KAMPALA – On Thursday the 10th March, 2022, while others serious countries were debating matters of national importance like how to survive in the era of Ukraine- Russian war, some 155 legislators in Uganda were busy voting to remove Hon. Francis Zaake from the Parliament Commission.
A committee Chaired by Abdu Katuntu had earlier investigated the Mityana Municipality Member of Parliament for alleged abusive tweets, targeting the Deputy Speaker Anita Among. While presenting the report on the floor of the House on Thursday evening, Hon. Katuntu said that after the committee’s evaluation of the submissions and evidence, it was concluded that Zaake did not take steps provided in the Rules of Procedure to challenge the words of the Deputy Speaker and instead decided to resort to social media to vent his anger.
Clearly, the outcome of the Katuntu led committee was simply endorsing the ugly head of intolerance that many of our leaders have picked up in recent times.
The findings of the Committee must be challenged in the courts of law with immediate effect lest a bad precedent is created. The long-term result would be to use the findings to gag opposition Members of Parliament from airing out their views especially after being denied a chance to speak on the floor of parliament. They are trying to build a power base in the person of Anita Among and very soon she may become a problem to everybody.
I do not personally condone the use of abusive language and cannot verify whether or not the insults were made and by honorable Francis Zaake but am also mindful that words don’t kill. It is my thinking that now is the time for high-ranking Government officials learnt to live in harmony with those who disagree with them. This is the only neutral ground where Museveni has stood out; otherwise all his critics would be languishing in prisons or dead in very questionable circumstances. One of the wisest men of all times in the names of Winston Churchill once said, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks at you.” I think that message was conscripted for Anita Among, she has got to learn to live with constructive criticism and it is unlikely that every Parliamentarian can shower her with praises.
According to Katuntu, it was opined by the committee that the conduct of the Hon Zaake was not proper and amounted to misbehavior and misconduct. Irrespective of the merits in the findings, those who censured Zaake wasted their precious time; the Courts of law will set aside their decision and order for his reinstatement. I was however fascinated by the minority report on Mr Zaake’s alleged misconduct and misbehavior presented by Butambala District Woman Member of Parliament Aisha Kabanda. She said “We infer that even when the matter of censure of Hon. Zaake Francis was not the matter before the committee, it was important that members pronounced themselves about signing of the purported censure motion. She inadvertently and without ill intention found Zaake guilty as accused but recommended a reconciliation.
Matters were made worse that the email address that was used to open the Face book account on which the alleged post was made does not belong to Zaake personally atleast from the record obtained from Zaake’ s file but to his next of kin. So was the committee right to impute the actions of the next of kin on Zaake or it was malice aforethought. Aisha Kabanda’s minority’s report was an exercise in futility as the house appeared determined and coached to censure Zaake. The Members present were only acting on emotions; they seemed to have forgotten that they did not have the requisite quorum. No wonder the National Unity Platform Party has insisted that Zaake is still their desired choice for Commissioner.
What is called Parliamentary Commission is composed of the Speaker as chair, and also has the Deputy Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition, the Government Chief Whip and Finance Minister. The National Unity Platform being the biggest opposition Political Party in Parliament nominated Zaake to the Parliamentary Commission as a back-bench member. The other three back-bench Commissioners are from the ruling National Resistance Movement who must have looked at Zaake as a stumbling block.
