Do we have an in­de­pen­dent leg­isla­tive body in Uganda ?

By: REA­GAN WA­MA­JJI

The par­lia­ment as an im­por­tant arm of the State has a cru­cial role in pro­mot­ing and pro­tect­ing democ­racy and good gov­er­nance thereby es­tab­lish­ing not only the nec­es­sary check and bal­ances, but also de­vel­op­ing norms and stan­dards for in­sti­tu­tions of democ­racy and gov­er­nance.

There are in­stances in which the leg­isla­tive body in this coun­try has per­mit­ted the ex­ec­u­tive to as­sert con­trol over leg­isla­tive processes which ide­ally are its pre­serve. These are what I would like to dis­cuss to­day.

Last year while leg­is­lat­ing on the tax bills for the fi­nan­cial year 2014/​15, Par­lia­ment back­tracked on its de­ci­sion to scrap the 2% tax on kerosene in the Ex­cise Tar­iff(Amend­ment) Bill, 2014 hav­ing ear­lier ar­gued it was against the in­ter­ests of the poor peo­ple. MPs also back­tracked on their de­ci­sion for Uganda Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion to re­tain the rev­enue gen­er­ated from levies im­posed on tele­com com­pa­nies in the Fi­nance (Amend­ment) Bill, 2014. This was done be­cause H.E the Pres­i­dent had di­rected so re­gard­less of MPs’ own con­vic­tions.

The long stand­ing dead­lock on the Pub­lic Pri­vate Part­ner­ships Bill which had drawn bat­tle lines be­tween Par­lia­ment and the Pres­i­dent, specif­i­cally on Clause 26(1), which pro­vides that an ac­count­ing of­fi­cer shall not sign a pub­lic/​pri­vate part­ner­ship agree­ment with­out the ap­proval of Par­lia­ment, ended with MPs giv­ing in and pass­ing the bill in the man­ner the pres­i­dent wanted. The pres­i­dent wanted cab­i­net to ap­prove the PPP agree­ments in­stead of Par­lia­ment, ac­cord­ing to His let­ter to the Speaker dated 7th Jan­u­ary 2015. He got his way.

On De­cem­ber 7, 2012 the house passed the con­tro­ver­sial Pe­tro­leum Ex­plo­ration, De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion Bill 2012 in the form Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni wanted it. The leg­is­la­tors had ini­tially clipped the pow­ers of the Min­is­ter in clause 9 of the Bill. Clause 9 pro­vided for the func­tions of the min­is­ter which in­clude the grant­ing and re­vok­ing of li­cences among other things. Upon the di­rec­tive of the Pres­i­dent through the NRM par­lia­men­tary cau­cus, the bill was passed giv­ing un­lim­ited pow­ers to the Min­is­ter of En­ergy and Min­eral De­vel­op­ment to ne­go­ti­ate, grant and re­voke li­cences.

Af­ter the Bill had been passed in De­cem­ber 2012, five NRM mem­bers in­clud­ing Hon Theodore Sekkikubo, MP Lwemiyanga County, ac­cused their col­leagues of suc­cumb­ing to the black­mail of the Pres­i­dent and pass­ing laws that were prej­u­di­cial to na­tional in­ter­ests.

The burn­ing ques­tion there­fore is, “Whose in­ter­ests do our leg­is­la­tors serve?” Cer­tainly not those of the peo­ple they rep­re­sent or those of the leg­isla­tive body they are part of. Hon Al­ice Alaso, Woman MP Serere Dis­trict opines that the loy­alty of the leg­is­la­tors in this coun­try is avail­able to the high­est bid­der. Her as­ser­tion is cred­i­ble given that a decade ago MPs scrapped pres­i­den­tial term lim­its for a price of 5 mil­lion shillings.

Quite of­ten the NRM cau­cus has de­manded its mem­bers to vote on is­sues and laws as dic­tated by party lead­er­ship, re­gard­less of their own con­vic­tions or opin­ions.They hold the ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment. While I ap­pre­ci­ate the need to build con­sen­sus in the cau­cus, should that be at the ex­pense of the mem­bers’ con­vic­tions and the cit­i­zenry whose in­ter­ests they rep­re­sent?

The big­ger ques­tion is: How do we trust a par­lia­ment who more than once has en­dorsed ‘ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sions’ that do not nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent those of the peo­ple? The propen­sity of par­lia­ment to hold gov­ern­ment ac­count­able de­ter­mines in part, the qual­ity of gov­er­nance and ef­fec­tive per­for­mance of gov­ern­ment ma­chin­ery. But as in our case par­lia­ment is ter­ri­bly un­der­mined by the ex­ec­u­tive.

In De­cem­ber 2013, gov­ern­ment by­passed par­lia­ment and sent Ugan­dan troops to South Su­dan. MPs were only re­called from their re­cess to ap­prove that de­ci­sion ret­ro­spec­tively. Un­der the con­sti­tu­tion, par­lia­ment is man­dated to ap­prove all gov­ern­ment bor­row­ing. How­ever, of­ten time gov­ern­ment bor­rows loans and only comes to par­lia­ment for ret­ro­spec­tive ap­proval. This shows the ex­tent to which the over­sight role of par­lia­ment is fail­ing and the ex­ec­u­tive is reign­ing supreme.

There­fore, be­cause our par­lia­men­t’s in­de­pen­dence has been com­pro­mised by the ex­ec­u­tive body as­sert­ing in­flu­ence over leg­isla­tive processes, sadly the lat­ter lost a lot of cred­i­bil­ity as leg­isla­tive body that can be de­pended upon to rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of cit­i­zens and play its over­sight role in en­sur­ing the qual­ity of gov­er­nance and ef­fec­tive per­for­mance of gov­ern­ment ma­chin­ery.