What is keeping the Shadow Cabinet away from Ssenyonyi?

A few weeks back, social media commentators, using photos released by the office of the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, drew comparisons of the shadow cabinet meetings under Joel Ssenyonyi, the current Leader of the Opposition (LOP) and his predecessor, Mathias Mpuuga.

While Mpuuga could afford a full house attendance of the shadow cabinet meetings until he was retired in December, hardly a year in office, Ssenyonyi can’t get at least 10 shadow ministers for a meeting.

Challenged by the social media comparisons, the Nakawa West MP is reported to have asked his press team to stop posting photos of the poorly attended shadow cabinet meetings.

Ssenyonyi took on the old tradition of convening the weekly shadow cabinet meetings ahead of the plenary sittings of a particular week. The intention of this is to give the opposition ministers chance to develop common ground on the items lined up for debate in that particular week.

Since the cabinet is no longer meeting, most shadow ministers are reduced to mere spectators during the plenary sittings ostensibly, fearful of agreed positions if any. That probably explains why even the LOP himself remained glued to his seat as Parliament debated a supplementary budget request that controversially awarded Shs 567 billion to a one Mathias Magoola, to establish a pharmaceutical company.

Without a minority report authored by MPs, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (FDC, Kira Municipality), Yusuf Nsibambi (FDC, Mawokota South) and Mathias Mpuuga (NUP, Nyendo-Mukungwe), the motion was going to pass without the opposition view being heard.

Same would have happened had Ssemujju, Hanifah Nabukeera (NUP, Mukono Woman) and Muwanga Kivumbi (NUP, Butambala) had not come with minority reports against the tax Bills that were passed on Monday.

What went wrong?

Ssenyonyi’s appointment came two days after listening to speeches by fellow opposition MPs at the Opposition’s mid-term performance review meeting last December, crediting Mpuuga for having kept the opposition in Parliament united despite competing interests within and outside Parliament.

Some MPs like Atkins Katusabe (FDC, Bukonzo West) and Muwanga Kivumbi had earlier, in the last shadow cabinet meeting that Mpuuga chaired, predicted a return to the Betty Aol Ocan-era when the boardroom became too big for the cabinet meetings.

“We could sit about three people in her office, and that would pass for a cabinet meeting,” Katusabe said.

After assuming office, Ssenyonyi promised to constantly consult his predecessors notably, Winnie Kiiza, Prof Ogenga-Latigo and Mpuuga as he also pledged not to “NUPnise” the office because “this is not an NUP office but an office of the opposition where all everyone in the opposition must feel comfortable.”

That was before the NUP secretariat began giving him directives on how to run the affairs.

“The man is clearly not independent, most of his decisions and actions are influenced by the secretariat,” a source close to his office said.

Many have questioned his leadership that they say is not as consultative as the previous one. For instance, the majority of shadow ministers kept away on the day they were supposed to table the alternative ministerial policy statements to Parliament as MPs embarked on the process of scrutinising the 2024/2025 national budget.

“During Mpuuga’s time, he sat with each of us and discussed the alternatives each had for their respective dockets. For Ssenyonyi, it was a prepared document that was given to the shadow ministers to read but without a clear understanding of the contents,” a member of the shadow cabinet said.

“That is why, many didn’t have the motivation to present the alternative statements,” the MP added.

Another MP said, “Ssenyonyi himself used to skip most of the meetings we used to have, it should therefore not be surprising for him that members find no time for his meetings.”

For some political commentators, the LOP could be struggling to get the numbers because the majority of the MPs are back to their constituencies to lay strategies for their 2026 re-election bids.

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