The Prime Minister’s Question Time: challenges & opportunities
In a bid to perform its oversight and representative role, parliament adopted a number of oversight mechanisms. They include: Prime Minister’s Question Time, Sectoral committees, Questions for Oral Answering and Matters of National Importance rules among others. It’s the first mechanism that I will address for now.
The Prime Minister’s Question Time as referred to under Rule 34 of the Rules of Procedure of Parliament is time designated every Wednesday starting at 3 pm of the sitting of Parliament and it lasts for 45 minutes unless the Speaker in exceptional cases exercises his or her discretion to extend. During this session, members are free to ask any (one) question on any matter with the exception of the leader of opposition who is allowed to ask more than one question and the Prime Minster is expected to respond instantly though not often.
This mechanism bench marked from the House of Commons in the United Kingdom was adopted by the House, on February 29 2012, on recommendation by the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline in its Report on the Rules of Procedure of Parliament of Uganda. However it was not effected until November 2013, 21 months later after Elijah Okupa MP Kasilo County raised non-adherence to the rule on the floor both in August and November 2013.
Since then, the rule has been observed though not often due to absence of the prime minister; and urgent business in the house for example bills, motions, consideration of committee reports and ministerial statements that need to be handled expeditiously.
The nature and content of the questions from the members range from government policies, assurances, issues of national importance, information that members need clarity on, the performance of government agencies and institutions. These questions are supposed to be concise and so should the response.
In certain instances the Prime Minister does not have adequate responses, thereby promising to respond in the next segment after carrying out inquiries and follow ups or directing the Ministers in whose mandate the information or issues lie to make a ministerial statement- which sometimes they do not do hence some questions going unanswered.
It’s also important to note that members feel that the designated 45 minutes is not adequate because they often have a lot of questions to ask. Some questions which are raised by members are questions for oral answering nature but due to the fact that the mandated 14 days for the Ministers to respond to members’ questions hasn’t been observed, members find it easier to put these questions to the Prime Minister. For instance there about 56 Questions for Oral Answering which have not been responded to and some of them are from the beginning of the 9th Parliament.
Despite of those shortcomings, the rule has achieved a lot, including; enabling Members to bring to the attention of Government matters of emergence nature from their respective constituencies; reducing the bureaucracies in various government ministries, agencies and departments in the implementation of government programs.
The Prime Minister’s Question time also brings presidential pledges made by H.E the President and Ministers in the constituencies to the House to be committed to by the Prime Minister since Rule 168(2) of the Rules of Procedure of Parliament recognizes a government assurance as an undertaking or promise, made by a Minister, Prime Minister, President, or Vice President on the floor of the House, thereby playing enabling members to play their representative and oversight role.
In order to address some of these challenges:
- the next parliament needs to establish a mechanism where well-tailored questions are asked so that members come to the House prepared with the questions they are to ask. This would solve wasting time on the floor since the program is only given 45 minutes in a week
- The Office of the Prime Minister also needs to establish a desk with the responsibility of collecting and preparing information from all government departments and agencies, and to extensively brief the Leader of Government Business on the anticipated subjects to be asked about. This will help to address the embarrassment the person of the Prime Minister suffers on the floor due to lack of appropriate and fitting responses.
- Parliament also needs to establish a follow-up mechanism for the unanswered questions to be addressed by the Prime Minister in time. This is because delay defeats equity.
Other than that, as earlier noted, it’s a good initiative which is only missing out on a few ingredients that could strengthen the Legislature’s oversight role on the Executive.