I followed very closely the process of the drafting of the 1995 Constitution by the Constituent Assembly in 1994/1995, chaired by the late James Waphakabulo. Wapa, as he was fondly called, was a man of high intellect, integrity and humour.
Though a strong member of NRM, Wapa had no problem dealing with people of different political inclinations.
He steered the Constituent Assembly impartially and was elected Speaker of the National Assembly in 1996, which he presided over again with impartiality and courage.
It is no wonder that many people saw him as a “presidential material”, possibly the first easterner that would ascend to that high office, other factors remaining constant. Unfortunately the Almighty had other plans for him and took him away prematurely in 2004, a year before the desecration of the Constitution by Parliament when it abolished term limit.
Wapakhabulo was arguably the best Speaker that Uganda ever had, with due respect to others who have held that office.
Aggrey Awori, an outspoken Opposition MP of the time, called him the “best Speaker ever”. He didn’t serve his full tenure as Speaker as he was in 1998 appointed National Political Commissar before being appointed second deputy prime minister and minister of Foreign Affairs in 2001 to 2004 when he died
Rebecca Kadaga is an experienced legislator who has represented the people of Kamuli in Parliament for a long time and served as Deputy Speaker before her elevation to Speaker in 2011 to date. She has performed quite well, occasionally going against the wishes of her party like the time she was accused of creating a ‘new category’ of MPs when she refused to expel from the House five ‘rebel’ MPs, who had been ejected from the NRM party for disobedience and indiscipline.
Last week, she received her biggest test yet on the age limit Bill saga when for two days, she faced a ‘rebellion’ from the Opposition parliamentarians who were protesting the introduction of a private member’s Bill by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi to remove Article 102(b) from the Constitution.
The Article limited a person seeking to be president to the age bracket of 35 -75 years.
Outnumbered by one to five, Opposition MPs never expected to win the battle, but were exercising their right of protest in an attempt to defend the long suffering Constitution from further ‘rape’.
It is a form of filibustering which could have been handled in a better way than unleashing on them a police and military force in plain clothes, looking and acting like thugs. It is no wonder that Kadaga is taking a bashing from the social media, the Opposition, the public and the NGO world. Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura ‘boasted’ that he planned the operation, a clear sign that it was pre-meditated, to teach the Opposition a lesson. If Kadaga knew of the plot to raid Parliament, it was treachery of the highest order.
A lot of nasty things have been written about Kadaga on social media, some really obnoxious, but I believe she is better than that. Kadaga could have handled the matter with greater ‘finesse’ on the second day by simply adjourning the session to allow further consultations. By handing out suspensions to MPs who had “behaved badly” the previous day, the Speaker was in breach of parliamentary procedure since this should have been done on the day the “misbehaviour’’ occurred.
She could then summon another meeting a week later when tempers have cooled and, to assure the Opposition, requested for the police to withdraw from the precincts of Parliament, except the barest minimum required for normal functioning of Parliament.
A meeting with the Prime Minister together with the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament in the Speaker’s Chambers, would have done everybody good. However, to tell the country later that, she as Speaker “will not allow chaos in Parliament like they do in South Africa’’, was disingenuous and totally inappropriate.
Parliament is not a high school of which Kadaga is the headmistress.
It is one of the three arms of government and the one exclusively mandated to make laws and check the Executive.
As Speaker, Kadaga is the embodiment of that arm of government and MPs are her colleagues and fellow legislators who must be treated with respect, be they in the opposition or government side.
Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador