The Opposition caucus has petitioned the speaker of parliament Anita Among to protest how her deputy Thomas Tayebwa frog-marched MPs into endorsing a government decision to acquire preference shares in Roko Construction Company Ltd.
Last Thursday, Parliament chaired by Tayebwa dramatically “approved” the government’s decision to purchase 150,000 preference shares worth Shs 207.13 billion in Roko Construction Company Ltd.
Speaking before announcing the controversial decision, Tayebwa told MPs in the plenary session, “I have received information colleagues from the executive that the issue of Roko has to be resolved today or allow the company to die. The issue of procedures won’t be used today.”
“I want you the House to vote on this matter either you allow it or you don’t allow it so that a decision is made. I want to put the question that the house approves a proposal by the government of Uganda to acquire 150,000 preference shares worth Shs 207.13 billion in Roko. Those in favour say aye. The ayes have it... Thank you, I adjourn the house till Tuesday, next week,” he ruled amid protests from MPs.
He fumbled through the question and bellowed an incoherent ruling. He sounded and looked like a man under siege. As he quickly walked out, some MPs shouted, “No it has not passed.”
The petition, which was signed by 32 legislators and a formal notice compiled by the Leader of Opposition (LoP) Mathias Mpuuga to move a motion challenging Tayebwa’s decision was lodged with the speaker’s office on July 22.
The caucus, which convened last Friday accused Tayebwa of handling Parliament in a lackluster manner and of flouting the House’s Rules of Procedure by importing a matter that was not on the order paper. They resolved to explore remedies provided for within the House Rules with an option of petitioning the court.
According to the motion, the decision by the deputy speaker to put a vote on the government proposal contravened the rules of procedure. They demanded a report from the minister of Finance as directed earlier by Speaker Anita Among showing the action taken and measures put in place to justify whether Roko deserves the bailout.
The opposition caucus demanded that MPs vote on both the majority and minority reports of the committee of finance, which studied the proposal, and that the question be properly put to the House to decide whether to approve or reject the government proposal.
The opposition MPs lined up a team of five lawyers to petition the court in case their motion is defeated in the August House. The lawyers include; Nkunyingi Muwada (Kyadondo EastMP), Hanifa Nabukeera (Mukono Woman MP), Yusuf Nsibambi (Mawokota South MP) and Abdallah Kiwanuka (Mukono North MP).
According to the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP) Mathias Mpuuga, the vote on Roko Construction Company Ltd was handled in a manner that impeached the sanctity of parliament.
The matters had been handled on July 20, 2022, when the house received, debated, and considered the reports from the finance committee.
“When we received the order paper for the sitting on Thursday, the matter of Roko Construction was listed as business to follow and in our rules; the speaker has powers to alter the order paper of the day. The powers, however, don’t extend to import- ing matters of business to follow, which Tayebwa did to our consternation without notifying members of the house including the LoP and the minister concerned,” Mpuuga said.
“We have petitioned the house expressing displeasure and we shall have this matter formally presented to the house and we shall ask the house to make a decision. Parliament is an honourable house and at all times should reflect the wishes of the people and those wishes are reflected through the manner of debate and presentation of issues on behalf of the people,” he said.
Mpuuga said the debate last Wednesday was mutual, respectful, and non-partisan and the issues came out clearly and the presiding speaker Among ruled that government should consult and report to the house.
“The presiding officer Tayebwa gave no report but instead called a vote. The vote was not taken but instead, he ruled that a decision had been taken. The presiding officer became the minister of finance, the prime minister, and the plenary because the house didn’t agree to that decision,” Mpuuga said during the caucus.
“We have offered the leadership to petition the House to deliberate on the decision of the deputy speaker so that history can capture us rightly. We don’t want to be misrepresented as part of the conspiracy to defraud the public. Roko deserves help and I want to believe so, just like any other company that would need help. We want to do it neatly and lawfully. We shall not allow anybody to run over parliament when we are members of parliament,” he said.
Butambala County MP who doubles as the Shadow minister of Finance Muwanga Kivumbi said; “I received communication from a friendly force that Tayebwa planned to make a call on Roko. First I didn’t believe it. We were in the finance committee in the morning. The impression was that the issues of Roko could be rested for some time. I asked the speaker, are you willing to make this call? ‘’ he said yes.”
“The speaker told me; that today I regret being a speaker. I have received a call from President Museveni that I have to make this call no matter what,” Kivumbi said, adding, “In a few minutes the call was made.”
“This is the limit to which abuse of office and power can go. No one in his senses can do what Tayebwa did. When you look at the procedures of parliament, it was wrong. You first officially have to amend the order paper to include an item. You have to call for the presentation of both the minority and majority reports. If you want to steal, steal properly,” Kivumbi said.
Masaka District Woman MP Joan Namutaawe said, “To stop misappropriation of public funds through an abused process, I have appended my signature on a motion opposing the uncharitable manner in which the deputy speaker hurriedly passed a bailout of Shs 207.3 billion for Roko Construction Ltd.”
“We need to stand united against the impunity of favouritism for some foreign-owned businesses in neglect of other public interest funding priorities. In 2013, the government refused to bail out Sembule Steel Mills locally owned by Christopher Sembuya who had requested Shs 7 billion,” Namutaawe said
She said Roko Construction Ltd, which has 27 lawsuits of default in the Uganda Commercial Court, was unfairly selected in total disregard of other local enterprises that have requested a government bailout.
“I and other MP signatories demand the reversal of this bailout to prevent loss of public funds. We also demand the establishment of clear and fair policy guidelines on how the government arrives at companies that qualify for bailout using public funds,” she said.
Both the majority and the minority reports showed that Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) did not do due diligence due to failure to access funds amounting to Shs 800 million required to contract competent professional accounting firms but instead proceeded to seek approval from Parliament for Shs 207.13 billion.
The majority report, which was presented by the chairman of the Finance Committee Kefa Kiwanuka recommended that Roko should be expeditiously audited before the signing of the Share Subscription Agreement by the Auditor General to particularly look at and certify the material assets, debtors, creditors, governance, and management.
“The government should acquire majority shares of up to 51 per cent of any amount of share capital. Based on the current share capital, the Government would require only Shs 16 billion. The majority shareholding will ensure that the government has both a stake in ownership and control. It will also be in line with the presidential directive of acquiring equity in the Company,” the minority report reads in part.
The minority report further recommended that the preference shares should only be attained after the government has acquired 51 per cent of the ordinary shares of Roko Construction Limited. This will safeguard taxpayers’ money and the interests of the country.
On July 7, 2022, state minister for Finance Henry Musasizi tabled the government’s proposal to acquire 150,000 Preference shares worth Shs 207.13 billion.
The minister said Roko has projects with signed contracts worth Shs 1.064 trillion of which Shs 696.6 billion is for the government of Uganda projects. The company’s indebtedness, as of May 31, 2022, stood at Shs 202.4 billion.
It also has contingent liabilities from bank guarantees for ongoing projects worth Shs 130.9 billion while its indebtedness to financial Institutions totals Shs 35.7 million and $20.7 billion (Shs 78.8 trillion) and dues to local suppliers stand at Shs 46.8 billion.