Kampala- Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, 48, is never shy to say what is on his mind, sometimes seemingly oblivious of who it may rub the wrong way. Not for the first time during his three years in the position, he stoked controversy in Parliament last week when he castigated the quality of debate in the House.
The bow-tied, stout representative of Omoro County in Gulu District speaks passionately and breathlessly in a piercing voice, picking up speed and intensity as he delves deeper into a subject. And what he says many times pierces people.
“You look at the quality of debate, look at the level of research,” the Daily Monitor quoted Mr Oulanyah as saying, “Someone just comes into the chambers and starts debating.”
Mr Oulanyah said most MPs now only talk politics because it does not require research. For that reason, he said, he no longer takes off time to read the Hansard – the official record of parliamentary proceedings - for he does not find what is recorded there illuminating anymore.
The MPs we talked to agreed with the deputy Speaker. All of them said, however, that Mr Oulanyah was telling only part of the story.
For the story to be complete, the MPs said, the role of the leadership of Parliament, of which Mr Oulanyah is part, needs to be put into perspective too.
“I am surprised that the deputy Speaker would say that; he spoke as if he is unaware of whatever is wrong with the administration of Parliament and how it affects the performance of MPs,” says Mr Mathius Nsubuga, secretary general of the Democratic Party and MP Bukoto County South.
In Parliament, Mr Nsubuga says, “We just do things ad hoc. Members will never know what exactly they will discuss and when. If you asked Mr Oulanyah himself what he is going to preside over tomorrow he will not be able to tell you.”
Mr Nsubuga says the Order Paper – which shows the order of business in the house for the day – is released at 11am when the house is due to sit at 2pm the same day. “How do you expect the members to prepare adequately?” he queries.
He says members were last week given “a vague outline” of what will be discussed during this session of Parliament, but that they are normally not briefed, say on a weekly basis, on what will follow.
Mr Nsubuga says even the time available for MPs to debate national issues is limited. The whole house (plenary) is supposed to sit from 2pm three days a week – on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
But it almost always delays, kicking off at 2.30pm or 3pm. The debate goes on for about three hours, although on some occasions it takes longer.
He says the time available for the whole house to sit – about nine hours a week – “is too short for us to discuss all the issues exhaustively.” Mr Nsubuga says his experience when he visited the Parliament of Zambia – which sometimes holds two sessions a day – made him wonder why the Ugandan Parliament does not consider increasing plenary time.
This is Mr Nsubuga’s second term in Parliament but he says during that time, the whole house has only been able to discuss one report coming out of the two committees to which he is a member.
That was the Public Accounts Committee report into what went wrong with the preparations for the hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2007.
The other committee to which he is a member – the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises – has never had a single report discussed by the whole house during the period in issue. Parliament has no time.
Some more time
“I have consulted with many members and one of the things they disapprove of is this trend of giving them two or three minutes to debate on a topic,” says Bunyole County MP Emmanuel Dombo.