Parliament in sitting space crisis as swearing-in ends today

Wednesday May 18 2016

Ethics minister and Dodoth West MP Simon Lokodo

Ethics minister and Dodoth West MP Simon Lokodo (Right) is accompanied by dancers ahead of the swearing-in of MPs at Parliament in Kampala yesterday. Photo by Rachel Mabala  

By Yasiin Mugerwa

PARLIAMENT. There is likely to be a stampede in Parliament when the doors to the chambers are opened for the first time to what President Museveni has called “a sea of MPs” shoving for the limited seats in a new Parliament groaning under the weight of 458 MPs, support staff and journalists.
While some MPs led by Mr Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga East) swore to represent their people even if it means standing in the chamber, others have suggested that plenary sessions either be shifted to the main conference hall or the rules of procedure be amended to provide for free sitting in a multiparty Parliament.

“My concern is the chamber,” Ms Ruth Nankabirwa (Kiboga Woman) said. “This is critical because with or without enough seats, Parliament has to sit. For office accommodation, we can share as we have been doing in the 9th Parliament but where are we going to sit during plenary sessions? Are we going to sit in the lobbies? Lobbies are for lobbying, we cannot turn them into chamber.”

In trying to explain the genesis of the crisis in Parliament, Ms Nankabirwa tried to blame the politicians in the 9th Parliament who accepted to expand the House ahead of the February elections. “We have this problem of space in the new Parliament but we are the people who pressured government to create districts, municipalities and counties,” she said.
To avert the crisis in Parliament, the Kiboga Woman MP told Daily Monitor yesterday that Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business Ruhakana Rugunda had instructed his deputy, Gen Moses Ali, to handle the matter. Gen Ali has so far chaired two meetings on the same issue and even constituted a committee to study the extent of the problem. The committee is expected to report next week.

Explaining the crisis in Parliament, Mr Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) said: “We have considered increasing constituencies without a corresponding increment in physical infrastructure because the former is used purely for patronage and incidentally, it’s individuals, not structures that are used in politics of patronage.”
Although Rule 9 (1) of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure says “Every member shall, as far as possible, have a seat reserved for him or her by the Speaker,” the increase in the number of MPs in the 10th Parliament from 386 to 458 MPs on account of the creation of new districts, municipalities and counties made matters worse.

Citing Rule 9 (4), Mr Paul Amoru (Dokolo North) and other legislators reminded the authorities in Parliament about the dictates of the rules of procedure that a Member of Parliament whether from Opposition or government side should have a comfortable seat. They have also demanded for office accommodation.
However, Ms Nankabirwa and the House deputy communications director, Ms Helen Kawesa asked members to be “patient and understanding”, pointing out that under the current circumstances, every legislator cannot have a personal office and that even those with leadership positions will be asked to share if need arises .

“When allocating office space, special considerations will be made for the MPs with disabilities and parliamentary commissioners,” Ms Nankabirwa said, adding that for others, “We are all equal, even a chairperson can share office space as long as we don’t have space. We shall share until government finds more space for Parliament.”
According to Ms Kawesa, efforts are under way to construct a new chamber. She said the current chamber was meant for only 80 MPs, warning that one MP will be asked to share office space with two other colleagues. However, she revealed that the previous Parliamentary Commission had budgeted for rent although the ministry of Finance has not yet released the funds in the 2016/17 budget.

“The election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker will take place in the conference hall but after that, members will shift to the chambers,” Ms Kawesa said. Daily Monitor understands that the authorities in Parliament are looking for 220 offices for MPs plus 70 offices for support staff. The previous Parliament had request for a budget of more than Shs2 billion for rent. Parliament took over Development House but the building is not enough. They are currently looking for a building on Parliament Avenue.