On the 19th of July 2016 while the house considered membership for the different committees of Parliament, the Speaker directed the Rules, Discipline and Privileges Committee soon after its constitution, to look into the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure to amend it so as to provide for the membership of the different committee of Parliament. This follows the aftermath of the constitutional amendment of 2015 which saw an increase in the numbers of Members of Parliament. The effect therein rendered the restriction of committee membership to 30 impractical.
In the execution of this directive, the committee has had to listen to suggestions from the several members of Parliament and even the general public. Many have already appeared before the committee to present their views thereto. To this extent therefore, I would like to opine that the committee should open up the appointments committee to the public as opposed to Rule 153 (2) which stipulates that the proceedings thereof shall be closed.
Rule 158 of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure is to the effect that the chairperson of the Appointments Committee shall report to the House any appointment approved by the Committee and the report shall not be subject to debate. A process that is done outside the eye of the public as stipulated by Rule 153 (2) is therefore left to be taken intransigently by members, and eventually as a resolution of Parliament.
It is noteworthy to observe that all the other committees of Parliament hold public hearings and their reports are subjected to the debate by the whole house, after which the house can own up to such resolutions and recommendations made. But in this case, the Members are denied opportunities to add their voices to the vetting of appointing authority’s choices.
Taking a leaf from the Kenyan Constitution which provides for public vetting of appointees and prospective applicants for public offices, Uganda’s legislators can harness transparency and bring about public involvement in the process of vetting appointed leaders, and reduce chances of bickering and speculations among the public.
In the recent past, the country has missed opportunities to have landmark changes in several laws through the amendments process that seem to be the norm to-date. For instance, there were several proposals during the 9thParliament when the Minister of Justice tabled a constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2015 where several actors including civil societies and private member.
Under the current provisions of the law, Rule 159 provides that the Speaker shall within 3 working days communicate the decision of the appointments committee on any person nominated by the president for appointment in writing to the president. Ordinarily, such a decision should be first debated to by the house and thereafter communicated to the President.
There is an argument that the House holds an appellate position in the event that the Appointments Committee does not approve the President’s nominee as provided for under Rule 160 of the Parliamentary rules of Procedures. This is meant to justify the secrecy in the proceedings of the committee. However, borrowing from the Bills procedures, where if the President is not satisfied with the Bill passed by Parliament, he or she returns the same to the House in writing stating his reasons for not assent to it, the Parliament should be able to treat appointees in similar manner, but having given Members an opportunity to contribute to the process.