My achievements speak for themselves, says speaker Rebecca Kadaga

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KAMPALA– As the 11th Parliamentary speakership battle takes shape, the contestants now have resorted to re-arranging their previous achievements in a bid to solicit for support from Legislators.

The seat is currently held by NRM’s Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga however she’s faced with challenge from fellow party member and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah as well as FDC’S Ibrahim Ssemuju Nganda.

In 2020, senior journalist Stephen Bwire had an interview with the speaker, and here is what their discussion was like.

Speaker Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga is the first female Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda. She punched her way into politics on the affirmative card when she contested as Member of Parliament for the women of Kamuli in 1989. 

At the time the national Legislature was the National Resistance Council (NRC). Since then, she has been the area’s Woman MP. She has been at the forefront of championing gender equality, and empowerment of women and the girl child. 

You have been in the corridors of power for quite long; serving in various portfolios. How would you describe your experiences.

I started off as a back-bencher. This was for seven years; up to 1996; till I was appointed as the Minister of State Foreign Affairs. I then served as the Minister of State for Works; and later on as the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs. 

I was elevated to the position of Deputy Speaker in 2001. Ten years later, and I climbed to the helm of the Legislature. Serving as Speaker has enabled me to access other opportunities. Among these are serving as Inter-Parliamentary Union President; Head of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians; among other regional and international bodies.

The arrival of women at leadership has been gradual. If you look at the structure of government over many years, we had no women Ministers. Among the first female Ministers, we had Hon. Elizabeth Bagaya and Mrs Mary Senkatuka Astles, in the 1970s, during Idi Amin’s Presidency. 

These were followed by Mrs Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire in 1979 — when the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) was in charge of the State.Later, the numbers kept growing. But we have to lead in order to have the doors opened. This has been so because the structure of our society could not acknowledge the leadership of women. 

Sadly, patriarchy still exists. One has to navigate that journey through patriarchy to be able to serve. Secondly, you have to be exceedingly good so that no questions are asked about your capacity. Therefore, it has been an interesting journey.

You have had a roller-coaster ride as Speaker over the last nine years. Are you satisfied with your accomplishments as this tenure comes to an end; in May next year?

The independence of Parliament is an achievement that I deeply appreciate. The Legislature now stands on its muscle and performs its core roles, under the doctrine of separation of powers, without undue influence from the Executive.

(1). I have enhanced the visibility of Parliament. The public follow Parliament’s proceedings with keen interest. Parliament is now more open to the public. Every year, we organise the ‘Parliament Week’ — during which we invite the public to visit and interact with the institution; to have better appreciation of what each department does; the role of Parliament; and to learn more about the role of an MP, among other issues.We have the ‘People’s Parliament’ where citizens come to have a true experience of Parliament as mock legislators.

(2). Private members’ bills have also increased.

(3). We have improved on our legislative record. We have 20 bills which have been worked on.

(4). On the Gender Equality front, we have established the first certificate of ‘Gender and Equity Compliance,’ which is the first of its kind in the world.

(5). We have also recognized the maternal role of women. We have a ‘Child Day Care Centre’ for MPs and staff. This helps the MPs and staff to concentrate on their work, instead of driving home every now and then to check on their children.

(6). We have launched the Application for ‘Bungeni Uganda’ to enable the public follow our proceedings; study the bills; and submit their views and proposals before these bills are passed.

(7). In terms of infrastructure, we have a car park for MPs.

(8). The 6th Floor which houses my office has been completed in my term. It was part of the original plan when the colonial government was building this House.

(9). We are constructing a new chamber to provide enough space for MPs and staff.

(10). Parliament has hosted key international events, including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC), which was held in Kampala, last year. In 2012, we hosted the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). We also hosted the Youth Parliament.

(11). Over these years, we have recognized special interest groups: People with Disabilities; Women; and Youth; in addition to committees.

How have you broken through the barriers to scale to the top in a male-dominated world, considering the positions you have held locally and internationally?

First, it requires a lot of preparation; it didn’t just happen. I have been consistently attending the meetings, but also I have taken many leadership positions both in the Commonwealth and the IPU [Inter-Parliamentary Union]. 

In the Commonwealth, I started as a branch representative; then I became the chair of the CWP [Commonwealth Parliamentarians] Africa. So I worked on programmes that no other Chair had done — and no other region in the Commonwealth had done except Africa.My work was outstanding. Because of the work I had done in Africa, they thought that I should also support them do international work and build the women parliamentarians; which I did quite well. 

Within the IPU, I started as a member. Next, I became a chair of a Standing Committee. Later, I became a member of the Executive Committee, where I represented the East African region. When I was on the regional executive, we brought in South Sudan and Somalia as new members to the IPU through my leadership in the executive committee. So it has been a journey, but it has been perfected overtime.

As a champion of women empowerment, what are some of the initiatives you have undertaken as Speaker, to improve the lives of women?

