Be­ing an MP & a Min­is­ter at the same time – up­hill task

By: Winnie Watera

A mem­ber of par­lia­ment (MP) is the po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the vot­ers to a par­lia­ment while while a Min­is­ter is a politi­cian who holds a sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic of­fice in a na­tional or re­gional gov­ern­ment.  Min­is­ters make up a cab­i­net as do MPs, a Par­lia­ment. This dis­tinc­tion is of­ten over­looked by a num­ber of us given the fact that many of our Min­is­ters dou­ble as MPs. The Daily Mon­i­tor re­ported Uganda as hav­ing one of the world’s largest Cab­i­nets and a bloated Par­lia­ment of 375 mem­bers.

The ever-up­ward trend in the size of cab­i­net over the past years is hard to jus­tify ob­jec­tively es­pe­cially when it brings with it a sig­nif­i­cant cost to the pub­lic purse. Three quar­ters are MPs; Out of the 78 Min­is­ters and Min­is­ters of state, only 11 (eleven) are ex-of­fi­cio [1] while the rest are MPs and un­less a statu­tory limit is im­posed, we ex­pect these num­bers to rise con­tin­u­ously.

Be­ing an MP is quite the task be­cause every de­ci­sion par­lia­ment makes re­quires their pres­ence and in­put. The same goes for Min­is­ters who are in charge of an en­tire Min­istry and its sub­ven­tions; Min­is­ters are ex­pected to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ad­min­is­tra­tion of their de­part­ments, the ac­tions of their staff and them­selves. Imag­ine one in­di­vid­ual with both re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

MPs are elected to ad­vance the in­ter­ests of the peo­ple and when they are ap­pointed into min­is­te­r­ial po­si­tions they are ex­pected to ad­vance the in­ter­ests of the Gov­ern­ment of Uganda. In many in­stances the in­ter­ests of ei­ther par­ties dif­fer a great deal, there­fore these in­di­vid­u­als who dou­ble in­evitably face a dilemma.

The fu­sion of the leg­is­la­ture and the ex­ec­u­tive com­pro­mises the ef­fec­tive per­for­mance of ei­ther arms of gov­ern­ment.  Par­lia­ment holds gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­ble for its ac­tions and de­ci­sions on pol­icy, bud­get­ing and ap­pro­pri­a­tion. In­evitably there are  events where Par­lia­ment  has to ex­er­cise this man­date only that there is a pos­si­ble con­flict of in­ter­est, one which un­der­mines the par­lia­men­tary over­sight role. It is rare that one holds them­selves ac­count­able.

Per­for­mance of par­lia­ment is on sev­eral oc­ca­sions de­railed be­cause Min­is­ters who dou­ble as MPs of­ten forego their leg­isla­tive role be­cause the min­istry re­quires close at­ten­tion. It’s re­quired that MPs are mem­bers of the com­mit­tees of Par­lia­ment. How­ever, when you are a min­is­ter you are not as­signed any com­mit­tee. Where one is a mem­ber of a com­mit­tee at the time he/​she is ap­pointed min­is­ter, he she ceases to be a mem­ber ac­cord­ing to rule 145(2) of par­lia­men­t’s rules of pro­ce­dure. This un­der­mines com­mit­tee quo­rum as it takes a while be­fore mem­bers are re­dis­trib­uted to var­i­ous com­mit­tees.

Cab­i­net also meets on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, of­ten weekly while par­lia­ment is also ex­pected to sit, well un­less you can be two places at a time, this is a trick this wors­ens the is­sue of quo­rum.

Cab­i­net’s role is to di­rect gov­ern­ment pol­icy and make de­ci­sions about na­tional is­sues. In Cab­i­net meet­ings, min­is­ters  pre­sent bills (pro­posed laws) from their gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. Cab­i­net ex­am­ines these bills, es­pe­cially the costs, and rec­om­mends to min­is­ters whether bills should pro­ceed to Par­lia­ment or changes should be made. When de­ci­sions are made in cab­i­net, all min­is­ters have to have sec­onded the de­ci­sions. The bill is then brought to par­lia­ment for leg­is­la­tion. Al­though Par­lia­ment can in­flu­ence the bill, it’s not that of­ten much is changed since a lot of par­lia­ments de­ci­sions are in part pre­de­ter­mined by the cab­i­net mem­bers, who also act as mem­bers of par­lia­ment.

In an ideal sit­u­a­tion, there should be sep­a­ra­tion of power be­tween Cab­i­net Min­is­ters and Mem­bers of par­lia­ment to af­ford both arms of Gov­ern­ment the abil­ity ef­fec­tively ex­e­cute their man­date. Oth­er­wise the fu­sion fa­vors the ex­ec­u­tive and al­lows for a lot of in­flu­ence over par­lia­ment which con­stricts the over­sight role. At the end of the day a line has to be drawn, where does the  loy­alty of MPs who dou­ble as Min­is­ters lie, with Par­lia­ment or with the Ex­ec­u­tive? Un­less this rhetoric is an­swered, a lot of Par­lia­ments work will con­tinue to be un­der­mined by con­flict of In­ter­ests.