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MPs revolt against creation of a ‘Super’ oil minister

“No vote! Our oil!” chanted a section of the House.

“Let’s Vote!” chorused another.

The Speaker’s chair vacant, the Sergeant at Arms and his assistants jealously guarded the Mace, the symbol of parliamentary power, as some members of the opposition appeared to be making a move for it.

This was the dramatic scene that played out in a fully-packed parliament yesterday as Uganda’s law makers clashed over whether to vote on re-introducing Clause 9 of a draft oil bill, giving sweeping powers to the minister in charge of oil.

The Speaker abandoned the House and left through the rear door after failing to persuade the MPs to vote on the controversial Clause 9, which would in effect create a ’Super Minister’ with far reaching powers. The clause had been overturned in a previous debate but too few MPs were present at that time to constitute a quorum.

MPs from both the opposition and the ruling National Resistance Movement party were riled by the Speaker’s reluctance to accept further debate on the clause.The country, they claimed, was being sold off “cheaply.” Legislator upon legislator voiced this sentiment.

“Let us not show the country that we are voting machines” said Bugweri MP, Abdu Katuntu. “We need to stand up and be counted, we must vote by roll-call,” he challenged the House. “Oil is the only strategic resource we have.”

At this point, the NRM Chief Whip, Hon. Lumumba Kasule, got up from her seat and started pacing up and down the NRM side of the House, literally ordering the MPs to stand up and vote. This prompted the opposition side and some  NRM ‘well wishers’ to band together and start chanting, spontaneously disrupting proceedings. The Speaker made several attempts to restore order before being led out, followed by the Mace several minutes later.

Suspecting that this could be a diversionary plot by the NRM to later reconvene and take a vote, some opposition MPs feverishly urged their colleagues not to leave the House. They also signalled to the public in the gallery to stay put as observers.

Youth had responded to the call by civil society organisations to turn up in droves and pressure the legislators into doing the right thing.

There was tight security around the outskirts of parliament as well as inside, prompting Aru County MP, Odonga Otto, to note that “There are more guns than human beings around Parliament”.

 Last minute push

This latest display of unity between like-minded MPs from both sides of the house is admirable for the average Ugandan, given the legislators’ apparent goal of ensuring that all Ugandans benefit from the oil and gas resources.

However, one cannot help but wonder why, during the past deliberations spanning about one month, parliament was largely empty, with only a handful of MPs discussing the draft oil bills.

Yesterday, by contrast, the NRM had done enough to mobilise its members, including rare faces like the Vice President, Edward Ssekandi, Chief of Defence Forces General Aronda Nyakairima, and  General Elly Tumwiine—who all turned out to swell the ruling party ranks.

Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business, Hon. Amama Mbabazi, was not present, but was likely in the vicinity as his majestic S-Class official Mercedes Benz was parked at the entrance of the parliamentary building.

As former defence minister, Ruth Nankabirwa, put it, “We are all here for purposes of the vote, both sides”.

Way forward

Oil in Uganda later spoke to Hon. Medard Ssegona on what steps the opposition would now take.

He said that they would fight the recommital of Clause 9 at all costs. “We shall think again, convince our colleagues to drop the recommital. Under no circumstances shall it go on. They have developed mob justice but we have a strategy.” For the present, the standoff on various contentious sections of the bills has virtually halted the legislative process, with many legislators expressing discomfort about the immense powers of the minister responsible for oil, fearing that this  could ultimately precipitate corruption in the sector.

As the House remained in disarray, the anti-government side started singing the national anthem, much to the dismay of some MPs. Some remained seated and silent throughout the debacle, looking sad or confused. “Oh Uganda!” indeed.

Report by CM