PARLIAMENT- When NRM lawmakers convened in Kyankwanzi and resolved that President Museveni would be the party’s sole candidate in the 2016 polls, it appeared the resolution would only have ramifications, if any, on the ruling party and not Parliament.
But as the Kyankwanzi retreat was followed by a flurry of caucus meetings in Kampala, it dawned on the NRM MPs that there was need to soften the ground if the resolution, and others, was to stand a chance of sailing through at the party delegates’ conference before the general elections.
They realised that there was a need to engage in what they termed “detoxification” in their constituencies.
Though the excursions were touted as campaigns to review performance of the NRM government in vis-à-vis promises made in its 2011 manifesto, events panning out at these mini-delegates’ conferences have left no doubt that they were mooted to outwit Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s perceived presidential ambitions.
Premier Mbabazi has since stated that he will not stand against President Museveni in 2016
Ironically, in mid-April, it was Mr Mbabazi who officially broke the silence about these conferences, trying to mitigate fears that the exodus of NRM MPs would stall House proceedings, arguing that the programme was “staggered”.
To effect the explanations of the Kyankwanzi resolutions, MPs were given Shs4 million per sub-county.
The ruling party legislators would soon leave for their constituencies without seeking permission from the Speaker.
Under House rules, political party whips are supposed to inform the Speaker about absence of their members.
The mini-delegates’ conferences were scheduled to run from mid-April to mid-May, according to Ms Kasule Lumumba, the NRM Chief Whip.
But in a House where the ruling party commands a majority 259 MPs out of the 385, House business was bound to stall in their absence.
House rules of procedure stipulate that quorum of Parliament shall be one third of all MPs entitled to vote. The 9th Parliament has 385 but without the 10 ex-officios who are not entitled to vote, quorum of the House is 125 MPs.
The MPs left as Parliament was starting on the 2014/15 budget process.
Committees reviewing Budget Framework Papers(BFP) of ministries have been proceeding with few members. Committees only require quorum when taking a vote but the absence of members means that the budget has not been thoroughly reviewed.
However, Ms Lumumba argues that Parliament has always had difficulties in raising quorum, saying that it cannot be pegged to activities in the NRM.
“The issue of quorum is a disease, it is anaemic and as we head towards the election, it is going to be worse. It [lack of quorum] has been there even before this exercise started. The plan was to travel on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and that is why we did not request for permission from the Speaker,” Ms Lumumba says.
Committees, however, can even convene on Friday and Monday.
Ms Benny Namugwanya, the chairperson of the Defence and Internal Affairs Committee, says some constituencies are “heating up and members have had to spend more time there.”
However, she insists that that has not affected House business because the plan was to conduct these meetings on days when Parliament is off.
“When it comes to the fourth and fifth year [of term of Parliament], quorum becomes a problem. Members have divided loyalties and they have to find which programme is important,” Ms Namugwanya said.
NRM MPs also trooped to their constituencies as the House deliberated the crucial HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill, 2010.
When Parliament convened to debate and vote on the Bill on April 23, a meager 71 MPs were in attendance, according to figures given by the Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah. He was forced to defer debate to the following day, hoping that more MPs would have been mobilised to attend the plenary session.
It was never the case.
When the Bill was up for debate on the second day, the numbers had decreased from 71 to 45, further stalling debate, stalling a Bill mooted to fight the Aids epidemic for two days.
“Yesterday [Wednesday], we could not proceed with the same item because a matter of quorum was raised and at the time, we had 71 MPs. As I talk I have 45 members. It is big problem. It is a serious problem if we cannot proceed with business simply because we do not have sufficient numbers. I call upon the whips to work hard to ensure that we transact business,” Mr Oulanyah ruled.
The matter of lack of quorum has also exposed the dilemma Ms Rebecca Kadaga faces where as Speaker, she is expected to exercise neutrality but she inevitably has to pay allegiance to a party she subscribes to as Vice chairperson.
Ms Kadaga’s responses to inquiries about how the House irregularly proceeds without quorum have been casual, if not indifferent.
“I do not think we should use rules to defeat the work of the House even when you [MPs] were given notice,” Ms Kadaga shot down a procedural matter on quorum raised by the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Wafula Oguttu, on Tuesday.
On that occasion, MPs proceeded and voted on controversial clauses in the Bill.
When MP Kasiano Wadri raised the matter again on Wednesday, Ms Kadaga retorted: “Where are your own members?”
Last year, President Museveni denigrated Ms Kadaga for leading the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill without quorum, writing that: “How can Parliament be the one to break the Constitution and the Law repeatedly?”
As the business in the House stalled, ruling party MPs were reported in the media to be drumming up support for Museveni, with others saying the exercise was one of bribery.