Ministry of Trade PS Geraldine Ssali in Anti-Corruption court dock Ministry of Trade PS Geraldine Ssali in dock at the Anti-Corruption

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Why Parliament’s up-country sittings are important

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Ibrahim Manzil

Upon the prorogation of Parliament following the successful enactment of the Appropriation Act 2024, and during the address on the state of the nation,  Speaker of Parliament Anita Among announced that Parliament will sit in the different regions of Uganda, starting with Gulu City in the north.

To properly contextualise this undertaking, a journey down the legislative memory lane is necessary. Uganda’s legislative history is traceable to the Legislative Council (Legco) established by the 1920 Order-in-Council, which was pre-independence and, therefore, to the exclusion of indigenous Ugandans. It was until 1945, that the colonial government chose to include some Africans into the Legco. Fast forward to the pre-and post-independence elections which brought forth Parliaments elected by the people, but that was not for long, and soon thereafter, the 1966 crisis came, then the abrogation of Parliament following the Idi Amin coup.

The common thread in this brief history is that the Legislature, a critical arm of government where political interests are canvassed and addressed, has been swamped if not frustrated, distorting the natural evolution of a legislative culture, and slowing it from firmly taking route in Uganda.

The steadiest period, where the legislative culture has been on a steep albeit slow ascent was since the advent of the 1995 Constitution. In the 2026 general election, we shall have had 30 years of stable, uninterrupted parliamentary democracy, and it would be fair to say that our effective legislative culture is 30 years old, without prejudice to the scatterings of some semblance of parliamentary practice in the periods preceding this Constitution. I go all the way back because it is important in illustrating the reasons which informed Parliament’s adoption of people-centredness as the central creed and philosophy guiding its undertakings.

The struggle has since been that of entrenching the legislative culture and also ensuring that voters appreciate the constitutional responsibilities of MPs, to raise the country’s collective civic competence and ensure voters make political decisions on MPs,  flowing from an appraisal based on the exact roles the MP is supposed to play, and not the other peripheral roles often mainstreamed by voters as the determinant of one’s electability to Parliament.

These regional sittings are intended to serve the purpose of raising awareness about the important functions MPs are mandated to execute, demonstrated by MPs raising issues peculiar to the region where the sitting is held, and government making immediate intervention, which process would provide citizens with an up-close, even personal experience and provide the clearest illustration of what is to be expected from MPs, highlighting the centrality of Parliament in addressing socio-economic challenges affecting citizens.

This will serve the critical role of unburdening MPs from the incessant calls to fix bridges, schools etc. and deepen the legislative culture, where the voters can make an easy connection between the role their MP is supposed to play, which is to, among others and by way of representation, raise the issues which should trigger the government machinery to provide solutions, and for that to happen, the MPs would have appropriated monies to act as means of fulfilling those wishes.

The other is to demystify the institution of Parliament and make the local Ugandan voter understand in close range, that it is his legislature after all, and that the MPs, having been given powers to levy taxes, then use the Parliament to better the lives of people.

This would qualify to be one of the most massive civic awareness campaigns in our recent history.

Even the critics of the idea admit that it is a public outreach and people-involvement genius, but their fear is regarding the cost – and rightfully so-of such undertaking. This is to assure the public that a cost-benefit analysis was conducted, and care was employed to ensure the leanest of staff is deployed to deliver this important epoch in our legislative culture and history, which was envisaged by the framers of the Constitution when they, in Article 95(2) of the Constitution, reserved the role of appointing the place and time of a sitting of Parliament, to the Speaker.

It is the hope of Parliament that when the sittings are conducted, with sparing use of public finances in pulling it off, there will be a leap forward in deepening our legislative culture and, consequently, a better appreciation of the important role MPs and Parliament play in the political eco-system. This, therefore, is a critical experiment which should be given a chance.

Mr Ibrahim Manzil is a Senior Information Officer at Parliament.