A spineless Parliament does not help anyone

Sunday February 3 2013

NRM MPs at Kyankwanzi last month. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

NRM MPs at Kyankwanzi last month. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

There is this famous proverb: When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. In our African context, this proverb is used regularly to describe leaders whose disputes and divisions end up hurting innocent people. The good thing about this adage is its hands-on gist that humorously fits in very well with our politics - the tiff between Parliament and the Executive.

For the record, this week’s column is not about denigrating the institution of Parliament in a democracy. It’s about the tales of fraudulence in a toothless Parliament - full of yes-men and women whose preoccupation is egotistic in a sense that tittle-tattle takes precedence over the needs of the people.

Fresh from a five-week recess, Parliament reconvenes on Tuesday to deal with the unfinished business. The politics surrounding the botched petition to recall the House to discuss the antics of a heavy-handed Executive is expected to recur as the country recovers from the controversial death of former Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda.

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga is expected to explain her decision to block the petition. I hope Ms Kadaga does not open debate on this matter, for if she does, we are certainly going to have a showdown over the arrest of outspoken legislators. But as I have indicated here before, in trying to resolve the disagreements between the Speaker and the petitioners, it is important that the politics is fixed without damaging the stature of the institution.

Then, we have the “misplaced” coup debate. At first I thought it was an attempt by some politicians to white-wash the “Nebandagate”. Whichever way you look at this threat, from the unequivocal words of the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, it’s apparent that the military is perhaps considering grabbing power. God forbid. While many Ugandans agree that the coup debate is unreasoned and inconsistent with our Constitution, the warning was targeting the outspoken politicians in Parliament.

This threat bares the hallmarks of blackmail that seeks to make Parliament spineless. Therefore, I salute the senior army officers led by Gen. Jim Muhwezi, Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, Brig. Kasirye Ggwanga and others, who came out strongly to condemn the coup talk. I hope, Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga, who started this hopeless debate will be asked to restate on the floor of Parliament, what he meant by saying that the army was watching events in Parliament and that there was a possibility of a takeover should politicians continue “not showing seriousness” to solve the problems facing the country.

The fight between Parliament and the Executive is about the separation of powers. But it will be unfortunate if the two institutions and our leaders fail to read the signs of time. Ugandans do not eat politics; the country needs urgent solutions to the crises we are facing today. Certain issues will not present immediate solutions, and the disagreements can only be resolved if Parliament and the Executive cherish the need for self-reflection - looking at the bigger picture: Strengthening institutions.

I doubt whether we are all unable to perceive effective solutions to what is holding us back. I know sometimes, people feel stuck, frustrated, angry, and disillusioned. As a result, they might either dig their heels deeper, anchoring themselves into extreme and rigid positions, or they might decide to go silent and simply watch on the sidelines. So, in trying to address the challenges we face as Ugandans, it’s going to be dangerous if Parliament becomes spineless.

Ugandans need better services such as pension reforms, drugs in hospitals, jobs for idle graduates, good roads, a serious fight against corruption in government and private offices, education reforms—starting with the delayed students loan scheme, attracting teachers and doctors, particularly in the hard-to- reach areas of Uganda and increasing funding to the agricultural sector, among other reforms needed to transform our economy.

By focusing on winners and losers in the endless political games, we seem to forget that the impasse represents a turning point in our efforts to negotiate a solution to the conflict. As such, rather than avoiding or dreading it, criticism should be viewed with calmness, patience, and respect. The ability of Parliament to hold government accountable for its actions, has been lost in the process.

The government is no longer in hurry to ensure better services to the people, and Parliament is no longer the voice of the voiceless and the poor. I just hope this time our MPs, their political differences notwithstanding, can wake up and pick up the pieces before it’s too late.

Parliament is not all about filling seats; it’s a serious place where wise men and women in society discuss matters of the state. Parliament, as a freely elected body, holds a central place in any democracy.

Religion teaches us the discipline of self-reflection as an integral part of human success. In his book: “Ten Principles of Universal Wisdom”, Ryuho Okawa, a famous Japanese writer, states that as human beings, we have brilliantly-shining souls. Just as diamond accumulates dirt if it is neglected, our souls certainly collect filth and grime. This is why we are supposed to refine our own souls, and this is actually our spiritual discipline.

Although someone else could wash your physical body, Okawa argues that only you can cleanse your own soul; that you are responsible for polishing it.

Therefore, if MPs can reflect on what they have done since May 2011 when they took office, with a pure heart, they will be able to wipe out all the records that have been written as losses.