Monday July 28 2014

Ruling party killed spirit of debate in Parliament

By Morris Komakech

The revelation by Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah that Members of Parliament are not doing research and, therefore, not illustrating depth in their debate is not farfetched.

In fact, I was shocked that this observation even made its way into headline news in the very first place.

Anyone who spares time to read the Hansard would agree that the quality of debate in Parliament has deteriorated too much. Strangely, there are some MPs who felt insulted by this glaring truth. In Uganda, truth has no place in society.

The genesis of the current problem of lack of depth characteristic of this Parliament goes back a couple of years ago.

It is amplified by the surging numbers of NRM parliamentarians in that House. This problem began with the President’s three step instruction that NRM MPs should enter into the House to sleep, wake up and vote. President Museveni thus single high-handedly killed the spirit of debate in Parliament.

The President’s instructions simplified the job of MPs and rendered Parliament a lame duck branch of government. Anyone now aspires to become an MP, a position with very attractive remuneration, where the earner just sleeps and wakes up to vote. By far, this is the ideological purview of parliamentary democracy in Uganda.
The NRM MPs who are the majority in Parliament live in a herded community.

The tradition of NRM Caucus in Parliament is to enforce obeisance to NRM lines as prescribed by its leader – President Museveni.

The Chief Whip is good at issuing directives and threats for MPs with independent minds to gag independent thinking. The plight of the so-called rebel MPs has illustrated clearly that being independent-minded in a herded community can lead to a torturous experience.

The herding of Members of Parliament deprives that institution of independence, discourages innovation and exploration of current research evidence to inform debates.

In the end, the MPs represent the President and his interests, which are mutually exclusive to those of the struggling electorates.

Being an MP is not rocket science and does not require reasoning, research, reading or critical thinking because the formula is already set into three simple steps – slumber during debate, wake-up when debate is over and vote. Period!
The cumulative effect is that most of the legislative pieces made under the current Parliament are not pro-Ugandans, they are intended to entrench the life presidency.

In addition, the use of bribes to sway voting patterns on contentious issues makes the Parliament stink from lack of credibility even to perform its basic oversight function. A famous example being the bribery to remove term limits. The legislative arm of government is the most vulnerable in the mighty hands of the Executive.

The current environment in Parliament and the nature of elected representatives that occupy it makes it very hard for informed debate because no one is there to hold them accountable.

I have agreed with analyses made by journalists Andrew Mwenda and Timothy Kalyegira on the subject of shallowness and pettiness among the elite class.

In explaining the inability of our elite community to produce and reproduce genuinely independent-minded progressives, Mwenda diagnosed prevailing “mediocrity” and Kalyegira believes that “generational inferiority complex” is responsible.

In Uganda generally, reading is a disease which is treated more harshly than deadly disease and majority of the MPs do not know the content of most of their laws that are passed.

As the Americans say, if you want to keep your money safe from a black person, keep it inside the book.

Mr Komakech is a Ugandan social critic and political analyst based in Toronto, Canada.