Rule 110 of the Parliament Rules of Procedure provides for the removal of a Commissioner and outlines the necessary procedures to be followed. It states that a Member of the Commission, other than the Speaker or the Leader of Government business, Leader of the Opposition or the Minister of finance may be removed from office by Parliament for incompetence, misconduct, insanity, and inability to perform the functions of his or her office arising from infirmity of body or mind and a Commissioner shall be removed upon the vote of at least half of all voting Members of Parliament. In an amorphous Parliament of 529 members, half, in this case, is about 265; provision alone is enough to save Zaake
A member wishing to bring a motion under Rule 56 (1) and 110 of the Rules of Procedure of Parliament of Uganda is obligated to move a motion for a resolution of parliament to remove a member from the Office of Commissioner of Parliament under section 5 of the Administration of Parliament Act on grounds of misbehavior and misconduct. In the instant motion to throw out Zaake, the complainants were led by Ojara Mapenduzi, Geoffrey Macho (Busia Municipality), Mary Annet Nakato (Buyende Woman Member) and Jonathan Ebwalu (Soroti West Division). Zaake appeared before the committee and gave his side of the story which later made a decision and tabled the same before the house for debate. It appears Zaake must have confessed to the charges levied against him but that is not enough to censure him.
Ojara who is an affiliate member of the opposition attached a copy of a well-crafted censure list of members in support of the notice. It is after the notice was exposed that the public learnt that some Legislators especially from the ruling National Resistance Movement had already signed the document endorsing the censure of Francis Zaake from the Parliamentary Commission, his fate was already sealed.
Ojara Mapenduzi raised several ground in his petition and one of them was that Zaake without exercising the avenues afforded to Members of Parliament in the Rules of Procedure took to social media and to abuse and insult Deputy Speaker of Parliament of Uganda, describing her conduct in chairing the House as ….”utter bunkum emanating from her dishonest lips was only intended to mock and break him down, this is idiocy!…the loose cannon in her couldn’t contemplate the duty that her office owes members and the country at large, disturbingly ejaculated while presiding over a session to condemn torture, aah! How hypocritical, shame upon you!” further reads the notice pinned on Parliament’s member’s board.
The motion for the removal of Hon. Francis Zaake was moved by Ojara Mapenduzi himself after the House adopted the majority report authored by Parliament’s Committee on Rules and Privileges. 155 Members voted in favour of the motion to throw out Zaake. Four members voted against the move while two votes were shamelessly found to be invalid. It means that the house had a total of only 172 Members of Parliament at the time of the voting still below the quorum. The whole plan was hatched in the office of the Chief Whip, floated among leaning and NRM Members and executed on the floor of Parliament through a secret ballot. It is even more surprising that they accepted to vote by secret ballot.
Even if we were to invoke Article 88 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, the quorum would still be above the threshold which is one-third of all members of Parliament, note that the use of the word shall is coached in mandatory terms. What does the term one-third mean? it means one of three equal parts of a divisible whole. If my memory serves me right, the last time I checked the 11th Parliament (2021-2026) had 529 Members of Parliament. Surely, anyone with common sense knows that out of 529 Members, one-third of 529 means that the censure of Zaake should have been atleast 176 Members of Parliament and not 172. This, therefore, means that the censure was illegal, irrational, irregular, uncalled for and malicious and will be overturned. The only escape route would be if some of the Members don’t have voting rights.
It is a pity that the 10th Parliament had a similar incident from which the new Parliament should have learnt. If they had forgotten, atleast the Speaker should have guided them not to allow history repeat itself. It is for this reason that many would miss Kadaga and substantive Speaker. On August 1, 2014, Uganda’s Constitutional Court overturned the Anti-Homosexuality Act on procedural grounds, holding that the Act’s passing was unconstitutional because the necessary quorum of lawmakers was not present in parliament to vote on the bill.
If I had the mandate of atleast ten patriotic Ugandans, I would be asking only one question, if on Thursday the 10th March, 2022 there were only 172 Members of Parliament in the August House, where were the other 357 who are paid a monthly salary from the taxpayer. I get the impression that this is the average number of Members per sitting; the others like the Buzaya County MP Martin Muzaale Mugabi are busy cutting fuel deals. Now that a lot of money and time has been wasted on a useless subject whose outcome will not benefit Ugandans, voters need to think before voting in the year 2026.
The writer, Mr. Roger Wadada Musaalo is a Lawyer, human rights activist, researcher, and politician