Is Uganda’s problem lack of legislation?

Author: Prosper Mubangizi. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • It should be noted that laws, in themselves, are insufficient to bring about the desired state of affairs.

During a recent conversation with a technical staff at one of the government ministries, we hinted on the issue of over legislation. Going by the parliamentary scorecards by various actors in parliamentary democracy, legislators are judged, inter alia, by how many laws they have enacted.

So obsessed with this paradigm is Parliament that every single day, a new law is debated and passed. Speakers give updates on how many laws they have presided over and brought into life. Civil Society Organisations pride themselves in how many laws and policies they have influenced to be enacted. That is the standard measure of how effective they are in advocacy and policy influence.

Legislation is not Uganda’s problem. The problem of window dressing, that is, very good policies that are not implemented, is mainly due to the fact that we seem obsessed with enactment of laws and policies rather than their implementation. Far from enacting laws, there is need for a coherent institutional framework to guide their implementation. This requires requisite and qualified human resources to interpret and enforce the legislation, monitor and evaluate its impact. This would require Parliament to undertake one of its cardinal roles: appropriation.

Via appropriation, legislators would be allocating the necessary funds to 1) hire the requisite human resource and 2) to establish the institutional framework for the implementation of the enacted laws and policies. It should be noted that laws, in themselves, are insufficient to bring about the desired state of affairs. For instance, the welfare of children remains dismally low albeit the existence of good and progressive laws like The Children’s Act 2016 mainly because there is no institutional framework in place.

A case in point is the glaring fact that more than 20 percent of local governments have no substantive social welfare and probation officers. Without staffing for this office, coordinating child well-being remains a dream.

To again underscore the importance of a robust institutional framework for national wellbeing and prosperity, I will present a few statistics. The 10th Parliament between 2016 and 2021 passed 118 bills into laws but Uganda’s Human Development Index in that period remained below 0.544— which put the country in the low human development category—positioning it at 159 out of 189 countries and territories.

Life expectancy in the same period increased from 62 years to 63.4 years, expected years of schooling rose from 11.2 to 11.4 which is a negligible 1.8 percent increase.

Creating statistical relationships between legislation and the standard of living is a herculean task that this article cannot exhaustively realise. But the argument that legislation is not Uganda’s problem is vivid for all of us to see. Whereas we need good laws to determine the dos and don’ts in this country, we should not lose sight of the basics that need to be done;  institutions and human resources that need to be factored in so as to realise national prosperity.

The appetite by civil society to constantly push the government to legislate and pass laws must be tamed. Civil Society has obsessed itself with policy influence that every civil society position  is aimed at enacting new legislation instead of strengthening the already existing ones.

This is not in any way a maleficent attack on legislation. We all need laws. They form a crucial cornerstone for any nation but laws don’t implement themselves. As advocates, we should be pushing for robust institutional frameworks to enable the implementation of laws and policies. The Budget too must reflect our legislative priorities .

Prosper Mubangizi is a Public Policy Specialist.

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