A memo to the vot­ers – choose lead­ers wisely!

By: Isaac Okello

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!