Unfinished work lays at the door of 10thParliament

Sunday May 29 2016

Parliament in session. Although the 9th Parliament passed close to 1

Parliament in session. Although the 9th Parliament passed close to 100 Bills in five years and a number of motions, committee reports and petitions from voters, a lot of work was left unfinished. PHOTO BY ERIC DOMINIC BUKENYA  

By Yasiin Mugerwa

With a number of key Bills and other issues left pending, the 9th Parliament seems to have passed on some of their work to the 10th Parliament. Sunday Monitor’s Yasiin Mugerwa explores why the outgoing legislators did not accomplish some of the work in the house.

After passing close to 100 Bills in five years and a cocktail of motions, committee reports and petitions from voters, winners and losers in the 9th Parliament received certificates of gratitude at a farewell party.

They also took to the dance floor to celebrate their achievements.
More than 80 per cent of MPs lost their seats in what some analysts have called, “a vote of no-confidence” in the 9th Parliament.

However, in a monetised electoral environment where “carrots” decide everything, analysts say the defeat of more than 200 MPs in the 9th Parliament had little or nothing to do with the filament of unfinished business.

Boasting how they outstripped the 7th and 8th Parliaments, some MPs, particularly those who survived the wrath of the voters, begun thumping their chests like champions, even as some new members warned that it is impossible to claim victory with so much business unfinished.
To Mr Siraje Nsanja, a Political Science don at Kampala University, in spite of a grisly start etched in the Shs5 million handout to NRM MPs ahead of the swearing in ceremony, the 10th Parliament can succeed where the 9th Parliament failed, adding that if they have any hope of redeeming the institution in voters’ eyes, the lawmakers must press forward with desperately needed electoral reforms.

Too much
“All Parliaments have spill overs, but where you have petitions, motions and Bills of three years and above gathering dust in Parliament, you wonder whether there is something wrong,” Mr Nsanja said.

“Some petitions were overtaken by events, reports and Bills pending in committees because chairpersons and members are busy roaming the world like Christopher Columbus. This is not right,” he added.

Mr Nsanja and others with knowledge of Parliament, however, proposed that the Office of the Speaker tightens the procedures for accessing trips and that the House rules of procedure be changed so that the chief whips play a role in recommending beneficiaries and ensure accountability.

They have also proposed sanctions for absentee MPs and that the sitting allowances be tagged on the presence of the individual members in the chamber to address the structural challenges ahead.

The first day of a new Parliament is a lot like the first day of school. But instead of being issued new books, freshers, as well as returning MPs, receive a copy of the Constitution and a copy of the parliamentary rules of procedure. But what the members also need, perhaps, is a list of unfinished business of the previous Parliament.

According to political analysts, it was rather the level of absenteeism in the 9th Parliament, filibustering and poor performance of individual members, especially in their constituencies, that took them to the gallows.

And to senior politicians, including Mr Livingston Okello-Okello, who represented Chwa Constituency in Kitgum District in the 8th Parliament and other veteran politicians, “the politics of eating” explain the attrition rate in Parliament.

Politics of eating
Borrowing words from Ms Michela Wrong’s book: It’s our turn to eat, Mr Okello-Okello believes some MPs lost their seats not because of incompetence, unfinished business in Parliament or absenteeism, but because of, “it is time for another person to eat mentality”. Mr Okello-Okello, however, insists, in the face of the achievements, like any other Parliament, “the scandal of unfinished business” forms part of the sad story of the 9th Parliament.

The unfinished business in the 9th Parliament consists of key Bills such as the Retirement Benefits Sector Liberalisation Bill, Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Sexual Offences Bill, Marriage and Divorce Bill, The Uganda Communications (Amendment) Bill, The National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill, The Law Revision (Penalties in Criminal Matters) Miscellaneous Amendments Bill, 2015, Auditor General’s reports, motions, questions for oral answers, petitions and loan requests all ‘died’ with the expiry of the 9th Parliament and all committees lost their power to transact business, providing a fresh start for the new Parliament.
However, the proposed laws which were not passed before the expiry of the 9th Parliament remain saved and, in order to resurrect such Bills in the new Parliament, they must either be reintroduced as if they had never existed or simply resurrected by a resolution of Parliament.

