By Henry Mukasa
and Mary Karugaba
DEPUTY Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has suspended five opposition MPs from Parliament for three sittings, citing â€œgross misconductâ€. The legislators are Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo county), Odonga Otto (Aruu), Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum Woman), Michael Ocula (Kilak), Christine Bako (Arua), all of FDC.
â€œThese members stand suspended from the service of this Parliament,â€ Kadaga announced yesterday.
Shortly afterward, she suspended proceedings for 15 minutes to allow the MPs to leave. But they did not. When Kadaga returned one hour after meeting security chiefs, the MPs were still in the chambers.
She directed the Sergeant-at-Arms, Ahmed Kagoye, to eject them, but in vain. As Kagoye and assistants J. Macho and Sheila Atim charged towards the MPs, Kadaga adjourned the House to this morning. Parliament goes into recess tomorrow.
As she spoke, Odonga Otto shouted: â€œCan you be judge and prosecutor?â€
Some female MPs also warned Kagoye not to â€œtouch a womanâ€. The Police officers backed off.
The Police officers tried to persuade Aywar to leave in vain. Instead, opposition MPs camped in the House and vowed to sleep there if hundreds of officers deployed in the foyer were not withdrawn.
Although the rules make the Speakerâ€™s decision final, Kadaga asked the MPs to apologise, but they refused and vowed to take the matter to the Constitutional Court.
The Government chief whip, Daudi Migereko, also said he was talking to his opposition counterpart to persuade them to apologise.
The suspension means the MPs cannot enter the chambers, the lobby, the foyer, committee rooms, the canteen, the car-park, or the surroundings of Parliament.
Kadagaâ€™s action follows the confusion which erupted on Tuesday after she refused the opposition to present their concerns about the ongoing voter registration update, the proposal to amend the Constitution to allow for the restoration of term limits, the removal of the army from the electoral processes and the restructuring of the Electoral Commission.
Kadaga said the matter had been discussed and concluded in the morning session, which the opposition chief whip Kassiano Wadri (FDC) skipped. The MPs rejected her explanation.
The MPs walked out of the chambers and the doors were shut behind them. The MPs, however, responded by kicking the door open, prompting Kadaga to adjourn the House to yesterday. She warned the MPs of disciplinary action.
Opening yesterdayâ€™s session, Kadaga described the MPsâ€™ conduct as â€œexcessively unrulyâ€. She said they had breached the rules of procedure which require the MPs to listen to the speaker â€œin silenceâ€.
â€œThe breaking of the doors, repeated insults and disruption of the proceedings is a matter of grave concern,â€ Kadaga noted.
She also accused the MPs of deliberately planning to disrupt the House, which was attended by many leaders of the Inter-Party Cooperation, a loose alliance of political groups planning to field a single candidate in next yearâ€™s general elections.
Kadaga said a woman was arrested as she attempted to enter the gallery with two stones in a bag. â€œShe was brown, old and limped a bit. She will be investigated and charged.â€
â€œThe stones were intended to hit the Speaker and MPs in the chambers,â€ Kadaga stated as the MPs booed her.
â€œEven people in the public gallery had carried unusually many coins which security believe were to be used to attack the Speaker.â€
The MPs later broke into small groups to discuss the suspension, the first since the National Resistance Council in the late 1980s suspended Cuthbert Obwangor for for abusing the chairman, Moses Kigongo.
â€œNo soldiers in the House,â€ the MPs shouted each time they saw strangers. The Police kept a tight guard, while plain-clothes operatives paced about the building and stopped the public from the strangersâ€™ gallery.
After issuing the suspension, Kadaga met security chiefs Crispus Kiyonga (the defence minister), Amama Mbabazi (security), Kirunda Kivejinja and Matia Kasaija (internal affairs), Freddie Ruhindi (Attorney General), the OC of Parliament, Kasirabo and generals Elly Tumwine and Jim Muhwezi.
In the meantime, a flurry of activity filled the chambers. Alice Alaso told the parliamentary Police boss that the MPs would stay the night in the chambers if he did not withdraw his men. The officer immediately ordered his men out and the MPs begun to leave.
Otto emerged first and told journalists that Kadaga treated them unfairly. â€œShe does not know that you cannot be a complainant, judge and a prosecutor in your own case. This is a violation of the rules,â€ he said.
Otto said Kadaga should have instead suspended the people who bolted the door.
Ekanya said: â€œSo many people have not been registered in my constituency. I will stand to defend their rights whatever the cost.â€
Anywar said Kadaga must prove that the suspended MPs caused the commotion. â€œThis is the highest level of intolerance.â€
Erias Lukwago (DP) said the opposition will reclaim the sanctity of Parliament. â€œYou cannot debate in fear. We will stand firm even if it means throwing all of us out.â€