Are all committees equal?
Members of the parliamentary committee in a committee session. Photo Credit: parliament.go.ug
Some Committees appear to be more equal than others. In performing its various functions of; enacting laws; ensuring accountability on the side of the executive; budget appropriation; scrutinizing government policies; and vetting Presidential appointees among others. The Parliament of the Republic of Uganda adopted Rules of Procedure that establishes various organs to enable it execute its roles efficiently and effectively. These organs ranges from Parliamentary Commission, Sectoral, Select Committees to Standing Committees.
Committees of Parliament specifically the Standing Committees to mention but few includes the Local Government Accounts, the Public Accounts Committee commonly known as PAC, National Economy, Business Committee and the Appointments Committee- which is our matters of discussion today based on its important role in performance of the legislative arm of government.
This committee (Appointments Committee) is established under Rule 151 of the Rules of Procedure of Parliament of Uganda and it is chaired by the Speaker of Parliament, in his or her absence by the Deputy Speaker. Its main function as spelt out under Rule 155(1) is to approve on behalf of parliament, the appointment of persons nominated by the President under the Constitution or any other appointment required to be approved by Parliament under any law.
A clear reflection on the above stated function of this committee points to the fact that the House (Parliament) delegated its powers to its committee which it doesn’t do with other committees. The Rules of Procedure again make it more amusing under Rule 158: “The Chairperson of the Committee shall report to the House any appointment approved by the Committee and the report shall not be subject to debate”. What is so special with this report which cannot be subjected to debate? Does it imply that its decision is so impeccable, beyond perfect and always on spot?
While considering the report of the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline on the Amendment of the Rules of Procedure of Parliament of Uganda on 22, February, 2012, Abdu Katuntu, Shadow Attorney General noted: “. Article 113 (1) of the Constitution reads: “Cabinet ministers shall be appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament from among Members of Parliament or persons qualified to be elected Members of Parliament.” So, if the Constitution demands the approval to be done by Parliament, then we need to go to the Constitution and define Parliament. It is defined in the interpretation section under Article 257 as follows: “‘Parliament’ means the Parliament of Uganda”. He added that these powers of approval are vested in Parliament which is clearly defined by the Constitution therefore the committee has no constitutional authority to have a final approval.
Despite the fact that all Committees of Parliament execute their duties on behalf of Parliament and they are supposed to report back to the House (Parliament) for the final approval of all matters under their consideration. The rules give the committee the powers to carry out a final approval of the appointees. In real sense it appears like the committee usurped the powers of Parliament as enshrined in the Constitution. If the Prime Minister who also happens to be the Leader of Government Business is subjected to approval of the whole House under Article 108(A) (1) of Constitution. Why not other Presidential appointees?
It is worth noting that the 9th Parliament Appointments Committee did a commendable job to reject Presidential Ministerial Appointees like Saleh Kamba, James Kakoza, Naser Sebagala, Muyanja Mbabali on grounds like lack of requisite academic qualification and their questionable moral integrity. However, the same committee approved General Nyakairima Aronda (RIP) as Minister for Internal Affairs when he was still a serving army officer. This contravened Article 208 (1) of the Constitution which provides for ‘non-partisan and neutrality” of army officers. It also disregarded Section 99 of the Uganda Peoples Defence Act, 2005 which bars a serving army officer from seeking a political appointment unless after retirement or resignation.
This implies that under certain circumstances the committee can be easily manipulated by the appointing authority which nominates these appointees to appear before it hence the need for the whole house to have the finality on matters being handled by the committee though it is not a guarantee that it is immune to manipulation.
We therefore, implore the future Parliament (10th Parliament) since the current one is only remaining with weeks to come to its end to amend these rules such that the Presidential Appointees are subjected to scrutiny by the Appointments Committee and there after reports to the House for the final approval.