The discussion about some MPs whom courts have found to lack the minimum academic requirements to join Parliament has had several dimensions. I followed the debate in the public arena with keen interest and noticed that few people contextualised it.
The majority of the public commentators were in a rush to attribute the problem to Parliament. Even when the mainstream media captured it well that the problem was not with Parliament, the institution, the majority remained mentally programmed that since the word Parliament was in the news, it then implied the problem is with Parliament.
Other than making the law that set the minimum academic requirements for one to qualify to contest for MP, Parliament remains a recipient of members presented by the Electoral Commission. In fact, unless one is an ex-officio Member of Parliament, no one gets into the August House without EC submitting their name to the Clerk to Parliament for swearing-in. The Clerk to Parliament does not ask for academic qualifications before a member is sworn-in, meaning that verification of academic documents is not the responsibility of Parliament.
One of the requirements for nomination as a candidate for a parliamentary seat is academic papers to be presented to the EC. The authenticity of the papers is the responsibility of National Council for Higher Education and Uganda National Examinations Board. At no point does Parliament interact with MPs academic papers.
While Parliament is one of the country’s institutions that should be robustly monitored and scrutinised by the public because of it’s centrality in the governance equation, its better if the scrutiny is done on the basis of facts not speculation.
We, therefore, need a cadre of elite with buoyant intellectual courage to place our governance issues in the right context. Our decisions or actions are increasingly getting guided by the logic of consequentiality; which is about ‘what do I benefit’ instead of being guided by the logic of appropriateness. The logic of appropriateness is that you do something because it’s the appropriate thing to do.
Someone will be hitting Parliament hard as inconsiderate to the plight of others but the same person will be driving back home on a wrong lane unmindful of other road users. The same person can campaign to become MP and gets elected!
A lecturer, for instance, will be on television preaching good governance and tearing down Parliament, yet his students have no room to disagree with him in class. Those that dare do so, are made to fail exams sometimes or pass marginally.
Many of us lack that intellectual courage to confront issues but choose to go with populist positions even when the right thing to do is to pursue the truth.
For instance, when political actors are accused of bribery and courts find them culpable, it’s not Parliament that is corrupt. It’s someone seeking to join Parliament through corrupt means. The investigation should go further to establish why voters prefer to vote for the one who is bribing them against one who doesn’t. What should the one who doesn’t bribe voters but has superior leadership qualities do?
Many people rightly talk about the need to have a high quality Parliament; but they miss the point when they fail to realise that the recruitment of MPs is not done by Parliament. It’s the job of the voters. The application to become MP is sent to the EC that then allows the candidate to do interviews through campaigns. The choice of the best candidate for the job is done by voters. EC transmits the best candidate to the Clerk to Parliament. If anyone denigrates Parliament on issues of quality, that person is vilifying the voters’ choice, which can lead to another discussion on what democracy is all about. Who is that one person who can say he or she is better than the community?
And when we talk about quality, what exactly do we mean? Is it about academic papers? We need to be clear about the quality issues because it has different dimensions. I have witnessed the House Speaker Rebecca Kadaga work nonstop. I have seen her return from a trip abroad and straight to the office. I have witnessed her return from an upcountry trip way past 1am yet she will be in her office at 7am. What else describes commitment to serve this country through Parliament than that? Many MPs take their work seriously.
What we need to address as well is the understanding of the role of MPs by the ordinary citizens. Last week, I led a team from Parliament to western Uganda to debate on radios there. Our message was clear: Judge your MPs on their ability to legislate, represent, check government and allocate budget, not on service delivery. We also told the listeners that if an MP pledges to build roads, bridges and hospitals etc., ask them where their source of funds will be.
Mr Obore is the Director, Communication and Public Affairs Parliament of Uganda.