Parliament watch: Chameleons in Parliament!

Sunday November 13 2011


By Yasiin Mugerwa

A Facebook mate told me last week that to be a successful politician in her country, Equatorial Guinea, you need to be a skilful hypocrite, dishonest person and a corrupt individual. Indeed, in Equatorial Guinea, diplomats and even ministers have been caught smuggling drugs, sometimes using diplomatic bags and even the president’s baggage on state trips.

In their parliament, lawmakers pocket bribes to change positions on matters of national significance. To recap the situation in this corrupt nation, one of the smallest countries in continental Africa, this Facebook friend told me that what goes on in parliament is “a dialogue of chameleons”. But I told this friend that in Ugandan Parliament and in other destitute African countries, the story is more or less the same - confusing.

From our discussion, it became apparent that politicians are like chameleons: they change their skin colour depending on the environment they want to adapt to. When we brand or label politicians, they take on the characteristics of the diagnosis, displaying the chameleon effect.

The enemy of language
We were told in school that the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. Equally, in politics, sincerity makes the very least politician to be of more value than the most talented hypocrite. Yes, hypocrisy. This is what is going on in Parliament nowadays.

Our Parliament is increasingly becoming an institution of suspicious strangers— the House of Chameleons and this mistrust is a major reason Ugandans have lost confidence in their representatives.

For instance, on October 11, Parliament passed key resolutions aimed at dealing with the mess in the oil sector. Whether House resolutions are binding to the Executive or simply advisory, that’s not the issue. What is at stake is the chameleon face of Members of Parliament. Even after showing willingness to make the 9th Parliament different, they have turned around to condemn their own resolutions particularly the one demanding that ministers and other public officials accused of pocketing bribes step aside to enable smooth investigations into the allegations of bribery labeled against them.

The big lesson
In the face of what is going on in the House these days, journalism has taught me that every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins. One wonders whether really our MPs are serious. Even after Speaker Rebecca Kadaga reminded them that Resolution 9(c) had nothing to do with President Museveni, they are still playing hide-and-seek. The reason our politics is behaving badly is because the majority in Parliament are behaving badly.

In fact, I am reliably informed that some NRM Caucus members led by Medard Bitekyerezo (Mbarara Municipality) attempted to arm-twist Mr Chamaswet Kosis (NRM) to withdraw his motion seeking to have Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who is also the Leader of Government Business in Parliament, and Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek suspended as MPs for contempt of Parliament. This is hypocrisy.

Chamaswet’s motion, which is now before the House Rules Committee, was clear. The motion offered the institution of Parliament to redeem itself. Behind this motion was a stark reminder to MPs that, the decisions of Parliament as an “independent” institution should be respected. This is why people like Mike Mukula, the NRM vice chairperson for Eastern Region, and other blunt lawmakers were categorical in pushing ministers to step aside. Unlike others in the House, these MPs didn’t change their position.

If Parliament resolved that ministers step aside, then what’s the fuss about? If truth be told, Ugandans would like to own their Parliament on condition that their representatives and the Speaker read from the same page. There is need for Parliament which is suffering from an increasingly pervasive sense of achievement to get a little more serious and focus on matters of national interest.

With the exception of Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, who stepped aside in another Chogm case, the rest are unyielding. It’s true the matter at hand may have no legal basis, but it is also true that this issue has become a matter of public concern. The affected ministers should appeal to their conscience and step aside; after all stepping aside has never been an act of guilt but a sign of mellowness and accountability.

On account of this ping-pong between the Executive and Parliament, the work of the legislative body has been seriously affected. For instance, although in September, Parliament was sent on “forced break” because there was no business from government, again on Thursday, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah announced that there will be no sitting of the House until Tuesday, November 29. When I inquired, I was told that there was no business from government to handle. What a shame!

Kadaga apportions blame
For instance, in her October 29 letter, Ms Kadaga blamed the absence of a legislative programme on the Leader of Government Business who has been fighting for his political life. Several pending bills were brought to the attention of government but no action has taken place.

Double standards of some members notwithstanding, you cannot blame this stalemate in Parliament on Speaker Kadaga; as a matter of fact, she has actually played her leadership cards well, it’s only that she has been let down by the “chameleons” in the House. She forwarded the House resolutions to President Museveni for action. But lets pray for the ‘chameleons’ in Parliament: From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth; from the laziness that is content with half-truths; from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth – oh God of Truth deliver us! For God and My Country.