Dos and Don'ts for MPs as 10th parliament opens

During debate in Parliament, the members shall use British English – since Uganda was once a protectorate of Great Britain.

What you need to know:

Last week, more than 400 members of Parliament were sworn in. Article 81(4-5) of the Constitution requires every elected MP to take and subscribe to the oath of allegiance and the oath of MP before assuming office. As the 10th Parliament opens today, Nelson Wesonga brings you some dos and don'ts of legislators.

Minutes after a Member of Uganda’s Parliament swears in, he or she gets a copy of the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Uganda.
Ms Helen Kawesa, the deputy director of communication and public affairs, says the rules book is a bible of sorts for the MPs.
“It guides the MPs on how they should conduct themselves, since some of them have never been MPs before,” says Ms Kawesa.
Among other things, the rules book guides the MPs on Parliamentary Procedure, election of the Speaker of Parliament, how MPs should dress, the kind of language they should use and how the MPs should carry themselves in and out of Parliament.
The 10th Parliament will have 458 legislators after the number shot up from the 375 MPs in the previous House. Almost half of these are new legislators.

The dos
Every Member of Parliament should take an ‘Oath of Allegiance’ and ‘Oath of a Member of Parliament’, which most did last week.
Only those who take the oath can take their seats in Parliament.
Article 81(4-5) of the Constitution requires every elected MP to take and subscribe to the oath of allegiance and the oath of MP before assuming office.
The legislators - new or old - are required to either use the Bible or the Quran but those who don’t subscribe to any religious denomination, can make a “solemn affirmation” that leaves out any mention of God and without touching any Holy book.

Conduct during sittings
The Members shall enter or leave the House with decorum.
While a member is speaking, all the others should remain silent and shall not make unnecessary interruptions.
When a member has finished making his or her submission, he or she will resume his or her seat.
When a member is making their maiden (first speech in the House) he or she shall not be interrupted except by the speaker or in circumstances that in the opinion of the speaker warrant interruption.
The rules though allow members to take into the House devices that can’t disrupt the proceedings of the House.
Such devices must pass the security test of Parliament.

General conduct/behaviour
In all other matters, the Code of Conduct of Members prescribed in the rules shall guide the behavior of the members.
The code, among others, provides that the members shall bear true allegiance to Uganda. They shall preserve and protect the Constitution and to uphold the law and act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them.
MPs should also have a special duty to their constituents.
In case an MP has an interest in a particular issues before the House, he or she shall declare to the House his or her interest.
MPs should not act as paid advocates for any person or organisation in any proceedings of Parliament.

During parliamentary proceedings
When the speaker rises during proceedings, every MP should follow suit.
An MP who wants to speak shall rise his or her hand but shall only speak after he or she has ‘caught the speaker’s eye’.
An MP should refer to the speaker as Mister Speaker or Madam Speaker, depending on whether it is a man or woman in the seat.
And, an MP should refer to fellow MPs as Honourable together with the name of the MP or their constituency.
If the speaker allows an MP to speak, the MP should stand. There are exceptional cases; where an MP cannot stand due to disability or any other illness, the speaker could allow that MP to speak while seated.

When an MP starts to speak, he or she should make reference to the subject matter under discussion.
MPs shall not refer to a particular matter that is sub judice. Parliamentary rules define sub judice as any active criminal or civil proceedings and if in the opinion of the Speaker; the discussion of such matter is likely to prejudice its fair determination.

The don’ts
Members should not also clap in the House.
If they must show approval, they should just stamp their feet.
Members shall not without the consent of the Speaker take into the House any papers, books or other documents that are [not] directly connected with the business of the House.
Members shall not also take into the House any camera, arms or weapons, tape recorders and transmitter radios.
MPs should not publicise the confidential information that they receive in the course of their parliamentary duties. They should also not use that information for financial gain.
Members shall not conduct themselves in a manner that shall whittle down the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament; the MPs should never undertake actions that could bring the House, or its members generally, into disrepute.

When taking decisions, the MPs should make the decision not be because they are expecting financial gain or other material benefits for themselves, their families or their friends.
The MPs should also not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their duties.
Members should not accept a bribe to influence their conduct as MPs; they should not accept any fee, compensation or rewards in connection with the promotion of, or opposition to, any Bill, Motion, or other matter submitted, or intended to be submitted to the House, or to any Committee of the House.
Members should not use offensive, abusive, insulting or blasphemous or unbecoming words to impute improper motives to any member or members or to make personal allusions.
They (members) shall not cross the Floor of the House or move around unnecessarily.

Sitting arrangement
Now Uganda has a multiparty system of governance, in Parliament, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) MPs sit to the Speaker’s right whereas the Opposition (the Forum for Democratic Change, the Democratic Party, the Uganda Peoples Congress and even the Independent) MPs sit to the Speaker’s left.

Parliamentary dress code
The MPs should dress in a dignified manner.
The men should dress in suits, pairs of trousers, jackets/coats, shirts and ties.
They could also dress in kanzus or safari suits. The women should wear blouses and skirts or dresses and jackets.
Military staff should wear their uniform. All should wear dignified shoes. In some exceptional cases, a member of Parliament could, with the Speaker’s permission, wear what might not necessarily be dignified shoes.

Induction and orientation of legislators

The rules of procedure aside, Ms Kawesa says Parliament organises induction and orientation for the new MPs.
First is the orientation, which, for the Tenth Parliament, will be conducted this week (Tuesday and Wednesday).
MPs will be taken through the Rules of Procedure.
During the induction, which will take place in June, the MPs will be taught about the roles of MPs, how to debate, the privileges of MPs, the public’s expectations of MPs et al.
The facilitators, Ms Kawesa says, could be drawn from even the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).
According to the CPA Website, CPA “exists to develop, promote and support parliamentarians and their staff to identify the benchmarks for good governance and to implement the enduring values of the Commonwealth”.

During the induction, different experts will tutor the MPs.
In some cases, some of the facilitators were once parliamentarians.
Though Parliament expects the MPs to live up to high standards, in the previous parliaments there have been cases where legislators who weren’t dressed appropriately.
For instance, on May 6, 2011, the Security minister Amama Mbabazi was sent out of Parliament because he had turned up in a kitenge shirt, a pair of trousers – plus, of course, shoes.