One of my teachers, Prof Bernard Couty, had a strange way of defining and explaining concepts in a bid to make us understand them. His approach was to define a concept in terms of what it is not, rather than what it is. It is this same strange method that I will use here to define the role of a Member of Parliament. An MP’s job is NOT
• To build schools
• To build roads
• To build bridges
• To distribute Naads goats
• To take young men to Iraq
• To build churches or mosques
• To pay school fees
• To finance Saccos
• To support women groups
• To become minister, or any of the milliard empty promises that MPs make to citizens while seeking votes.
In concert with the age-old principle of separation of powers, the Legislature is a branch of government, whose role is legislation, supervision of the Executive and representation. It is this latter role that has taken a prominent role in Uganda.
This explains the strange ‘roles’ of MPs as negated above, using the Couty tool of Elimination.
Ugandans have been taken for a ride by whoever is seeking to ascend to power or to retain power through this narrow definition of the role of the Legislature. The very reason people’s closeness to ‘power’ (perceived or real) becomes a key factor as they dupe citizens, who have been reduced to mere ‘voters’.
It follows then that for Parliament to play its true legislative role; it must be well equipped, facilitated like any other arm of government, namely the Executive and the Judiciary.
The question, therefore, should not be whether the MPs need the vehicles or not. They do need them, the way judicial officers, cabinet and other civil servants do need them. The strange thing about MPs is the prominence of their ‘wrong’ roles, which explains (but should not excuse) their big numbers, big salaries and off-the-road guzzlers.
The abnormal size of the Legislature is under this false premise of ‘representing’ the people. But shall we have many presidents as well, under the guise of ‘enfranchising’ the people?
The logical thing is, for whoever is agitating, to start at the root of the problem: we must reconsider the size of our Parliament.
As we have argued earlier, while it may not be easy to adopt the party proportionate representation which abolishes the constituency system (South African style), we can adopt a simple formula for representation that reduces the numbers: every two neighbouring districts to be represented by one MP, thus 56 MPs going by our current number of districts, dividing the number between males and females. Any MP appointed to cabinet should leave the house. No special interests groups.
In a fully functioning economy, all interests will get catered for by the normal process of goods and services being available to all.
My mother can sell her matooke from the comfort of her kitchen throne thanks to a good road from Kampala to her village, and this has nothing to do with her ‘Woman MP’ in the house.
This number is manageable for government to buy official vehicles for each MP, maintained and serviced as any other government vehicle, boarded off when it reaches the due mileage. A 4x4 double cabin pick-up is ideal for this. This will save us the Shs500 billion that we will have spent on MPs by the end of this term.
The reduced numbers will enable further facilities that are essential to create an effective legislator: access to a modern resource centre; a well facilitated research team in key sectors. The embarrassing case of MPs puzzled by the ownership of Umeme points to a bigger lacuna than we can imagine.
This is the simple formula to this problem. Else, we shall lament and all will come to naught.
functions of parliament
The functions of the Parliament of Uganda are:
1.To pass laws for the good governance of Uganda.
2.To provide, by giving legislative sanctions taxation and acquisition of loans, the means of carrying out the work of Government.
3.To scrutinise Government policy and administration through the following:
a. pre-legislative scrutiny of bills referred to the Parliamentary committees by Parliament
b. scrutinising of the various objects of expenditure and the sums to be spent on each
c. assuring transparency and accountability in the application of public funds
d. monitoring the implementation of Government programmes and projects
4.To debate matters of topical interest usually highlighted in the President’s State- of-the-Nation Address.
5.To vet the appointment of persons nominated by the President under the Constitution or any other enactment.