The business committee is expected to consider these matters as the new Parliament embarks on its mission: Transforming Uganda from a low-income nation to a middle-income country by 2020, while ensuring economic growth, is seen in the pockets of Ugandans as meeting the aspirations of jobless youth and dealing with corruption in public and private offices.

Absenteeism in Parliament
Dr Sabiiti Makara, an associate professor of Political Science at Makerere University blames unfinished business on “fake voters” whom he said ditched accountability in favour of “handouts” from their representatives.

He also blames MPs who have turned Parliament into a hunting ground, chasing for deals in town to supplement their income so as to cope with the increasing demands from their constituents.
“There is always unfinished business because MPs have many things to do,” Dr Makara said. “Many of them don’t go to Parliament to do work, they go there symbolically to represent their constituencies. [There are some serious MPs in Parliament] but majority are businessmen and women, chasing for deals.”

“Society focuses on what he or she has brought back to the community, they don’t care about what a Member of Parliament does in plenary and in committees where serious business takes place.

Our population cannot demand for accountability,” Dr Makara said, adding, “We have unfinished business in Parliament because people do not judge MPs by their performance but by what he or she brings to the constituency. This is the challenge.”

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga seems to agree with Dr Makara’s view that some MPs come to Parliament to make deals. Speaking to new MPs on Wednesday, Ms Kadaga cautioned legislators against absenteeism. The Speaker has been unequivocal on the issue of absenteeism in the House, and to show that she is serious, in the 9th Parliament, two MPs lost their seats on account of absenteeism.

These were Gen David Sejusa (army) and Mr Tonny Nsubuga Kipoi (Bubulo West). Ms Kadaga also forwarded Mr Kaddu Mukasa (Mityana South) and MP Issa Kikungwe (Kyadondo South) to the disciplinary committee for disciplinary action after the duo consistently missed sitting of the House without informing the Speaker. However, the two MPs didn’t lose their seats.

“Don’t come here to do deals,” Ms Kadaga told MPs. The Speaker told legislators that Mr Kipoi lost his seat in the 9th Parliament because he went to the Speaker’s Office and asked for leave of three weeks but instead went to DR Congo to do deals and was arrested trading in arms and cocaine.

The former committee chairperson of Rules, Privileges and Discipline, Mr Fox Odoi, explained that Mr Kipoi contravened the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure by missing 15 or more sittings of the House.

The committee that handled the matter, then, recommended, that Mr Kipoi be deemed to have ceased to be a Member of Parliament under Article 83(1) (d) of the Constitution and Rule 101(10) of the Rules of Procedure of Parliament.”

Why unfinished business?
Although former committee chairpersons in the 9th Parliament blamed unfinished business on absenteeism, a chronical disease in Parliament, committee members, however, cite laziness on the part of some committee chairpersons and committee clerks whom they accused of sitting on reports.

They have also impugned authorities in Parliament for failure to prioritise their reports. The House Business Committee of Parliament, in consultation with the Leader of Government Business in Parliament, decides the items on the Order Paper.

The new members faulted the Business Committee on “poor prioritisation” where marginal issues are brought to the fore at the expense of important Bills and petitions from the voters.

For instance, they saw no reason why, for many years, Parliament has not effectively discussed accountability committee reports on the Auditor General’s findings, a glitch that has helped in promoting impunity and corruption in public service.

“There was deliberate disruptions by MPs and government by way of absenteeism and meddling in the affairs of Parliament by other arms of government,” Mr Denis Lee Oguzu (FDC, Maracha), said. He added: “Delays in originating Bills and issuing certificate of financial implications by Ministry of Finance, especially for private members’ Bills, failure to use voting technology and abuse of the rules of procedure also contributed to the problem.”

