President Museveni on Friday opened a week-long retreat of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) parliamentary caucus at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi District.
The retreat is also being attended by about 50 NRM leaning Independents, NRM historicals, members of the Central Executive Committee and ministers.
First, Mr Museveni was supposed to open the retreat on Thursday but arrived past 7pm and the opening ceremony was postponed to Friday morning. Upon arrival, the MPs rejected the protocol chosen by the organisers to have the Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, to be the one inviting the president to speak.
After close to five minutes of resistance, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, the government chief whip, surrendered and called Dr Rugunda to invite Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi to speak before inviting President Museveni.
In his brief speech, Mr Ssekandi praised his boss for steering the NRM and also for deciding to join the MPs for a retreat.
“You managed to come here with a lot of stamina. We thank you for leading us well,” Mr Ssekandi said amidst a lot of cheers from the audience.
Mr Museveni rose delivered a lecture on Building a resilient, integrated and self-sustaining economy.
After the President’s speech, MPs weighed in with questions and observations.
Mr Robert Rukaari, the chairman of NRM Entrepreneurship League, said: “I absolutely welcome the decision to withdraw government shares from commercial banks because they have been feasting on our farmers. Since the privatisation of Uganda Commercial Bank, the farmers have been at a loss. UDB will strategically support our farmers through law interest loans.”
Ms Evelyn Anite, the State Minister for Investment and Privatisation, said: “I know the president will send the Sugar Bill back with comments and with all the colleagues, we will discuss them to make it better. We are working as a team, the president is the head executive and we are legislators. I am sure his rejection of the Bill is in the interest of the investors and the public.”
At the retreat, MPs are not openly discussing the subject matter (the CEC recommendations), rather they have been undergoing a series of lectures touching investment, entrepreneurship and wealth creation as per the theme, industrialisation for job creation for shared prosperity.
The mood at the retreat by Friday evening when journalists were still allowed at the tightly protected venue, was still not self-telling of what the MPs are anticipating in the remaining days. The retreat programme full of lectures is closed to the press.
However, a walk into the compound of the retreat centre, one cannot fail to spot the NRM traditional yellow colours outside the Yusuf Lule meeting hall despite ongoing lectures.
Some MPs would be seen popping in and out of Oliver Zizinga Hall (the female wing dormitory) and Abdu Nasser Hall (the male dormitory).
Others either catch fresh air from the shades of the two big trees in the compound or even in the huge tent erected for serving break and evening tea.
When President Museveni landed in Kyankwanzi a few minutes past 7pm on Thursday, everyone, including ministers, flocked the Yusuf Lule hall to wait for the official opening of the retreat.
This could not last more even 20 minutes as Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, the Government Chief Whip, informed them the president was taking a rest and would open the retreat the following morning (Friday).
Indeed when Mr Museveni walked in with the First Lady, Ms Janet Museveni, the hall was full to capacity.
Significantly, during the first days of the retreat, some MPs were shy to speak to journalists although the cameras were restricted in the better part of Thursday.
By the time the press was sent away from the venue after the official opening, it was not yet clear when the issues of sole candidature and the proposal to line-up behind candidates in the NRM primaries would be discussed.
Who to table the motion also remained a tightly guarded secret.
“It may be me or another person but our rules of procedure allow any member to move a motion to amend the programme. What I can say is that majority of us are in support of the CEC resolutions,”Mr Semeo Nsubuga, the Kassanda South MP, said.
Ms Nankabirwa said: “The issue of Mr Museveni’s sole candidature and the line-up by voters in the party primary elections would be discussed when “the Secretary General (Ms Justine Kasule Lumumba) gives an update on the manifesto and CEC resolutions.”
Highlights of Museveni’s speech
-The poverty levels are currently standing at 21.4 per cent declining from 19 per cent two years ago. Asked MPs to use his parish development model to “awaken” poor homesteads to join commercial agriculture.
-Government to withdraw its shares in commercial banks to capitalise Uganda Development Bank that will give cheap loans with not more than 12 per cent interest rate. The loans will target commercial agriculture, manufacturers, ICT and services.
-Announced that he has rejected the Sugar Bill passed in November last year. The Bill is in the interest of small scale sugar dealers and threatening big investments.
-Announced caveat on creation of new administrative units to stop the increment of cost of administration. The money will be injected into the youth livelihood fund.
-Announced a ban on importation of industrial raw materials that can be produced in Uganda. Such include pharmaceutical grade sugar; starch for drugs manufacturing; leather for shoe making; rubber for motorcycle tyres and tube making; processed copper; steel; among others.