Why MPs sometimes behave like a hired mob

Sunday March 4 2012

A deserted side of the ruling party during a session. MPs only turn up in Big numbers when there is a voting session.

A deserted side of the ruling party during a session. MPs only turn up in Big numbers when there is a voting session. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Weakening Parliament. Great leaders do not sugar-coat reality. Parliament resolutions must be respected. Otherwise, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of 9th Parliament was not the strident clamour of the new legislators, but the awful silence of senior members.

Parliament continues to revise the Rules of Procedure which will guide its operations in the next five years. As the case for last week, in this column, we also continue to look at these new Rules of Order and how the proposed changes will affect the Institution of Parliament— for better or for worse.

Last week, I appealed to our representatives to see sense in public agitation for an open vetting system. I am reliably informed that this particular amendment is going to be debated on Tuesday. For that matter, I want to take this opportunity to ask our legislators and Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah not to disappoint Ugandans, the way they did this week.

MPs under the leadership of Mr Oulanyah decided to tamper with the authority of Parliament—making it very easy for the Executive and any other aggrieved member to upend the decisions of Parliament. This is bad news for Parliament. By the way, I am told this obnoxious amendment which was not even part of the Rules Committee report, but smuggled by Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi with the backing of State Minister for Agriculture Bright Rwamirama targets a “stubborn” Parliament and a “pro-people” Speaker Rebecca Kadaga.

Weakening the House?
To weaken the Institution of Parliament, the Executive used its numerical strength in the House to amend Rule 59(2) which originally stated that “it is out of order to reconsider any specific question upon which the House has come to a conclusion...” Now, to flip over a decision of Parliament, a member does not need to run to court, he or she needs to move a substantive motion, backed by half of the members of the entire House, and it is a done deal. Just like that.

In Uganda where anything is feasible, this particular amendment will certainly do more harm than good to the Institution of Parliament. I do not know why Mr Oulanyah did not guide the House on the subtext before putting the question for those with numbers to simply shout “aye” without even knowing the implications of what they were passing. I am not a prophet of doom, but I envisage a situation where Parliament is now going to be fused with the Executive to suppress accountability and good governance. I am talking about the politics of numbers —the hallmark of the “toothless” 8th Parliament.

So, in a Parliament of 375 members, the NRM party controls over 270 MPs. This means that to topple Parliament, the NRM Caucus needs only 187 members. In fact, under this loophole, the President who has been struggling to overturn House resolutions is now free to do so through the NRM Caucus. The Executive will now control the Institution of Parliament in total disregard of the Constitutional tenet on the separation of powers. The NRM MPs effectively blocked the proposal by opposition members Dr Francis Epetite (Ngora) and Mr Odonga Otto (Aruu) to make it very difficult for any member not even the Executive to overturn the decisions of Parliament.

Sometime last year I wrote here that money had turned the institution of Parliament into something similar to a helpless ‘watchdog’. In the same article I did indicate that unless the people we send to Parliament begin to see themselves as vital bridges to prosperity, with a snooping Executive, even with the blessing of a no-nonsense Speaker, the ninth Parliament may not do much to re-establish eroded public optimism.

Amazingly some of our fellows in the ninth Parliament, previously acclaimed as a pro-people, believe they can defend the doctrine of separation of powers while at the same time empowering the Executive to control the Institution of Parliament and the Speaker. Though it is hard for a ‘hyena’ to smell its own stench, our MPs should know that when the ‘devil’ is not fishing he is mending his nets.

Parliament embodies democracy. It is the central institution through which the will of the people is expressed, laws are passed and government is held to account. For Parliament to play its role effectively, it must be de-linked from the Executive maneuver.

It must be independent. It must have the requisite powers and means to express the will of the people through its law-making and oversight functions. In this way, it can contribute effectively to guaranteeing the people’s rights and liberties, securing civil peace and ensuring harmonious development.

The effectiveness of Parliament is maintained only if MPs decide to remain fully independent and committed to their promises and constitutional obligations, especially the core ones like holding the Executive to account. In Uganda, the institution of Parliament over the years has become a wishy-washy useless organisation because of faint-hearted members and a President on the other hand who feels he must whip the Speaker.

How, therefore, shall we solve this paradox? Well, under normal circumstances, a people-based Parliament should be in a position to fight the rampant corruption in government, oversee resource re-distribution which is equitable and fair, and not influenced by regional or ethnic considerations, defend the national interest and pursue an economy based on national interest.

If Parliament is to retain its relevance and gain respect of the people, legislators must use the vast powers they have to protect their decisions.

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Flowers: Rebecca Kadaga
Truth is the breath of life to human society. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga this week addressed a press conference to tell the President the truth. Ms Kadaga sought to assure the public that she will not be intimidated in the fight against corruption and openly defended the decision of Parliament to stop the activities of the Commission of inquiry into UPE/USE. For the last eight months, Ms Kadaga has not made any shortcuts in the fight against corruption in government and for that matter she has made many Ugandans proud. Flowers for you Madam Speaker.

Frowns: Kale Kayihura
We received disturbing news this week that authorities in police had transferred CID officers attached to Parliament who were investigating corruption scandals involving top ministers and other public officials. While the reason for their transfer is not yet clear, it is obvious that investigations into the abuse of Chogm funds, Global Fund and Naads money will be affected and the culprits are likely to walk scot free. For not allowing these detectives to complete these investigations, we give Police Chief, Gen Kale Kayihura, frowns.