Absenteeism in Parliament could ruin election-year budget
What you need to know:
Significance. The presence of MPs is critical because a national Budget is not just a technical instrument compiling income and expenditure. It is the most important policy statement made by the Executive in the course of the year.
On Thursday 213 MPs ‘dodged’ Parliament with impunity. This happened a day after minister of Finance Matia Kasaija presented his maiden estimates of revenue and expenditure for the 2015/16 fiscal year. And when the Speaker ordered for a roll call, only 173 members were in the House. Some came to Parliament, checked their pigeonholes, signed the attendance book (targeting allowances) and immediately left.
Absenteeism has become a regular symbol of the 9th Parliament and it’s irritating the Speaker as well as the voters. It has not even helped matters that they are in the budgeting process. In trying to ascertain the quorum, the Clerk regularly wastes a full hour, reading out the 386 names for those in the House to say “present”.
On Wednesday, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah wondered whether he puts on a different wristwatch. And whether when his clock reads 2pm, the one for MPs reads 3pm. When he realised that ministers were conspicuously absent, he reminded ministers and MPs that Fools Day does not apply to Parliamentary proceedings. On the roll calls, he said: “I don’t enjoy doing this. It’s not fair. The most disturbing are the members who sign and go away.”
Medard Bitekyerezo (NRM, Mbarara Municipality) reminded MPs to behave like mature people and stop embarrassing the institution of Parliament. As for shadow finance minister Geoffrey Ekanya (FDC, Tororo County) and Patrick Oboi (FDC, Kumi Country), they complained about “the voting machines” who have become a nuisance in Parliament and also called for the introduction of electronic voting to stop the shame of absenteeism in the House.
It’s not so much about the election year, it’s more about the impunity and impudence of our some people we send to Parliament. The authorities in Parliament needs to stop the impunity before it’s too late.
Luckily, we are in the election year. To ensure that members attend the House, we need to pick lessons from Ghana. The Hansard -- the official record of Parliament -- should capture those present, those absent with permission and those absent without permission.
May be if the authorities keep doing this, the voters will ask questions every time their representatives dodge House proceedings. Even without the clarity of the Rules of Procedure, the Speaker can still invoke his or her powers to ensure that those who dodge the House are politically punished.
The coming months are going to be critical for Parliament. The deadline for 2015/16 Budget in the new law is April 31. The sectoral committees have only two weeks to scrutinise the Shs18.3 trillion Budget before they consider and debate the proposed electoral and constitutional reforms passed by Cabinet last week and debate Auditor General’s reports—all these require the presence of members in the House.
The presence of MPs is critical because a national Budget is not just a technical instrument compiling income and expenditure. It is the most important policy statement made by the Executive in the course of the year. It reflects the fundamental values underlying national policy. It outlines the government’s views of the socio-economic state of the nation.
It is a declaration of the government’s fiscal, financial and economic objectives and reflects its social and economic priorities. It also reflects the level of gender sensitivity of government policy. The Budget further provides a valuable measure of the government’s future intentions and past performance.
It is therefore crucial that Parliament should have the necessary time to proceed to a thorough reading of the Budget and that Budget passage is not rushed through.
Since the Budget is a critically important document in insuring transparency, accountability, comprehensiveness and good governance, any attempts to dodge this process will obviously expose MPs as cheats.
By providing a detailed description of proposed expenditure, it allows Parliament and the general public to “know where the money goes” and thus increases transparency.
In addition, the budgets do not only require approval by Parliament before the government can spend money or raise revenue, but also full participation of our representatives. And most importantly, Parliament’s responsibility with the Budget does not end with its adoption. Its oversight and audit functions should be rigorously enforced.
Parliament debated and adopted the recommendations of the Select Committee on National Social Security Fund that investigated the irregularities in the purchase of Umeme shares, allegations of nepotism in the recruitment and disposal of assets. Matters relating to nepotism and irregular recruitment were not handled because they are before court.
The House passed a raft of recommendations against the board chairman Ivan Kyayonka, the current managing director, Mr Richard Byarugaba, his deputy Geraldine Ssali, head of human resources Catherine Byakika and former Finance ministers Maria Kiwanuka and Gerald Ssendaula. Parliament recommended that disciplinary action be taken against the implicated officials.
Parliament also approved the committee recombination that Mr Kyayonka be forced to vacate the board of NSSF due to his irregular action in pushing NSSF to purchase Umeme Initial Public Offering shares without the approval of the Solicitor General. In light of this recommendation, Parliament approved the recommendation that Mr Kyayonka and Ms Ssali should be reprimanded for their dubious and irregular actions in the acquisitions of shares.
All the officials named in the report have since denied any wrong. But because in Uganda, the resolutions of Parliament are considered “advisory” it’s not clear whether the government would act on the report or simply make fun of the MPs chasing own shadows in the midst of a growing list of useless investigations.
Next week in parliament
1. Laying of papers
Ministerial policy statements for financial year 2015/206
2. Motion for reconsideration of the Public Private Partnership Bill, 2014 which was returned to Parliament for the second time by H.E the President as provided for under rule 132 of the rules of procedure (Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development)
3. Motion for presentation, consideration and adoption of the report of the Committee on legal and Parliamentary Affairs on the Inspectorate of Government reports 2007 – 2012 (Chairperson, Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs)
4. Motion for presentation, consideration and adoption of the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the report of the Auditor General on financial statements for the year ended 30th June 2011 and 2012 – regional referral hospitals (Chairperson – Public Accounts Committee)
5. Motion for presentation, consideration and adoption of the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the report of the auditor general on the financial statement for the year ended 30th june 2013 entities with disclaimer of opinion (Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Nyabyeya Forest College, Mubende Referral Hospital and Uganda Mission in new Delhi India (Chairperson – Public Accounts Committee)
6. The Retirement Benefits Sector Liberalization Bill, 2011
7. The Uganda Wildlife Research and Training Bill, 2012
8. The Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013
9. The Parliamentary Pensions Amendment Bill, 2014
10. The Lottery and Gaming Bill, 2013
11. The East African Development Bank (Amendment) Bill, 2014
12. The Local Government Amendment Bill, 2014
13. The Tobacco Control Bill, 2014
14. The National Bio-Technology and Bio-Safety Bill, 2012
15. Statements by ministers
I) On failure to implement regulations on National Forestry Authority
II) On poor state of the CHEPTUI bridge on the Muyembe – Nakapiripirit road
III) On distribution of seeds and other planting materials
16 Motion for a resolution of Parliament to set up a select committee to investigate the performance of the privatisation unit of the Ministry of finance
11. Report of the Committee on Finance, Planning and Economic Development on the petition by the workforce at Kibimba Rice Farm on the loss of employment and livelihood
12. Report of the Committee on Physical Infrastructure on the Mbarara by-pass, Mbarara-Ntungamo-Kabale Katuna roads and Mitaano and Ntungwa bridges in Kanungu District
13. Report of the Committee on Physical Infrastructure on the state of Kapchorwa -Suam road and district urban and community access roads in Bukwo and Kween districts
14. Report of the committee on public service and local government on creation of new districts
15. Statement on the alleged illegal demolition of a government owned commercial building on plot 60-62 Allidina road, Jinja Municipality East
16. Statement on the students unrest at Makerere University