Petitioning Parliament: Is it more ritualistic than functional?
The weaknesses of government in service delivery, its irresolute and slow responsiveness in handling concerns and problems of the citizens are some of the challenges this country has and continues to grapple with. This is further compounded by the limited avenues through which citizens and aggrieved people can seek redress on social impairment, injustice, humanitarian concerns among others. As such, Ugandans have turned to their representatives in the legislature as the last roll of the dice. This is increasingly done by way of petitioning parliament.
A petition is a request to do something, most commonly addressed to a government official or public entity. This is enshrined in article 29(1) (d) of the constitution of the republic of Uganda and rule 29(1) of the parliamentary rules of procedure. Notably, over the last three or four years there has been a growing trend in a number of petitions presented to parliament relating to land evictions, education, trade, health, social injustices to mention but a few.
However, one is drawn to question whether petitioning parliament is functional, or if it provides the quick, urgent, emergency and quite often desperate solutions sought by the aggrieved citizens. I think not. And here is why.
Rule 29 (8) of the parliament rules of procedure provides that a committee shall dispose of within forty five days a petition referred to it. The 9th parliament has so far received at least 118 petitions as of December 2014. Of these only 26 had been handled and only 1, in the time frame prescribed in the law. The majority of the petitions are handled within two to three years, if they are indeed handled.
The most critical aspects of dealing with a petition is not only the investigations, but also the expedience with which it is handled and concluded, given that the issues in question quite often require prompt responses. Short of this any effort made would be inconsequential and does not fix the malaise of the aggrieved.
The other fundamental flaw is the follow up on the resolutions of parliament on the very few petitions that have been considered. Ideally, the resolution of parliament should be extracted and sent to the concerned parties as prescribed in the rules for action and follow up. Is this the case? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Unlikely.
Most petitions in parliament relate to land eviction grabbing (over 25 petitions), a vice that is depressingly sinking the country, education (14), health (8), trade (16), labour (13) concerns and agriculture (4) among others.
On 25 July 2015, Hon Ssekikubo presented a petition on behalf of residents of Lwemiyaga county, Sembabule district regarding eviction from 2930 acres of land by Uganda Investment Authority. The petition was presented to the house two years ago and passed without debate or due consideration in 2014. Hon Ssekikubo moved a motion to have the matter debated again. As this matter continues to lag in parliament, the residents in question are on the ropes.
Children of International school presented a petition against child sacrifice in 2009, and it was presented to the house four years later, and yet this was an issue of such grave national concern then.
A petition on outbreak of Hepatitis B in Adjumani and Moyo districts was presented in November 2012 but it was not considered until April 2014, two years later, as the region continued to struggle under the weight of the mess.
Uganda hasn’t achieved millennium development goals 4 (To reduce child mortality and 5 (To improve maternal health) and yet a petition on low status of emergency life-saving services for pregnant women and newborns in Health Centres IIIs and IVs in Kabale and Lira, is languishing in the health committee nine months later. What is to become of the mothers who are desperate for the much needed services?
Of late the country has been up in arms against the externalisation of medical workers to Trinidad and Tobago and a petition was presented to that effect. It’s worth noting that a number of petitions have been raised on the same labour export issues but to no avail.
The delay and inconsideration accorded to petitions not only robs Ugandans of corrective action and life saving interventions, but also has cost implications. A number of petitions have been overtaken by events and yet committees invest time and money to investigate the concerns. In the end resources are wasted and to no end.
However it’s fair to note that it’s not always that people who petition are aggrieved especially when it relates to land matters and evictions in particular. But, only due process can provide the much needed clarity.
Perhaps some of the recurring issues like land evictions, externalization of labour, outbreak of diseases would not be recurring if parliament could come out with resolutions and policy guidelines on some these ills.
It is this non responsiveness of the legislature to the citizenry that has rendered petitioning parliament as a ritualistic rather than functional avenue of seeking remediation.
And so, as Ugandans continue to struggle for justice, services, answers and solutions continue to fudge them. The hopes of finding reprieve from their legislators are fading away. But the lawmakers should know that if they can’t help the people they represent, no one will.