KAMPALA – Last week Deputy Speaker Anita Among was forced to cut short Parliamentary business to attend an unscheduled trip to Seattle in the United States of America to check on her boss Jacob Oulanyah whose health was deteriorating.
She is said to have travelled in the company of the Democratic Party President Norbert Mao, Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, the Minister of Health Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng and one Francis Emuna said to be an employee of Parliament and a brother to the now-deceased Jacob Oulanyah.
Their departure according to social media is said to have triggered a barrage of words that Oulanyah had long died and that the invitation was intended to tame public anxiety.
However, the rumor was watered down by both Mao and the Deputy Speaker, through their Twitter accounts who informed the public that Oulanyah was responding well to the treatment and dismissed social media claims that Oulanyah had died.
Nobody knows why some of the members of the Deputy Speaker’s delegation to visit Mao decided to return towards the weekend but at least the cat has been let out of the bag.
As if that is not enough, the Deputy Speaker’s statement that Oulanyah was responding well to the treatment was contradicted by Dr Aceng who said Jacob had not received any treatment at the time of his death.
On March 20th, 2022, President Yoweri Museveni informed the country of the untimely death of Uganda’s Speaker Jacob Oulanyah who was a Member of Parliament representing the people of Omoro County constituency, Omoro District.
“It is with a lot of sadness that I announce the death of Jacob Oulanyah, the Speaker of Parliament. I got information of this sad news at 10.30am, East African time from people that have been with him and the doctor that was caring for him in the intensive care unit.
The President said he delayed the announcement when he received the same so that his family would be informed first and to prepare them for the bad news.
A man of all jerk of trade, Oulanyah who was a few days to his 57th birthday was an agricultural economist and an accomplished lawyer who for the love of his country abandoned his trainings to join elective politics where he served as Deputy Speaker under Rebecca Kadaga before defeating her on 24 May 2021 to become Speaker of the 11th Parliament.
He was on February 3rd referred for specialized healthcare by doctors at Mulago Hospital having failed to manage his condition. Amidst criticisms from the public including myself, Oulanyah was airlifted to Seattle where he has been bedridden. Like all of us, so is Mother Nature, she snatched him away from us without warning having served Uganda as a Speaker for about 10 months. RIP Jacob.
As we await the repatriation of the body back to Uganda and burial program, days of mourning and a public holiday, I wish to distract our minds from the bad news, for a sad fact is that with life comes death.
It will happen to all of us. But that doesn’t make dealing with or understanding it any easier. The devastation that the death of a friend or loved one causes is profound yet facing up to our mortality can be distressing too. So looking for a way to cope or help with the loss of someone is natural. We seek ways to make tough times a bit easier, as well as some understanding. That is the reason why I want us to take our thoughts temporarily off the death of Jacob and realize how his death has awakened us. Jacob Oulanyah if am not mistaken is the first serving Speaker to dies while still in office.
Chapter six of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda as amended provides for the establishment, composition and functions of Parliament. Article 82 of the Constitution establishes the office of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament and that he/she shall be elected by members of Parliament from among their number. The impression created in our constitution is that a Speaker can only be elected at the commencement of Parliament presided over by the Chief Justice or somebody designated by him.
Article 82(4) of the Constitution provides that subject to article 81(4) of this Constitution, no business shall be transacted in Parliament other than an election to the office of Speaker at any
time that office is vacant. This in my view also means that a new Speaker must be elected even before Oulanyah body is returned or before his casket in brought before Parliament. The constitution seems silent on a by-election to replace a Speaker or his or her deputy and as far as I am concerned, this is the crust of the puzzle that is yet to hit the Members of the 11th Parliament and the NRM Government. There are obligations which are set aside as a preserve of the Speaker alone and cannot be undertaken by the Deputy Speaker however powerful she may appear.
There is no room that the Deputy Speaker can actually become the substantive Speaker or even in acting capacity when the office bearer dies. The problem is by necessary implication extended to the office of the Deputy Speaker who can only be elected to that office at the first sitting of Parliament after that office becomes vacant as envisaged under Article 82(6) and presided over by the newly elected Speaker. A by-election to me seems to take precedent over anything else until the house has elected another substantive Speaker. For political reasons, I see another Speaker coming from the North, for the region overwhelmingly supported and voted for the NRM candidates.
A vacancy in the office of Speaker or Deputy Speaker may occur for reasons outlined under Article 82(7) (a-e) of the 1995 Constitution such as if he or she is appointed to any public office, if he or she becomes a Minister, if he or she resigns his or her office, if he or she ceases to be a member of Parliament or if he or she is censured. Unfortunately, the framers of our current constitution did not include death or even insanity as a basis for the office falling vacant. Now that the constitution is silent on what Parliaments needs to do, we may have no choice but to seek guidance from the Rules of Procedure. They may be more elaborate on what Parliament can to elect another Speaker now that Oulanyah has departed from us.
I am perplexed by this lacuna and am left wondering whether this was deliberate an omission or accidental. What happens if the speaker was under investigation and needed to step aside to allow an investigation into matters of his office?
