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  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.