Parliament to spend an annual district budget on MPs in one month
The Parliament of the Republic of Uganda is one of the largest Parliaments in Africa with a total number of 375 Members of Parliament (MPs) consisting of 137 representatives for Special Interest Groups and 238 representatives on direct seats. In August last year, the 9th Parliament passed three motions creating 43 counties, 19 municipalities and 23 districts respectively consequently resulting into 85 new MPs in the 10th parliament and a total of 460 MPs. The aforementioned increase raises a number of questions like; How will the government fund this bloated House given the already existing high administrative cost and a stressed national resource envelope?
While considering the motion for creation of new counties on 4th August 2015, Nathan Nandala Mafabi, former Leader of Opposition and Parliamentary Commissioner noted that the average cost per MP is about UGX 25M per month. Multiplying the figure for 460 individuals results in UGX 11.5bn per month, an equivalent of an annual district budget (for instance, as per its Budget Framework Paper, Bukomansimbi District Local Government’s proposed annual budget for FY2016/17 is UGX 11.2bn). Therefore, the Parliamentary commission will spend about UGX 138bn annually and UGX 690bn over 5 years on MPs.
This notwithstanding, at the commencement of the 9th parliament, the parliamentary commission adopted a policy of providing an iPad and a vehicle to each and every MP. Each vehicle is estimated to cost UGX 103m while each iPad at estimated cost at UGX 2.6 M. Given the 460 MPs each item will cost a total UGX 47.38bn and UGX 1.2bn respectively. In the event that the commission procures for only the 85 new legislators, the estimated cost is UGX 221m.
As a result of the increasing number of MPs in the House every term, the Parliamentary Commission has been forced to seek for funding from the Ministry of Finance to construct new chambers. As a matter of fact, construction of new chambers should not be at the top of Uganda’s priorities considering the ailing infrastructure both in the health and education sectors. The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee noted a shortfall of UGX 77.130bn in the 2016/17 development budget for the Legislature to kick-start the construction of the new UGX 270bn chamber. The current National Assembly chambers were constructed for only 80 members of parliament but with the 460 number joining the 10th parliament, the MP seat ratio comes to 5.75:1.
The other question, is whether the increase in numbers will cure the lack of quorum “disease”. On several occasions the House has been unable to proceed with its scheduled business due to lack of quorum. In August last year while considering the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanya adjourned the House three times due to lack of quorum. Parliament placed adverts both in electronic and print media calling members to attend the House and pass the bill. This is not an exceptional case, in 2014, the Constitutional Court nullified the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2013 on a ground as parliament passed it without quorum. These are just a few significant cases. With the increase in number by implication the quorum will rise.
Last but not least is the question of efficiency; will the increase in number improve the House efficiency? First of all, quantity is not synonymous with efficiency. The Deputy Speaker has time and again complained of the poor quality of debate in the House and due to the big number of MPs, it is rare that the chairs of the House accord each MP more than 3 minutes to elaborate on matters under consideration. This is in a bid to give all present a chance to contribute to the discussion. MPs have complained about the time given, imagine with all 460, the amount of time is most likely to reduce to 2 or 1 minute each. This has a negative implication on the representative role of the legislators.
Both the Executive and Legislature should consider reducing the size of parliament because the cost of public administration in this country is too high yet its rate of return is too minimal
Note: Various Media Houses have reported different number of Members of Parliament to be in the 10th parliament. The current(9th) parliament has 375 representatives. In August last year parliament approved 43 new counties and 19 municipalities with 12 municipalities coming into effect on 1st July 2015 and the remaining 7 on 1st July 2016. Consequently, the Electoral Commissions organized election in 55 new constituencies in these 2016 General Elections. Hence 430 members to swear-in in May 2016 at the general swearing in. Therefore, on addition to 7 municipalities were elections are to be organized later on. Parliament passed more 23 new districts which will be coming into effect in phases starting on 1st July 2016 bringing the total number of constituencies were elections are to be organized later on to 30. If you add this to 430, the total number comes to 460 members to be in the 10th parliament by the end of it.