In a move that startled the nation, Speaker of Parliament Anita Among recently suspended a parliamentary session due to the absence of all 82 ministers.
While 20 ministers graced the assembly the next day, it didn’t prevent Among from reading them the riot act. Unapologetically, she pointed out that personal grievances against the presiding officer shouldn’t obstruct national duty.
“You may not like the presiding officer, but you’re here to work for your people. Those saying they didn’t attend because they dislike me should remember their primary responsibility is to the nation,” she emphasized.
Among also warned that ministerial attendance would be a critical factor in future reshuffles by the president.
“I want the chief executive of the country to know, and this goes to the Appointments Committee, the first thing we’ll check is how many times you attended parliament,” she declared, met with applause from attending MPs.
But the underlying question remains—why are ministers dodging their parliamentary duties?
Interviews with several MPs, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, reveal a problem rooted not just in the parliament but also within the executive branch. A couple of State House officials agree, suggesting that the nature of the current ministers makes effective duty execution a challenge.
“In one significant issue, the current presidential term has seen the appointment of individuals who are ill-suited for their roles. The president, colloquially known as ‘Mzei,’ has chosen people he refers to as ‘fishermen.’ What can we realistically expect from them? It has come to the point where, if the president is not present to chair the Cabinet meetings, nobody else does. During the tenures of former prime ministers Amama Mbabazi and Ruhakana Rugunda, they would step in to lead in the president’s absence. Now, however, we have Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, who has openly stated that she feels incapable of overseeing individuals who are more educated and senior than she is,” said a State House staffer.
This situation brings to light a reportedly dysfunctional cabinet, led by a prime minister who acknowledges her limitations in managing ministers more educated or senior than her. A State House source paints a bleak picture of the current executive leadership.
“You have Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, who is clearly out of her depth. Then there’s the first deputy prime minister, Rebecca Kadaga, who seems to be disengaged as she approaches retirement. The second deputy prime minister and deputy leader of government business, Moses Ali, has been unwell recently. The third deputy prime minister, Rukia Nakadama, is also not performing at her best. Complicating matters further, Nabbanja can only delegate responsibilities to Nakadama. The other two deputy prime ministers are her seniors, and Kadaga in particular has no regard for Nabbanja,” the source said.
To exacerbate tensions, Among and Prime Minister Nabbanja are reportedly at loggerheads, an animosity that has reached President Yoweri Museveni. Each accuses the other of undermining their work. Nabbanja alleges that Among allows opposition MPs too much latitude, while Among counters that she won’t be undermined by ministers, emphasizing her loyalty to President Museveni over party affiliations.
In fact, the feud between the two leaders has escalated to such an extent that it has come to the attention of President Museveni, with both sides accusing each other of failing in their respective roles. Prime Minister Nabbanja reportedly told Museveni that Speaker Among is undermining the work of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) in parliament.
She accused Among of allowing opposition MPs the latitude to openly criticize not only the party but also its chairman. Nabbanja further claimed that Among is disrespectful towards ministers, often berating them and failing to shield them from unfair attacks by MPs.
On the other hand, Speaker Among told Museveni that she is equally frustrated with how ministers are attempting to undermine her authority. She clarified that she identifies more as a “Musevenist” rather than an NRM member. Consequently, she asserted that Nabbanja and others within the NRM shouldn’t expect her to carry out their responsibilities just because they belong to the same political party.
“The feud between Nabbanja and Among is less about ideological differences, and more a power struggle within Museveni’s circle,” said an MP, outlining the political landscape that has paralyzed both Parliament and the Executive.
Interviewed for this story, Charles Odongotho, the head of Communication at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), stated, “As the spokesperson for the OPM, I am not aware of any ‘rocky’ relationship between the two senior government officials in question. I may need to inquire about the nature of their relationship. What I can confirm is that both individuals, as members of the Parliamentary Commission, are legally obligated to collaborate harmoniously in their respective constitutional roles for the benefit of the Ugandan people.”
“As the Leader of Government Business in Parliament, the prime minister collaborates with the speaker to prioritize legislative agendas. Regarding allegations that ministers are not attending parliamentary sessions, this issue was recently addressed on the floor of parliament. My superior, the 3rd deputy prime minister, Rt. Hon. Rukia Nakadama, has already provided a comprehensive response to this matter, and I have no intention of deviating from her statements.”
