Issues up for discussion. Government’s poor performance on fighting corruption, environmental concerns over Mabira forest give-away and Uganda’s post-Museveni future were the subject of Day One debate as the ruling party began its 10-day parliamentary caucus retreat at the weekend in Kyankwanzi.
Day One of the ruling party retreat in Kyankwanzi saw some tense moments after an MP confronted President Museveni over his long stay in power, before advising him that it was time he retired.
At the opening of the retreat, Buyaga West representative Barnabas Tinkasiimire, a man known for taking bold and uncompromising positions on critical issues, told the President to his face that he should restore term limits and retire.
The President side-stepped the challenge, opting not to answer him directly.
Mr Tinkasiimire took to the microphone soon after party Secretary General Amama Mbabazi had read out issues proposed by MPs for inclusion on the agenda, and accused Mr Mbabazi of ignoring key parts of their proposals.
“You have left out some of the issues we proposed to you, term limits must be restored and the issue of succession must be discussed. Who is this person who doesn’t get tired? He is going to make 30 years in power,” Mr Tinkasiimire said.
There were cheers of encouragement for Mr Tinkasiimire from some of his colleagues in the background, who were seen nodding in agreement even as other members attempted to shout him off the floor.
Mr Mbabazi, who as Prime Minister is leader of government business in Parliament, raised some eyebrows when he said he had left out the issue deliberately.
“Honourable colleagues, I did not leave the issue out but I was doing a summary. It is true that one or two people made that suggestion but I left it out deliberately,” he said.
Uganda’s Constitution, which was promulgated in 1995, under Article (105) clause 2 had provided for two five-year terms for a president.
But in 2005, President Museveni, having served his two constitutional terms, had Parliament change the Constitution by scrapping term limits hence giving him a third shot at office, and subsequently an unlimited timeframe to remain a contestant in any elections.
The controversy and debate stirred by the removal of term limits resulted in Mr Museveni losing some of his old comrades, many of whom have since joined the opposition.
In Kyankwanzi, Mr Mbabazi moved to forestall any further discussion on term limits and the succession question which continues to bubble just under the political surface as the country edges closer to the next general election in 2016. He told Mr Tinkasiimire that he was addressing himself to the wrong forum; that it’s only the National Delegates Conference where that issue could be considered.
The spokesperson of the NRM caucus, Ms Evelyn Anite, later told the Daily Monitor: “We don’t have the mandate to decide on who can be our President, but the national delegates’ conference will do that. Even if we make resolutions here, they will not help and Tinkasiimire should remember that the President is elected by 34 million people.”
President Museveni, in response, cheekily observed that the Buyaga West MP was wrong on the statistics because he (Museveni) has been at the forefront of Uganda’s liberation for 50 years.
“Tinkasiimire is worried about 30 years, it is not 30 years but 50 years that I have been active. You are miscalculating and when you are talking, get figures right, 20 years in the bush and 30 years here in town,” Mr Museveni said.
The President asked members to be disciplined in 2013, an oblique reference to the torrid time he continues to face with a Parliament that has asserted its independence.
The President promised to write a comprehensive paper to guide discussion on corruption and the NRM’s party code of conduct.
By Richard Wanambwa & Mercy Nalugo