For instance, Mr Oguzu wondered: “If the Speaker allocates 45 days to a particular Bill, why should the committee chairperson spend months before reporting? The committee chairperson and members must adhere to the Speaker’s instructions.

Ugandans want service delivery and for Parliament to remain relevant to the people’s needs, we must be able to deliver timely solutions to their problems. ”

Urgent reforms
But Mr Kassiano Wadri, former Opposition whip in the 8th Parliament and former Public Accounts Committee chairperson in the 9th Parliament, said Parliament worked for three and a half years.

“The first half was inducting the new members in a form of climate setting for work and the fifth year was electioneering time with party primaries and general elections. This greatly affected work in the House,” Mr Kassiano said.

Going forward, he added: “The 10th Parliament may have to reconsider its programme of conducting business like other Parliaments and sitting both in the morning and afternoon and give specific times for committees to work, also bearing in mind that it’s the committees that generate work for plenary.”

Previously, key Bills have been reinstated by motion at the start of a new session at the same stage they had reached before prorogation. This has been accomplished in various ways: The Speaker allows one of the members to present a motion, seeking for a resolution of Parliament to resurrect the unfinished business of the previous Parliament.

Ministers blamed
And on poor prioritisation, Ms Robinah Nabbanja, a senior legislator in the House, disagreed with Mr Oguzu and other new members who were blaming unfinished business on the ineffectiveness of the Business Committee.

Ms Nabbanja, however, noted that the ministers brought some Bills late and maintained that “the disease of absenteeism” in Parliament must be checked to improve the performance of the 10th Parliament.

The deputy communications director at Parliament, Ms Helen Kawesa, said, the unfinished business in 9th Parliament was saved pending a substantive motion in 10th Parliament to reintroduce the business.

Parliamentary language

The Chamber. The Chamber is where members make laws by debating and voting on Bills. The Chamber is also a place where MPs can put local, regional or national issues in the spotlight. They represent their constituents’ views by presenting petitions, making statements and asking questions in the House. However, some issues particularly those of urgent nature, are handled instantly by the line ministers or Leader of Government Business and others left pending detailed statements.
Committee work. Committee work is an important part of a member’s job and the law-making process. Members can look at Bills in greater depth than is possible in the Chamber, where there is a large group of people involved and a full timetable. In committees, MPs also study important issues such as finance, education and health, the spending plans of sectors and demand accountability. They interact with the key stakeholders and they have the powers of the High Court. With the range of committees and select committees that operate in Parliament, rules permit members to sit on more than one.
Rule on Bills. Rule 118 (2) says the committee shall examine the Bill in detail and make all such inquiries in relation to it as the committee considers expedient or necessary and report to the House within 45 days from the date the Bill is referred to the Committee. However, upon expiry of the 45 days, Committee chairpersons normally ask for extension from the Speaker.

Leave of Absence. Every Member shall attend the sittings of the House unless leave of absence has been given to him or her by the Speaker. Before the Speaker grants leave of absence, a member must show sufficient cause justifying his or her absence. The application for leave must be in writing. The same rules apply for committees but with necessary modifications.

The pending business

These include; 1. The Indigenous and Complementary Medicine Bill, 2015.
2.The Persons with Disability Bill, 2014.
3. The Mental Health Bill, 2014
4. The Kampala Capital City Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2015.
5. The Human Rights (Enforcement) Bill, 2015.
6. The Law Revision (Penalties in Criminal Matters) Miscellaneous (Amendment) Bill, 2015.
7. The Uganda Forestry Association Bill, 2015.
8. The Anti-Counterfeiting Goods Bill, 2015
9. The Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Bill, 2015.
10. The Minimum Wage Bill, 2015
11. The Anti-Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
12. The Retirement Benefits Sector Liberalisation Bill, 2011.
13. The National Biotechnology & Biosafety Bill,2012
14. The Sexual Offences Bill, 2016
15. The Uganda Communications (Amendment) Bill 2016.
16. The Data protection and privacy Bill 2015
17. The Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
18. The Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (Passed on 14/04/16 and Returned to Parliament on 6/05/2016 for Re- consideration.