty Amendment Bill No 2, which approved the 0.5 per cent tax on mobile money transactions, more NRM MPs defied the party position and voted for the complete removal of clause 2, which proposed the levy.
Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba moved the motion for deletion of clause 2 and ultimately scrap the tax in its entirety. The motion was roundly opposed by government, which argued that the tax would increase revenue for infrastructural development, among other things.
A day before the vote, an NRM caucus convened at State House Entebbe urged party and independent-leaning MPs to vote to maintain the 0.5% tax. In the earlier bill, government had initially proposed a one per cent levy on mobile money transactions but later reduced it to 0.5 percent after public outcry.
But when Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah called the vote by show of hands, 288 MPs voted out of 463 legislators currently in the 10th parliament.
At least 59 of the 124 that voted against clause 2 (which proposed the levy) were NRM including 15 independent-leaning MPs. A total of 164 MPs voted in favour of the mobile money levy and 175 legislators stayed away.
After the vote, Nankabirwa said on Monday: “I am observing the individual merit coming up which was working well in the movement political [party] system. We moved away from that. We committed ourselves to serve the party, move in harmony and support the party positions.”
She warned that those who are not comfortable with the party positions are free to remain in parliament as independents.
“If you want to be independent, go and be independent then we will know that for you, you don’t care, you are carrying an independent mind but if you are under a certain political organization, you must respect that political organization,” Nankabirwa said.
Nankabirwa’s warning comes after Namutumba Woman MP Mariam Naigaga, who is the NRM caucus treasurer, voted for the scrapping of the tax. Nankabirwa said the NRM caucus executive would meet soon and take a final decision on Naigaga and other ‘rebels.’
“We will be bringing you on board on whatever decisions the executive of the caucus will take,” Nankabirwa said.
After the voting on the age limit removal bill last year, the 27 dissenting NRM members have continued to be isolated by the party. The bill was eventually passed into law in December last year, clearing the last hurdle for President Museveni, who turns 75 by the next election, to run for office in 2021.
Some of the 27 ‘rebels’ recently told The Observer that the NRM continues to deduct their money in monthly contributions yet they never invite them for party activities.
Some of the new ‘rebel’ MPs, however, told The Observer that they were not scared of isolation.
“As a loyal cadre, I am below the chief whip and waiting for her summons and I will defend my position in the disciplinary committee,” Naigaga said.
According to Naigaga, NRM has so many organs, which should have been involved before taking a position.
“For a position to belong to a party, it has to be approved by NEC, CEC and then it comes to the caucus. Given the time the president gives us in the caucus, not all of us are given chance to deliberate on the matter. For this particular tax, even other party leaders opposed it. It is not only Mariam, [an executive member] of the caucus. I am available and waiting for the summons,” Naigaga said.
Kisoro Municipality MP Sam Byibesho said, “As MP, I had to present the views of the people. They told me to help them fight the mobile money tax because many of them are doing mobile money businesses. Indeed many of them closed their businesses and you know these days, there are no jobs.”
Iganga Woman MP Brenda Asinde Suubi said she went against the party position after weighing which side counts more, the voters or her party.
“We come to parliament as NRM members but our people count more than the party. In 2021, we shall be going back to the people, not parties,” she said.