Within Parliament, we have advocated for a Day Care facility for the children so that mothers who come there are comfortable. And this applies to all public places; for instance, now all the new markets must have a daycare facility so that women can have their children play while they are busy their work. We have also advocated for other facilities. 

For instance, we have proposed that all new roads, which are being built, should have positions for resting, so that if you have been travelling with a small child in a bus, you don’t have to go and take the child to the bush to urinate. We have proposed that all the roads should have those rest areas; where there’s a bathroom and a small restaurant, where people can sit or change the children’s diapers. Those are some of the issues on infrastructure.

Of course, we have discussed the buildings. For example, to cater for women that are physically disabled, etc. We have done a lot of advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities. Recently, we wrote to the President suggesting that the people in the Judiciary should be trained in ‘sign language’ so that they are able to communicate with people whose hearing is impaired.

In education, we have worked on reduction of taxes on many items that the women use. For instance, taxes on sanitary towels, which had been reintroduced, had to be scrapped at our insistence.

At a different level, I have personally worked on the issue of water in my constituency. There’s a lot more water than many other places. Women and children, in many areas, spend so much time walking in search of clean water. If there’s a water point, you have thousands of Jerry cans, which could stay there throughout the day and night. So one of the things we need to do is to help the rural woman; to make sure that she quickly clean water and rushes back home to do her work.

There used to be a programme in the Ministry of Energy, which dwelt on cooking stoves. These would enable people cook quickly. However, I don’t know how far it has spread across the country. I don’t hear much about it anymore. And yet that was one of the key interventions that would help the rural woman to cook quickly and get time to do other things; and maybe even go and do business.

We also have to work on the issues of taking medical services nearer to the people. We also still have a challenge on schools. Often times, some pupils have to walk very long and hazardous distances. It’s risky for them because they have to start walking early in the morning and get back late in the night! So we need to address all those risks. Facilities should be put where children can easily access them; e.g. at a distance of 1km or less. And then of course we have been discussing and trying to improve on household incomes. We are trying hard to ensure that there are more economic activities, which women can engage in, in order to earn a living.

Day by day, you have been seen to push for the independence of the Legislature in accordance with the doctrine of separation of powers. Are you satisfied that the institution which you superintend is somewhat independent?As earlier mentioned in the introduction, I think we have made progress. Before the 1995 Constitution, the powers were heavily gravitated towards the Executive. 

The Legislature and Judiciary were like small brothers of the Executive. However, the 1995 Constitution gave us some autonomy. Nonetheless, I have learnt that it’s a constant battle; to remind the other branches of government that they should not step on my feet. This is my parameter; and this is your parameter; don’t step on my feet. So we have made progress because I have been continuously talking about it, and we are gaining ground.

The question of gender parity has lingered on for long. During your tenure in parliament, what have you done to answer this question; especially in leadership positions?Other than the constitutional provisions, during my tenure, we have been able to amend the rules of procedure to ensure that 40 per cent of leadership positions in Parliament are held by women. It was a long struggle. Although it took us about four years, we eventually achieved it. Right now, we have 42 per cent and I hope it will grow to equality. The idea is to go 50:50.

There are some people who would argue that you have depended on the affirmative action card as District Woman Representative for so long; that it’s high time you relinquished the seat and went for a constituency where you would tussle it out with men…The position of District Woman MP is not an easy one; it’s a very big constituency since it covers an entire district. Secondly, as Speaker, I am able to reach out to all the people without having to first obtain permission from a given area MP within the district.

As Speaker, you belong to the ruling Party where you hold a senior position; how would you balance allegiance to your Party NRM, and at the same time carry out your duties as Speaker of Parliament with neutrality?

My biggest call is to serve the people of Uganda. The majority of MPs, including those in Opposition are satisfied with the way I handle legislative business. Secondly, NRM is the party in power. I am bound to support the policies of my party, especially if they are for the good of all the people of Uganda.

What is the most memorable event during the time you have been in public service?

For me it’s something which happened way back before I joined politics. I was among the pioneer women lawyers who founded the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), to help women access legal services and justice. I am very proud of that.
 Is the NRM is still committed to the ideals of the Revolution?

There is a generation that feels they are more entitled than others. They are the ones grabbing government property and assets; they are stealing public resources with impunity.

The NRM Revolution needs to focus more attention on effective and quality service delivery. We need more schools, hospitals, supply of electricity to SMEs, and more roads to connect rural communities to market centres. I don’t support the policy of abolishing Health Centre IIs because we need more health facilities at Parishes. Some sub counties are too big and people may have difficulty in walking long distances to receive treatment.

More work needs to be done, especially in water transport. The Kyoga ferry has been pending for a very long time.

Any Piece of advice to young people in NRM?

Be disciplined and focused. Understand the objectives of the party and follow the party principles.