Do we have an independent legislative body in Uganda ?
The parliament as an important arm of the State has a crucial role in promoting and protecting democracy and good governance thereby establishing not only the necessary check and balances, but also developing norms and standards for institutions of democracy and governance.
There are instances in which the legislative body in this country has permitted the executive to assert control over legislative processes which ideally are its preserve. These are what I would like to discuss today.
Last year while legislating on the tax bills for the financial year 2014/15, Parliament backtracked on its decision to scrap the 2% tax on kerosene in the Excise Tariff(Amendment) Bill, 2014 having earlier argued it was against the interests of the poor people. MPs also backtracked on their decision for Uganda Communications Commission to retain the revenue generated from levies imposed on telecom companies in the Finance (Amendment) Bill, 2014. This was done because H.E the President had directed so regardless of MPs’ own convictions.
The long standing deadlock on the Public Private Partnerships Bill which had drawn battle lines between Parliament and the President, specifically on Clause 26(1), which provides that an accounting officer shall not sign a public/private partnership agreement without the approval of Parliament, ended with MPs giving in and passing the bill in the manner the president wanted. The president wanted cabinet to approve the PPP agreements instead of Parliament, according to His letter to the Speaker dated 7th January 2015. He got his way.
On December 7, 2012 the house passed the controversial Petroleum Exploration, Development and Production Bill 2012 in the form President Museveni wanted it. The legislators had initially clipped the powers of the Minister in clause 9 of the Bill. Clause 9 provided for the functions of the minister which include the granting and revoking of licences among other things. Upon the directive of the President through the NRM parliamentary caucus, the bill was passed giving unlimited powers to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development to negotiate, grant and revoke licences.
After the Bill had been passed in December 2012, five NRM members including Hon Theodore Sekkikubo, MP Lwemiyanga County, accused their colleagues of succumbing to the blackmail of the President and passing laws that were prejudicial to national interests.
The burning question therefore is, “Whose interests do our legislators serve?” Certainly not those of the people they represent or those of the legislative body they are part of. Hon Alice Alaso, Woman MP Serere District opines that the loyalty of the legislators in this country is available to the highest bidder. Her assertion is credible given that a decade ago MPs scrapped presidential term limits for a price of 5 million shillings.
Quite often the NRM caucus has demanded its members to vote on issues and laws as dictated by party leadership, regardless of their own convictions or opinions.They hold the majority in parliament. While I appreciate the need to build consensus in the caucus, should that be at the expense of the members’ convictions and the citizenry whose interests they represent?
The bigger question is: How do we trust a parliament who more than once has endorsed ‘executive decisions’ that do not necessarily represent those of the people? The propensity of parliament to hold government accountable determines in part, the quality of governance and effective performance of government machinery. But as in our case parliament is terribly undermined by the executive.
In December 2013, government bypassed parliament and sent Ugandan troops to South Sudan. MPs were only recalled from their recess to approve that decision retrospectively. Under the constitution, parliament is mandated to approve all government borrowing. However, often time government borrows loans and only comes to parliament for retrospective approval. This shows the extent to which the oversight role of parliament is failing and the executive is reigning supreme.
Therefore, because our parliament’s independence has been compromised by the executive body asserting influence over legislative processes, sadly the latter lost a lot of credibility as legislative body that can be depended upon to represent the interests of citizens and play its oversight role in ensuring the quality of governance and effective performance of government machinery.