The Daily Monitor of Wednesday January 8, 2020 carried a headline, ‘Best, worst MPs of 2019 named’.
Based on plenary presentations by MPs from 01 July 2018 to 30 June 2019, the reporter felt persuaded to draw the conclusion that Members of Parliament (MPs) who spoke most are the best, and the ones that spoke the least, the worst.
The fundamental issue that must at all times be emphasized is; Parliament welcomes all conversations on the performance of MPs and the legislature as a whole.
This is founded on the belief that the more we have these guided conversations, the finer the Parliament of Uganda becomes, and the better the overall governance.
It is better that the facts upon which the discussions are rooted are sound, foul-proof and connected with the context they seek to shine a light on.
The only challenge with the method of assessment deployed in this case is that it does not tell the whole story and distorts the overall performance of many MPs listed as ‘worst’, which renders them unfair targets of public ridicule.
It is quite understandable, however, that in the absence of full-time interventions to monitor and evaluate MPs’ performance, such parameters can be scrambled as a form of assessment, its deficiencies notwithstanding.
The question is, who is supposed to assess Parliament and upon which parameters should such assessment be conducted?
Parliament is coming from a thorough self-audit by way of the Annual Legislative Sector Review, which was opened to the media, and all requisite information was presented to facilitate a conversation on the overall performance of MPs and, consequently, Parliament.
Curiously, the reporter made no reference to that well-researched, publicly available data.
It is a principle of natural justice, however, that no man be a judge in his own cause, which is why it is hoped that going forward, the fourth estate will have an especially dedicated team to constantly monitor MPs in committees, where most of the work happens, and in the field when conducting their oversight functions, to form a better basis for such damning conclusions.
It would have been a better read, for instance, if the reporter juxtaposed the number of times the MPs spoke in plenary against how they fared in committees and in the field , how many times they attend District Council sittings, to mention only a few.
Article 79 of the Constitution spells out the role of Parliament as legislation, appropriation, oversight and representation.
People in the academia, working with civil society and the media should, in my view, come up with a clear, agreeable parameter that exhaustively deals with the qualitative and quantitative assessment of the MPs as judged against their Constitutional duties.
Thankfully, there are Hansard records of Committee sittings, or at least attendance, which is available to the public, to enrich the reporter’s assessment.
In the story, the Minister of State for International Relations, Hon Henry Okello Oryem gave an apt response: His role takes him on a constant global tour in several capitals making a diplomatic case for Uganda.
Is classifying him as ‘worst’ MP fair in this case? Certainly not.
Then there are unfounded claims made in the story on alleged switching of flights “from Parliamentary travels and returning home despite pocketing hefty allowances”. This is totally false.
It is the policy of the Parliamentary Commission that all travels out of the country are strictly accounted for, with evidence of stamps from airports on departures and arrivals, and if an MP or staff wishes to change their air tickets, they do so at their own costs [and in the case of staff, subject to approval by the Clerk to Parliament to ensure seamless service of Parliament’s clients].
If an MP, for any reason, cuts short their travel abroad, that money is recovered by the Finance Department, and extensions outside the approved itinerary is not financed by Parliament.
It is therefore, erroneous to state that the MPs performance can be determined by the number of times they speak in the plenary of the whole House. There is need to have a proper yardstick that encompasses all the roles of the MPs and where they do perform them.
Parliament is more than we see or hear on the floor chaired by the Speaker.
Mr Manzil is an Information Officer in the Department of Communication and Public Affairs, Parliament of Uganda.