NRM caucus ringfences tabling of House Bills

NRM Members of Parliament and their party  leaning counterparts rejoice during the caucus retreat at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi District on June 1, 2023. PHOTO | PPU

What you need to know:

  • The caucus positions will always be final on matters leading to the writing of a new law and every legislator must support it.

Ruling party MPs at the weekend resolved to withdraw future backing for any proposed law if introduced by a private member of Parliament, opting to go with only government-led consensus positions.

The resolution was one of 24 adopted at the end of a 10-day party retreat held between May 27 and June 4 at the pro-government political education school in Kyankwanzi District.  

Its adoption has drawn concerns that this is another attempt by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) leadership to exercise exclusive control over the political agenda. 

Senior counsel Peter Mukidi Walubiri told Daily Monitor that by throttling the constitutional right of every MP to table a private member’s Bill on the floor of Parliament, NRM’s leaders seek to regain the initiative to always dictate their views on contentious issues.

“A member may introduce interests that don’t conform to what the party [leaders believe], but also perhaps you may need to know that the Anti-Homosexuality Act that was beginning to give President Museveni sleepless nights was introduced by a private member,” Mr Walubiri said yesterday.  

The constitutional law expert explained that, as a result of this perceived loss of control, “the party is now trying to find [a fault]; that perhaps it was indiscipline for the NRM legislators to support the [anti-gay] Bill without consensus or proper guidance”.  

“So, they are trying to find a scapegoat that it was a Private Members Bill, and so why did they support it,” he said. 

Article 94(4) of Uganda’s Constitution establishes the right of every ordinary MP to introduce a private member’s Bill for a proposed law.  

But the NRM caucus in retreat at the National Leadership Institute has now taken the unusual decision to effectively ban the enjoyment of this right by its members.  A June 4 statement issued at the close of the retreat said it was resolved that: “… members of the caucus should not ordinarily bring to Parliament, or support, a private member’s Bill. Whenever this is necessary, however, it should be done through the caucus”. 

De facto ruling

Caucus positions on any issue leading up to the writing of a new law, once arrived at in the parliamentary caucus, will now be expected to be the de facto ruling party line with all members bound to support it on the floor. 

The resolution comes in the wake of a rise in motions for private member’s Bills on various issues of national concern – with MPs complaining that the government is either very slow or unwilling to take up key issues of the day.  

Last month, the Attorney General (AG), Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka, pleaded with Parliament Speaker Anita Among to allow the government to re-introduce the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Bill 2023.  

The law on narcotics had recently been struck down by the Constitutional Court for having been enacted without the required quorum of MPs in the House.  

Mr Kiwanuka said they would be working backward if the Bill was sponsored by a private member. His plea mirrored other instances where the front bench has pleaded to be allowed to take over other private members’ Bills.

In this case, MPs Asuman Basalirwa (Bugiri Municipality) and Mr Christopher Komakech (Aruu) had moved a motion seeking permission to introduce the anti-narcotics Bill.  

Mr Basalirwa was also the main sponsor of the widely supported Anti-Homosexuality Act enacted under pressure from the global West.  

The law has since become a subject of some controversy with America, Britain, Canada, the European Union, and the World Bank Group threatening to impose sanctions on Uganda. The West claims that the law represents a gross violation of human rights and will impede access to life-saving HIV/Aids healthcare for gay persons, a claim vehemently rejected across Uganda.  

Religious and political leaders across the country, including President Museveni maintain the law is timely and will protect Uganda’s traditional and cultural values, and ensure the sanctity of the family unit in the face of an immoral global onslaught by promoters of the vice of homosexuality. 

Government Chief Whip Hamson Obua on Monday told journalists that the NRM caucus position on no longer supporting private member’s Bills was presented by AG  Kiwanuka, who also discussed the implications of Article 94 of the Constitution and other precedents. 

In Sub-Article 4 of Article 94 of Uganda’s Constitution, the right of an MP to table a private member’s Bill is enshrined.  

Similarly, Rule 121(1 and 2) of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure elaborates on this constitutional prerogative, confirming the right of MPs to move a private member’s Bills, and the duty of the relevant department of government to provide the necessary drafting assistance.

“For members of the NRM, the practice has always been [that] if you intend to move a private member’s bill, it is befitting [and] wise to start within your political family,” Mr Obua said. 

“The moment your idea, mission, vision, or area you intend to amend in any existing law is adopted by your political family, as practice and precedent, then, you are granted the latitude to proceed and ensure that such a private members Bill meets the constitutional requirement under Article 94. This is in terms of your right and responsibilities imposed on you by the Constitution which has been the practice,” he said.

Mr Obua said with the passing of this resolution, the caucus believes NRM MPs will be able to generate consensus ahead of debates. 

“And by the time we come to the House, we should have internalised. But also, this is being done so as to prevent many Bills from getting returned,” Mr Obua said. 

Uganda’s Parliament comprises 556 elected MPs, 330 of whom were elected on the NRM ticket.