TOP OF FORM
With rumors of a ministerial reshuffle in the air for the past two months, the nation is anxious to see how President Museveni will recalibrate his team. Yet as the days go by, what is abundantly clear is that the current configuration is unsustainable. It has led to not just a parliament that can’t convene properly but a nation that watches as its leaders focus more on personal grievances than on the collective good.
It’s a situation that calls for immediate redress. Otherwise, Uganda risks perpetuating a cycle where the very institutions designed to serve the people are instead doing a disservice to democracy itself.
NAVIGATING A POWER IMBALANCE
As the dust settles from the recent dramatic suspension of Uganda’s parliament by Speaker Anita Among, a deeper issue emerges, highlighting the complex dynamics between the ministers and the legislative body. One MP, speaking anonymously, offered insight into why ministers seem reluctant to engage actively in parliamentary sessions.
Like the prime minister, an MP who spoke on condition of anonymity told us that ministers have lost much of their previous authority, making them hesitant to fully engage in parliamentary activities without prior consultation.
“Most of our current ministers lack the power to make commitments on behalf of the government. Parliament expects immediate answers, yet these ministers can’t provide them without first seeking approval. They come to parliament not as authoritative figures, but merely
as messengers. This is why they’re unable to provide information they haven’t been briefed on. Additionally, there are some ministers who are simply incompetent and unable to answer even basic questions. These individuals often avoid attending parliamentary sessions altogether,” the MP stated.
The trend paints a picture of a ministry hamstrung by bureaucracy and, in some instances, marked by outright incompetence.
LACK OF CLOUT AMONG PRESIDING OFFICERS
Apart from issues within the executive branch, the legislative arm of the government also faces challenges, according to MPs we have interviewed. These MPs, who have experience with past presiding officers prior to Among and Tayebwa, argue that besides the personal animosity between the speaker and some ministers, the current presiding officers lack the authority that their predecessors commanded.
“If you don’t have the kind of influence that commands respect, then you need to be extremely intelligent. As it stands, neither of our current speakers possesses these qualities. Consequently, people don’t feel obligated to appear before them. They are relatively young, both in terms of age and political experience, even within our own party. They are newcomers who were rewarded for joining the NRM; so, naturally, you will find senior party members and ministers reluctant to subordinate themselves to these junior figures,” one MP said.
Specifically concerning Speaker Among, ministers have expressed dissatisfaction with how she has treated some of their colleagues. To date, parliament has censured State Minister of Housing Parsis Namuganza and recommended that Monica Musenero, minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, and her Gender, Labour and Social Development counterpart, Betty Amongi, step aside.
“When you see Mwine Mpaka being ap- pointed to lead an investigation, you know the speaker’s influence is at play, as he has become the face of accountability within parliament. So, if Among is orchestrating these investigations, how can ministers be expected to have a favorable view of her?” the MP questioned rhetorically.
A PATH FORWARD?
In an interview with this newspaper, Asuman Basalirwa, a close confidant of Speaker Among, asserted that ministers do not need to have personal affinities for the speaker or her deputy to fulfill their parliamentary duties.
“We can maintain a working relationship even without being friends. First and foremost, it’s a legal requirement for ministers to be present in parliament when there’s business on the order paper requiring their input. Most of the time, they’ve already submitted written responses to MPs; so, it begs the question: why wouldn’t they want to come and read their own statements?” said Basalirwa, the MP for Bugiri Municipality.
He further argued that disagreements with the speaker could be resolved through dialogue without hindering the functioning of parliament.
“When there are fundamental differences, mechanisms should exist to address them. For instance, there was a time when the speaker had a significant disagreement with Deputy Attorney Jackson Kafuzi over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, now an Act. She initially banned him from representing the government in parliament on any issue, but after discussions, the matter was resolved. So, if you’re a minister, how long can you realistically afford to stay away?” Basalirwa added.
In response to our inquiries, Chris Obore, the director of Communication and Public Affairs at parliament, emphasized that it is the role of parliament to exercise oversight over the cabinet, as mandated by law.
“Oversight involves asking difficult questions in good faith. The presiding officers were elected by the MPs themselves; so, if any MPs claim to despise them, they are essentially despising themselves,” Obore noted.
He also contested the notion that the speaker and deputy speaker are junior members within the party.
“The speaker and deputy speaker were elected by all MPs, including ministers. Anyone who claims to despise them is, in effect, inadvertently despising themselves,” he said.
Pushing back against criticisms that label the two presiding officers as junior members, Obore added, “The speaker and deputy speaker can’t be considered juniors within the party, as a political party consists of cadres of all ages. It was the party that established the current parliamentary leadership, fully aware of their value.”