The Parliament building is currently undergoing a multi-billion expansion. Another expansion project, which also saw the expansion of the parking space, concluded a few years ago. Parliament also rents space on Parliament Avenue to accommodate other members.
We currently have more than 460 MPs, and the number will further rise as new administrative units come into being in the coming years. The point that Ugandans, estimated to be 40 million, are among the most over-governed peoples in the world.
What everyone knows, however, is that very few MPs take their job seriously. Many, perhaps most, hardly attend Parliament unless there is business which in their estimation is important. And what is important for politicians, as many examples from the past will show, is not the thing that is closest to the hearts of those they purport to represent.
So, on Thursday, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga lost her remaining grains of patience and suspended Parliament until next week. She was forced to do so because the front bench was virtually empty – ministers were not in attendance.
And if you are a minister, Thursday should be the most important day to attend Parliament because that is when members pose questions to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister could require the assistance of a minister to respond to a specific concern. If ministers find no value in attending Parliament on Thursday, we leave it to you to guess how enthusiastically they attend it on other days of the week. The Speaker noted that non-attendance of Parliament by ministers has become chronic.
This is not to say that other MPs are always in attendance. There have been several debates in the past about how to enforce attendance of Parliament. A good many MPs will clock in and lounge around the Parliament building without attending to business in committee and plenary. A number will sign attendance lists and disappear.
In their defence, one may argue that MPs are busy looking at how they may be re-elected since nominations for next election are hardly a year away. But this is largely how it has been throughout the term of the current Parliament, and those that came before did not do much better.
Given these circumstances, one wonders why Parliament is expanding to accommodate more members. Shouldn’t the debate be about how it becomes leaner and more productive? And, as it has been argued before, ministers should not be MPs.