Why Select Committees delay, impeding government work
How would you like it if all your concerns you addressed to any office was expeditiously handled with feasible solutions being given? That is what all who petition Parliament hope for; that Parliament will work out solutions to their issues without undue delays. In a bid to adequately resolve matters brought before the House, Parliament normally forwards them to Standing, Sectoral, Ad Hoc, and or Select Committees established in accordance with Article 90 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda and Rules 144 and 178 of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure.
Rule 207 of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedures states that every committee (except committees with specific assignments) to which a matter is referred shall report to the house within forty five days. Those that are unable to report within the specified days may seek extra time from Parliament.
The select committees comprises of at least five members, designated by Party Whips on the basis of proportional Party representation in the house, taking into consideration interests of independent members of parliament. Matters brought before the select committee are often of national importance, and would therefore be necessary to treat them in equal measure, and handled expeditiously since time is of essence.
For instance, the select committee instituted to investigate the procurement process of the Standard Gauge Railway on November 4th 2014, was expected to be completed by 11th of January. The standard gauge railway meant to link the East and central African region and major towns in Uganda for easy transportation of goods and services since the one-meter gauge railway is too slow and poses a huge challenge for transportation of perishable goods.
However, the committee has just completed their report and are yet to present to the house. This being a matter of national importance, it should have been dealt with within the shortest time possible in my opinion, to save tax payers money and provide a way forward for the procurement of the Standard Gauge Railway so that government programs are not delayed.
There are several factors that make it impossible for the committee to work within the specified periods, and end up asking for more time. Some of the reasons include the fact that some witnesses are uncooperative and are dodgy. Much as committees have the powers to summon witnesses, there are delaying tactics that the witnesses such as claiming that the invitations came late, or they are not ready to appear before the committees and should therefore be given more time. These delays frustrate committees in the conduct of their businesses within the given time frame.
One of the hindrances to an effective select committee is the terms of reference given to the committees. Some of the terms are often too wide for the committees to accomplish within the timeframe established. Besides, there are those that are open ended, such as, “and other matters incidental to” that make broaden the scope of business of the committees.
The issue of quorum is the biggest hindrance to committee work here at parliament. Conflict of interest sets in since there are several activities at parliament where members are expected to be present at the same time committees are sitting. For example, internal and external conferences, plenary, budgeting process, among others. As a result, they don’t often have quorum to conduct any meaningful business and sometimes witnesses come and there are no members of the committees present, not even the chairpersons. All these activities make it impossible for the members of the committees to give the committees 100% of their time in order to expeditiously handle the issues before them.
In relations to the above, Political Parties normally call their members for caucuses when there are contentious matters they want to advance in the House. These affect committee work since they often have to reschedule the meetings to attend to the caucus meetings. As a result, their reports are not timely presented to the House for consideration.
The issue of funding is another significant factor affecting the handling of business before the select committees. The funding for field trips and further research is normally not readily available, in some instances as a result of the red tape involved. Depending on the number of applications before the accounts department, it could take up to two weeks for the requisition to mature.
In some circumstances, the subjudice rule on matters that are either before court or the Inspectorate of Government for judicial consideration (therefore prohibited from public discussions) affects committee work. Committees and witnesses cannot proceed to pronounce themselves on subject matters before the courts of law for fear of affecting the court proceedings. As a result, they end up delaying their reports, which in the long run affects Parliamentary efficiency.
It is of no value for a committee to present a report long after the purpose for which it was intended have been overtaken by events. For example, in October 2011 when a group of Members of Parliament presented a petition before Parliament requesting that a committee be set up to investigate the oils bribery claims among the Cabinet Ministers, the committee set up brought its findings to the house in December 2014, when their recommendations had already been overtaken by events and were rather fruitless.
In such instances, the delivery of justice is delayed, parliament’s image is affected, and government programs are quelled by such delays.