By Norbert Mao
On Tuesday 12th December 2017 parliament reconvened after a short recess during which the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee worked overtime to meet with President Museveni and also write its report. During her opening remarks the Speaker of Parliament, the Right Honourable Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga directed that only police officers will be allowed to be in charge of security at parliament. She directed that all police officers deployed at parliament should have clear identification prominently displayed. Their names should be on their uniforms. She then proceeded to declare all other security agencies by whatever name called as persona non grata at parliament.
Parliament has slowly become a garrison. Plain clothes security operatives lounge in the lobbies, corridors and other locations in parliament. Many MPs believe that all offices in parliament are bugged and hidden cameras are monitoring their every move even in the toilets. There is a climate of fear and suspicion in the parliament.
Security is paramount in this era of global terrorism but in the Uganda parliament the police and other security agencies do not just perform security checks. They go as far as checking documents being carried into parliament and if found to be critical of government then the bearer is asked to leave the items behind. Leaflets, documents and posters critical of government policy are seized at the gate of parliament. One day I went to parliament to deliver posters declaring our opposition to the lifting of the presidential age limit. I was told I could not access parliament unless I surrender the posters. I refused so I had to turn around and leave.
On three occasions I was denied access to parliament because the cover on my spare tyre had a strong message opposing the lifting of the age limit. When I asked under what law I was being denied access to parliament the police claimed that it was a directive from the office of the Speaker through the Sergeant at Arms. When I demanded for a written directive they just stared at me blankly.
If the intention of Kadaga’s pronouncement was a simple exercise in public relations, then it should simply be taken as such – a desperate attempt to regain her lost shine. A kind of charm offensive to win back the confidence of MPs by showing that she cares about and is willing to defend the sanctity of parliament.
I fear that nothing much will change. The Museveni regime has perfected the art going around the law. All the operatives in charge villain clothes and the SFC will simply adorn police uniforms inscribed with fake names and fake identities. In other words, cosmetic changes will be made to appease the Speaker’s ego but substantially the parliament will remain a garrison. The aim of this militarization is not the security of parliament but rather to create a climate of fear.
Why should the police and other security operative meddle in the administrative work of parliament? Their work of is to subject any visitor to a thorough security check to ensure that they are not carrying anything that may cause physical harm. They also ensure that visitors are clearly identified. The work of ascertaining any appointments or helping a visitor to see a member or staff of even access any other service is purely the duty of parliamentary staff. Currently the receptionists at parliament are virtually redundant. Their work has been taken over by security agencies.
What should Kadaga do? She should convene a meeting of the top administrative organ of parliament – the Parliamentary Commission, which she chairs and issue written guidelines. These should be made public and displayed. The office of the Sergeant at Arms should monitor implementation of the directive. Every month compliance with the directive should be evaluated.
She shouldn’t run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. It is futile to attempt to placate the terrified MPs and also the overzealous security apparatus. You can’t purport to be on the side of MPs while hosting planning meetings aimed at terrorizing them. That is the height of duplicity and hypocrisy. Kadaga has to end her acquiescence in executive overreach. You can’t sell your integrity and keep it. As the French say “Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre”. You can’t want the butter and also the money from (selling) the butter.