When the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Jacob Oulanyah on 14th July 2014 lashed out at the Members of Parliament stating that the lack of research among them is compromising on the quality of debate in the house, it did not rub some members the right way.
Hon Jack Sabiiti, a Member of Parliament for Rukiga County reacted to the Deputy Speaker’s comment saying “The Speakers sometimes do not know who is the right person to handle a subject so they just pick anybody… if you pick anybody that anybody can say anything” (as reported in the Daily Monitor of June 2014). Hon Mathias Nsubuga on the other hand registered his surprise to the Deputy speaker’s remarks stating that he spoke as if he did not know the quality of the administration of Parliament and how it affects the performance of a member.
Well, there are several issues that influence the quality of debate in the House and Members of Parliament as a whole, case in point being the level of education of the Members of Parliament. This paper will focus on this point, ahead of next year’s general elections.
The 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda under Article 80 sets the qualification for one to be elected Member of Parliament, and among them being that he or she has completed a minimum formal education of Advanced Level standard or its equivalent. As a result, there are several levels of education in the House, ranging from Advanced Level, to PHD, with other several post-doctoral certificates and diplomas.
Quite often law students are told that knowing the law and facts are important for an argument, but in the circumstance where you are not in the possession of either, they are urged to just argue, for they cannot be seen to be out-muzzled in an argument. However, to be knowledgeable (not restricted to lawyers or to those with higher academic qualification) one has to do extensive reading and research so that they can be factual and spot-on. This is what is lacking among our esteemed parliamentarians as stated by the Deputy Speaker.
Many a times we have questioned the criteria used by members of Parliament to come up with certain decisions made on the floor of the House. Listening to or reading (from the Hansards) a debate between members of Parliament will sicken you if you pay attention to the substance being submitted by your representatives to the August House. Some Members just argue because they have to argue, without substance, and their comments on the floor are wanting and most often attracts no response from the Speaker.
Imagine the possible debate that could take place between a Professor and a Senior Six leaver. What quality of the submissions would come out of that debate? Who do you think would be more convincing? In this day and era where one must have good research skills, great oratory skills and having general knowledge of current local and international affairs, if you are not well read, you will definitely do a disservice to your constituents in case you are such the Member of Parliament who does not meet those basic qualities.
There have been a number of Civil Society Organisation and other people calling for amendments of the Constitution particularly to raise the minimum qualification for Members of Parliament form Advanced Level to a minimum of degree. Of course there are those senior six leavers who are better at research and are better debaters than even professors. Needless to mention, there are those Members of Parliament who have obtained their academic papers from Nasser Road.
Once you are elected as Member of Parliament, you are definitely expected to execute your responsibilities ably without fear or favor and to the best of your abilities. However, looking at the comment from Hon Jack Sabiiti above (which in itself should attract attention), one can certainly assert that once you are a Member of Parliament, you must at all times be ready to stand out for your constituents and make reasonable submissions on the floor of Parliament. It makes no sense therefore asserting that the Speakers do know whom to pick regarding the subject on the floor.
Meanwhile, blaming the administration of Parliament for the poor submissions by Members of Parliament is equally senseless. It is a personal decision to speak sense on the floor of Parliament or to speak otherwise. The members must learn to own up to their submissions, or else they stand to face all forms of criticism and ridicule from others.
As the country prepares for general elections come February 2016, voters ought to take into account the quality of representations they want for the next five years so that their cause can be championed. This is a critical time to sit down and re-evaluate the performance of your Member of Parliament for the past five years, and scrutinize the other candidates and choose wisely so as to make an educated choice in February 2016. These representatives are responsible for the quality of laws that are passed in the House, the budget that the government passes, and where from, the President often picks his Ministers. It is therefore necessary to have the cream from your constituency whose integrity will not be compromised by those who are better prepared than he/she is. Over to you!