Speaker Among furious as absentee ministers frustrate business

Members of Parliament attend the plenary session chaired by Speaker Anita Among at Parliament on September 6, 2023.  PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • In August last year, Speaker Among came tough on inconsistent attendance by some of the Members of Parliament in plenary sittings.

Enraged Speaker of Parliament Anita Annet Among yesterday adjourned the House prematurely, protesting what some legislators called “indiscipline of the front bench” and “dereliction of duty” in the face of raging service delivery challenges in the country.

Empty front-bench greeted Speaker Among as she entered the House at exactly 2pm. After the official opening prayers, she got angry and demanded to know why “highly-paid” ministers were not in the House, and whether Parliament is only meant for the back-benchers.   
“If we are supposed to have the ministers represent the Executive, then we should have ministers on this front bench but we cannot come here as Members of Parliament, waste our time, talk, nobody is [here] to respond and they are paid highly,” Ms Among said.

“Honourable members, I am not sure we are going to continue like this. I think I need to talk to the Executive on this matter…If this House is meant for only the Members of Parliament, then let us be told that,” she added. 
“We have 83 ministers and for that reason, therefore, I first want to meet the Executive on this matter. Let us adjourn the House until we have this issue resolved. We are adjourning the House to tomorrow [today],” she said yesterday.  
Rule 50(1) of the Parliament Rules of Procedure requires ministers to attend sittings of the House to answer questions asked of them as part of accountability mechanism enshrined in the doctrine of separation of powers.   
Under the 1995 Constitution, there are three branches of government— the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary— each with distinct powers aimed at maintaining citizens’ wellbeing and safeguarding against dictatorship and corruption.

The Speaker expressed disappointment after realising that none of the 83 ministers appeared yesterday to respond to the queries of the day. She was particularly angered that despite persistent calls made to the ministers to attend plenary, they still didn’t show up.

Ms Among and her deputy Thomas Tayebwa, have relentlessly warned ministers and MPs against dodging the House proceedings. In her communication to the House on Tuesday, June 20, Speaker Among had promised that the legislators’ attendance would be monitored using biometrics as a way of improving their participation and performance.
The Speaker had also promised to publish the attendance and the performance of the last session as part of her initiative to fight rampant absenteeism in the House.  

Absenteeism is an old problem in Parliament. It’s the responsibility of the party whips to ensure members attend the House. 
Speaking to Daily Monitor just minutes after Speaker Among adjourned plenary yesterday afternoon, the Minister for Defence and Veterinary Affairs, Mr Vincent Ssempijja, blamed traffic jam for his late arrival at Parliament.

“I can’t talk for everybody but I want to talk for myself. I started moving from Mbuya at 1pm but the road has a lot of traffic jam. The roads are being worked on, you have to wait. Even with sirens, you cannot push your way through the traffic jam,” Mr Ssempijja said.
He added: “For me it was really the traffic jam, I was late by 11 minutes. But we are always very subordinate to the Parliament authority.  We always want to attend on time but today,  in my case, it was the jam, it was too much on the road.”

His counterpart, the State minister of Defence and Veterinary Affairs, Mr Huda Oleru, told Daily Monitor that the workload on ministers’ desks sometimes compels them to get in plenary sittings late.

“Our challenge is to balance between being in Parliament and also handling the ministerial issues. So, it is not deliberate that we are late. I am sorry that the House has been adjourned. We shall do our best to improve,” he explained.
The Soroti West legislator, Mr Jonathan Ebwalu, said:  “I am very disappointed that we spend taxpayers’ money and the ministers are not here to process government work. I want to say [that] this is the most incompetent Cabinet ever President Museveni has assembled. He must now make sure he starts to sack them very quickly.