When Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah ruled that all business that had not been concluded by the time the 10th parliament lapsed would not be handled by the 11th Parliament, some misunderstood the ruling.
Some leaders tried to find fault in the ruling. The media was much incensed. Sections of the public wondered what was happening.
The NSSF Bill particularly took centre stage because the President had primarily agreed to it save for some amendments he had suggested; the savers were eagerly waiting for the mid-term payments to begin. Boom! The Speaker ruled that the Bill had lapsed.
I write to say that the ruling of Mr Oulanyah was great for both Parliament, the Executive and the general public.
The greatness of the ruling was in the fact that it was a call to both Parliament and the Executive to conduct the business of the country as established in law for the benefit of the public.
The Speaker quoted the rules (mainly 235) of the Parliament Rules of Procedure that necessitated any business of the previous parliament to be reintroduced if it’s to become the business of the current Parliament.
Originally, the rule was that business of a particular parliament lapses with that particular parliament. It was amended by the 8th Parliament to create exceptions that some business of the former parliament can be saved to be handled by the next one. The key instructors of that amendment were the Marriage and Divorce Bill and the Homosexuality Bill.
However, even the new rule has limitations –any business to be carried forward must be approved by the new parliament at its second sitting so that it becomes business of the new parliament.
This too did not happen unfortunately. The tenable legal position then is that all the business of the 10th Parliament lapsed.
The lapse did not imply the Bills were not useful. The lapse is the position of the law; and the rule of law commands us to do things mindful of the position of the law or else we create something else.
The law is that once Parliament passes a law, it’s taken to the President to exercise his veto powers. This must be done within 30 days. The Coffee Act, for instance, was accented to by the President after three months but there wasn’t much disputation, so it’s now valid law. The delay did not pose any legal challenges.
With the NSSF Bill, though the President had indicated that he agrees with it, he had areas of concern. The President held meetings with stakeholders and expressed his disagreements particularly, with the text of the Bill and indicated he is sending it back to parliament. He didn’t receive the Bill and kept quiet.
The Attorney General and the Speaker of Parliament are irrefutably some of Uganda’s finest legal minds and know the position of the law very well. The solution, therefore, is to straighten up the legal issues, have the Bill reintroduced and processed by Parliament within 45 days as per the rules of procedure of Parliament.
The message from the Speaker is that, we should not be looking another side when the law commands something else. We should all be looking at the same direction of the Constitution and the rules of procedure of parliament when handling matters of the legislature.
By adhering to the commands of the law, we can all give our public processes the much needed element of integrity.
Returning the NSSF Bill to a parliament which never considered it, would only mollify public sentiments; yet deeply eroding sureness in our law making processes.
Both Parliament and the Executive must be held to account in order to give certitude to our legislative procedures. Bending the rules should only be occasioned by an overriding necessity.
Mr Oulanyah is aware that whatever is done by Parliament is primarily for the benefit of the people with emphasis on the less privileged. His commitment to that promise is in abundance, therefore; the will of the NSSF savers, as expressed through the MPs who passed the Bill cannot be betrayed. But what the established law commands, we must all submit.
Chris Obore is the Parliament director for communication and public affairs