The Speaker of Parliament has regretted the reintroduction of multi-party politics in the country, saying political parties stifle freedom of speech in Parliament.
Speaking on May 26, at the 25th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association seminar in Dar es Salaam; Ms Rebecca Kadaga, who is also the Chairperson of Commonwealth International, said members of Parliament in Uganda fear to freely debate without permission of their Chief Whips for fear of being held in contempt of party rules.
Presenting a paper titled, ‘The Role of the Presiding Officer and Staff of Parliament’, Ms Kadaga urged fellow speakers to act independent of the political parties while chairing House sittings.
Ms Kadaga urged fellow speakers in the Commonwealth to “always balance the desires of the population and those of the State.”
“Since the start of the 19th Century there have been several attempts to make the Speaker of Parliament independent. Impartiality is a cardinal principle that guides the work of the presiding officers. The Speaker must take into account not only views of government but also of the Opposition in the House,” she said.
Multiparty politics was reintroduced in Uganda in 2005 after a referendum. Prior to that, all Ugandans were, in effect, members of the Movement, the entity which came into being with the taking of power by the National Resistance Movement in 1986.
The Speaker’s views have, however, been received with disdain by the leading political parties.
“She is not entirely knowledgeable about the rules of the party and the rules of the House she presides over,” NRM spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said. “The current rules of Parliament give privileges and immunity to members and we also have the [parliamentary] caucus where members can exhaust everything before they come on the floor.”
Although he agreed with Ms Kadaga that the Movement system was a better vehicle for furthering freedom of political speech, Mr Opondo said going back would be a disservice to the politics of the country.
“We told people in 2002 and 2003 that ‘no party democracy’ was better but the people and the international community didn’t agree,” he said. “We should, however, look at strengthening multipartism instead of running away.”
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Wafula Ogutu, said his members speak freely although they are in multi-partyism.
“It is only NRM MPs who are gagged,” he said adding mutlti-party politics is the way of leadership in developed countries.
“Multi-partyism is the way in developed countries and you do not hear that people are being gagged. It is only in Africa where that happens and it does happen because leaders always want to hide things from the people,” he said.
Mr John Kikonyogo, the spokesperson of the Forum for Democratic Change, the biggest opposition party in Parliament, called the Speaker’s remarks unfortunate.
At the Dar es Salaam conference, the Majority Leader in the Parliament of Ghana, Dr Benjamin Kunbuor, said although political parties form the cornerstone of democratic society, MPs should seek consensus between party and national interests.
“Party politics is greatly undermining the ability of the Parliamentary Committees to exercise oversight responsibilities. The hierarchy and discipline of the political parties prevents MPs from raising concerns on issues of national interest,” he said.