Sunday March 16 2014

Of lazy MPs and NRM’s scheme to tax babies milk

Budget Committee chairperson Tim Lwanga (R) and

Budget Committee chairperson Tim Lwanga (R) and Committee on Natural Resources chair Michael Werikhe at a meeting in Parliament. Photo by G. Sseruyange 

By Mercy Nalugo

It was a week of no activity in the House. And guess why? Some committee chairpersons never generated house business on time. Talk of this sluggish syndrome that is eating up the Ninth Parliament, coupled with endless NRM Caucus activities that are lately consuming much of House time - factors that are likely to contribute to Parliament’s poor performance.

And as poverty bites, Ugandans are likely to choke on huge taxes if a proposal by the NRM advisory committee on the Budget is adopted by Cabinet. The committee, that has in essence hijacked Parliament’s official appropriation mandate, has proposed to tax processed milk, locally produced chocolate, sweets, chewing gum, computers, car fuel, paraffin, private schools and hair wigs.

The proposals contained in a report by the Presidential Advisory Committee to be discussed in Cabinet early next week will ironically leave babies “yawning” with no milk since majority of the working-class mothers feed their babies on processed milk.

That said, under the stewardship of the first female independent-minded Speaker, the Ninth Parliament started as a robust one and asserted its legislative power over the Executive. The youthful MPs religiously attended parliamentary duty and put government on tenterhooks. Almost three years later, this is no more.
It should be remembered that Parliament returned from a one and half month recess on February 18 after it was extended for two weeks to allow the NRM Caucus carry on with a 10-day retreat in Kyankwanzi. House business was later obstructed further after the NRM party held three consecutive Caucus meetings in a space of one week to further discuss the Kyankwanzi resolutions.

The same NRM legislators have now agreed to set off on a countrywide campaign to drum-up support for President Museveni’s sole candidature drive in the 2016 elections. The campaign, to be facilitated by the NRM party, is planned to take one month after which Parliament shall break off for Easter.

After Easter, Parliament will be winding down this year’s session in preparation for the state-of-the-nation address and the reading of the Budget due in June.
Explaining why she had suspended Parliament last week, Ms Kadaga communicated that some committee chairpersons wrote to her asking for extra time to finalise the Bills they are working on.

Ordinarily, the proposed laws do not have to spend more than the recommended 45 days within which House committees are supposed to scrutinise them. But some key committees, notably on health, agriculture and legal, indicated that they needed more time to dispose of their committee business.

Ms Kadaga warned that she would crack the whip on lazy chairpersons, saying it would attract punishments that may include monetary sanctions.
In 2012, a dossier drafted by the Clerk to Parliament revealed that more than 29 proposed laws have spent more than the recommended 45 days, with some introduced as far back as 2009.

Dr Chris Baryomunsi, the out-going commissioner, however, blames the MPs’ failure to bring business to Parliament on the policy of designating leadership of the committee by political parties. “MPs on each of the committees should elect their own chairpersons because then they are in position to identify the hardworking ones,” he said.

What ought to be done?
Uganda ought to draw lessons from other countries that have faced a similar problem. Take South Africa for instance, the office of the ANC chief whip introduced a leave and attendance policy to curb absenteeism in Parliament and punitive action is taken for absentees.

Kenya introduced a biometric finger print system to track MPs’ attendance. This would reduce the tendency of MPs coming to sign in the attendance book even when the meeting is over in order to claim allowances.
MPs must consider amending the Constitution to allow for the next Speaker to be either a judge of the High Court or an outstanding Ugandan of good character who will convene Parliament sessions irrespective of whether the NRM Caucus is sitting or not.

Alternatively, Uganda can adopt the Kenyan model where a third Speaker comes from the opposition. This would also avoid disruptions in parliamentary business in case both speakers are absent. Currently, both Ms Kadaga and Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah are from the NRM.
Still in Parliament, former abductees of the LRA rebels petitioned Parliament, calling for government’s immediate intervention in addressing challenges faced by war-affected women.

In the same week, Public Service State minister Sezi Mbaguta admitted some women were scrapped off the government payroll by officials in the ministry for denying officers sexual favours.

Other proposals
The committee also schemes to return the Shs200 charge on kerosene. This fee was rejected by Parliament last year, as it was unaffordable to the ordinary people deep in the villages. The committee also proposes to introduce a tax on private schools and tertiary institutions, a three per cent stamp duty on sale of land and buildings, a 1.5 per cent railway development levy and the revival of the Cooperative Bank.


Parliament resumes on Tuesday this week to handle a number of Bills, reports and petitions that have been pending. The Speaker is expected to officially read out the names of the recently appointed commissioners for Parliament’s final endorsement. The appointed commissioners are Mr Reagan Okumu (Aswa County) from the opposition and Rose Akol (Bukedea Woman MP), Rosemary Seninde (Wakiso Woman MP) and William Nokrach (PWD North) from the ruling NRM party. Also the chief whip is expected to read out the names of new Committee chairpersons.

Report on Budget
Cabinet is also expected to receive a report by the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Budget comprising MPs and ministers. The team has been meeting stakeholders that include technical people from the Ministry of Finance and other government bodies. The team has suggested a number of tax proposals which if adopted shall introduce a heavier tax burden on the taxpayer.

Narcotics Bill
The defence committee continues to scrutinise the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill 2007 .The Bill, if passed into law, would reduce the use of drugs. The Bill would help curb the high prevalence of drug abuse among children in schools and adolescents.

Trade Act
While the trade committee, chaired by Ms Flavia Kabahenda (Kyegegwa Woman MP), continues to scrutinise amendments to the Trade Licence Act. The Bill currently before the trade Committee seeks to create equity in the licensing of businesses. The Bill requires hawkers and travelling wholesalers to obtain licences from the local governments within whose jurisdiction they operate.