Par­lia­ment should open up ap­point­ments com­mit­tee to the pub­lic

By: Isaac Okello

On the 19th of July 2016 while the house con­sid­ered mem­ber­ship for the dif­fer­ent com­mit­tees of Par­lia­ment, the Speaker di­rected the Rules, Dis­ci­pline and Priv­i­leges Com­mit­tee soon af­ter its con­sti­tu­tion, to look into the Par­lia­men­tary Rules of Pro­ce­dure to amend it so as to pro­vide for the mem­ber­ship of the dif­fer­ent com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment. This fol­lows the af­ter­math of the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment of 2015 which saw an in­crease in the num­bers of Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment. The ef­fect therein ren­dered the re­stric­tion of com­mit­tee mem­ber­ship to 30 im­prac­ti­cal.

In the ex­e­cu­tion of this di­rec­tive, the com­mit­tee has had to lis­ten to sug­ges­tions from the sev­eral mem­bers of Par­lia­ment and even the gen­eral pub­lic. Many have al­ready ap­peared be­fore the com­mit­tee to pre­sent their views thereto. To this ex­tent there­fore, I would like to opine that the com­mit­tee should open up the ap­point­ments com­mit­tee to the pub­lic as op­posed to Rule 153 (2) which stip­u­lates that the pro­ceed­ings thereof shall be closed.

Rule 158 of the Par­lia­men­tary Rules of Pro­ce­dure is to the ef­fect that the chair­per­son of the Ap­point­ments Com­mit­tee shall re­port to the House any ap­point­ment ap­proved by the Com­mit­tee and the re­port shall not be sub­ject to de­bate. A process that is done out­side the eye of the pub­lic as stip­u­lated by Rule 153 (2) is there­fore left to be taken in­tran­si­gently by mem­bers, and even­tu­ally as a res­o­lu­tion of Par­lia­ment.

It is note­wor­thy to ob­serve that all the other com­mit­tees of Par­lia­ment hold pub­lic hear­ings and their re­ports are sub­jected to the de­bate by the whole house, af­ter which the house can own up to such res­o­lu­tions and rec­om­men­da­tions made. But in this case, the Mem­bers are de­nied op­por­tu­ni­ties to add their voices to the vet­ting of ap­point­ing au­thor­i­ty’s choices.

Tak­ing a leaf from the Kenyan Con­sti­tu­tion which pro­vides for pub­lic vet­ting of ap­pointees and prospec­tive ap­pli­cants for pub­lic of­fices, Ugan­da’s leg­is­la­tors can har­ness trans­parency and bring about pub­lic in­volve­ment in the process of vet­ting ap­pointed lead­ers, and re­duce chances of bick­er­ing and spec­u­la­tions among the pub­lic.

In the re­cent past, the coun­try has missed op­por­tu­ni­ties to have land­mark changes in sev­eral laws through the amend­ments process that seem to be the norm to-date. For in­stance, there were sev­eral pro­pos­als dur­ing the 9th­Par­lia­ment when the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice tabled a con­sti­tu­tional (Amend­ment) Bill 2015 where sev­eral ac­tors in­clud­ing civil so­ci­eties and pri­vate mem­ber.

Un­der the cur­rent pro­vi­sions of the law, Rule 159 pro­vides that the Speaker shall within 3 work­ing days com­mu­ni­cate the de­ci­sion of the ap­point­ments com­mit­tee on any per­son nom­i­nated by the pres­i­dent for ap­point­ment in writ­ing to the pres­i­dent. Or­di­nar­ily, such a de­ci­sion should be first de­bated to by the house and there­after com­mu­ni­cated to the Pres­i­dent.

There is an ar­gu­ment that the House holds an ap­pel­late po­si­tion in the event that the Ap­point­ments Com­mit­tee does not ap­prove the Pres­i­den­t’s nom­i­nee as pro­vided for un­der Rule 160 of the Par­lia­men­tary rules of Pro­ce­dures. This is meant to jus­tify the se­crecy in the pro­ceed­ings of the com­mit­tee. How­ever, bor­row­ing from the Bills pro­ce­dures, where if the Pres­i­dent is not sat­is­fied with the Bill passed by Par­lia­ment, he or she re­turns the same to the House in writ­ing stat­ing his rea­sons for not as­sent to it, the Par­lia­ment should be able to treat ap­pointees in sim­i­lar man­ner, but hav­ing given Mem­bers an op­por­tu­nity to con­tribute to the process.