What happens if he or she becomes insane or dies while still serving as speaker, what happens if he is found guilty of criminal offence by the highest court whose sentence is more than seven months in prison?
These are the questions that our Parliament should be addressing instead of whispering in the corridors as to what exactly killed Jacob Oulanyah. His father Okori has already made stunning poison remarks but what is important, atleast for now is that Jacob is gone and what he has been doing while still alive must be taken up by those who are still living.
While trying to understand how other countries have addressed a lacuna of this nature, a country like Australia has a broad-based Constitution that looks at the past, present, and future before enacting a law, it is not copied and paste-like in our case.
The Australian constitution provides for remedies before or during any absence of the Speaker where the house has the power to choose a Member to perform the Speaker’s duties in the Speaker’s absence. The House has in its standing orders that when the Speaker is absent the Deputy Speaker, or if the Deputy Speaker is also absent, the Second Deputy Speaker, shall be Acting Speaker and will have all the powers as if he or she was a substantive Speaker.
Surely unless a country is operating under a spell, it is not possible for all the three-person to be absent at ago like we witnessed last week when the Deputy Speaker followed the ailing Speaker outside the country leaving the legislature without somebody to spearhead its main activities.
Other than committees, busybodies of inactive members of parliament were seen wandering about the corridors of Parliament looking for journalists to address on none issues. At least since his demise, I have only heard from Semujju Nganda but comment from Kadaga who contested with him for the Speakership position
In Australia, as I have mentioned, if the House is sitting, the Acting Speaker takes the Chair without any formal announcement, for he is treated as the substantive Speaker and does not even have to explain himself. Service as Acting Speaker may commence when the House is not sitting.
For example, on 22 April 2012, Speaker Slipper announced that he would stand aside as Speaker until certain matters had been dealt with, and on the basis of the Speaker’s statement the Deputy Speaker was taken to have become Acting Speaker which is not the case in Uganda, here once you are deputy, then that is your position until your term of office comes to an end or until you die, resign or get censured.
A Member chosen by the House as Acting Speaker in that Country-Australia has all the powers of the Speaker including constitutional powers, powers under commonwealth laws, powers under standing orders, and ex officio functions such as committee membership.
Pursuant to this authority Acting Speakers have received commissions from the Governor-General to administer the oath or affirmation of allegiance to Members, announced the return to writs issued by the Speaker for a by-election and administered the oath of allegiance to the newly elected Members.
If the Speaker and both the Deputy Speaker and the Second Deputy Speaker are absent, the Clerk informs the House and the House then either elects one of the Members present to perform the duties of Speaker or adjourns to the next sitting day.
Clerk acts as chair of the House until a Member is elected to perform the duties of Speaker. I recall on November 21, 2019, Parliament failed to conduct plenary sitting following the absence of then-Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, and her then-deputy Jacob Oulanyah.
The Deputy Speaker was in Rwanda’s capital Kigali to attend The African, Caribbean, and Pacific–European Union conference while Kadaga was attending a State House function. At is at this point Semujju Nganda who was opposition Chief Whip proposed for the creation of a panel of speakers so that the house wards off such unprecedented occurrences brought about by the absence of speakers.
He was ignored and the proposal placed on the shelf to gather dust to date. The purpose was to curtail embarrassment of not being able to conduct house business because of the absence of a speaker or deputy.
His proposal would have saved the lacuna we have today, he wanted a law to allow for an intermediate Speaker such that when the office of substantive Speaker becomes vacant due to resignation or death, the person so elected to serve in acting capacity during that lapse is deemed to continue to be Speaker for the purposes of the exercise of any powers or functions of the Speaker until a new Speaker is chosen.
Again, when the House has been dissolved, the Speaker at the time of dissolution is deemed to continue as Speaker for the purpose of exercising statutory powers or functions until a Speaker is chosen by the House. In our case, another huge amount of taxpayer’s money is going to be expended on ensuring that NRM gets a Speaker of their choice.
If the Speaker or the person deemed to be Speaker dies, or is unable through ill health to exercise any powers or functions under a law, or is absent from Uganda, the Deputy Speaker is deemed to be Speaker, for the purposes of the exercise of any powers or functions of the Speaker until the House chooses a new Speaker or the absence or incapacity of the elected Speaker ends. This does not extend to the exercise of the Speaker’s constitutional functions as provision is made in the Constitution.
If there is no Deputy Speaker, then the person who last held that office is deemed to continue as Deputy Speaker until a new Deputy Speaker is elected by the House, and such a person can be deemed to be the Speaker.
For the few times that I rubbed shoulders with Oulanyah in the company of his friend Aggrey Awori, I can confess he was by far an upright man who had his own fears about the future.
His death should continue to be a source of inspiration to those still breathing. To the Parliamentarians, Oulanyah did not accomplish much as Speaker, the only gift you can give him in his death is to enact laws that have a bearing on the future.
The author, Mr. Roger Wadada Musaalo is a Lawyer, human rights activist, researcher, and politician