Parliament on Wednesday uncharacteristically failed to convene special sitting for the departed former Attorney General, Peter Nyombi whose body spent about 3 hours at the building.
The casket of Nyombi was also, for the first time, not received by either the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga or her Deputy Jacob Oulanyah who have customarily availed themselves for such grief-stricken moments since they assumed their respective positions in 2011.
The Executive members including Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda; Government Chief Whip, Ruth Nankabirwa and some Ministers, who normally accompany the Speaker, Deputy or both, were instead accompanied by MPs and former legislators to receive the body of the man who also served as MP for 10 years.
The casket only remained in the foyer for public viewing and never made it to the Chambers where a special sitting for the late would have taken place.
Speaker Kadaga, in a statement released on Thursday evening explained the events that led to Wednesday’s manifestly odd moment.
She started by dismissing the comments made by Ms. Nankibirwa on the matter as far from the truth. Nankabirwa reportedly said the house failed to sit because both the Speaker and the Deputy were away.
“I would like to clarify on comments attributed to the Government Chief Whip, Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa, where she is reported to have said that the reason MPs did not pay tribute to the former Attorney General and former Buruuli County MP was because the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker were away on official duty. The remarks are far from true and unfortunately have been widely picked up by mainstream media and social media forums,” said Kadaga.
According to the Speaker, Parliament plenary session follows a calendar prior made by the Business Committee composed of the Speaker herself; the Deputy Speaker; Leader of Government Business (PM); Leader of the Opposition; Government Chief Whip; Chief Opposition Whip; other Party Whips; two Independent Members of Parliament; and all Committee Chairpersons.
“In that calendar, Parliament was to be in Session between 6th June and 10th October for the first meeting. It should be noted that the calendar for the Third Session was approved by the entire House. The calendar had three meetings and it also indicates when the House would be in recess,” remarked Kadaga.
The recess for the First Meeting of the Third Session dedicated to legislation and to run from 6th June to 10th October 2018, however commenced on the October 4th 2018 when Oulanyah, adjourned the house.
Kadaga also noted that only sitting MPs, the President and “any other” person proposed by the Executive would be entitled to lie in state and get special sitting tribute.
“It should be noted that the only persons entitled to lie in state and have a tribute are the sitting Members of Parliament and national leaders, like the President, and any others who the Government will have proposed.”
Kadaga stated that she wrote to PM Rugunda in 2014 to be guided on the class of national leaders or vital people entitled to lie in state in the absence of a formal criterion.
Neither Museveni nor Rugunda, she says, replied to her. The first victim of this happened to be the late Peter Nyombi.
“It is therefore not correct for the Government Chief Whip to state that the reason the special sitting did not take place was because the Speaker and Deputy Speaker were away on official business.”
Kadaga said she recommended for a special tribute for late Nyombi to take place in November when MPs return from recess.
“When I was sent a letter requesting for the fallen member to be extended this courtesy, I recommended that Parliament would pay tribute to Hon. Nyombi at the beginning of the second meeting in November. I thought this was adequate.”
In an apparent rift between the legislature and the executive, Kadaga revealed that the government overstretched in bringing Peter Nyombi’s body to Parliament.
“Government however insisted the body should be brought to Parliament for the public to pay their respects. So, I granted the request as we await the commencement of the second meeting of the Third Session when the family will be invited and tribute paid.”
She stalwartly concluded that Parliament is independent and will never be arm twisted.
“This is therefore to set the record straight and to remind our stakeholders that Parliament has its schedule and it should not be dictated upon.”