Pe­ti­tion­ing Par­lia­ment: Is it more rit­u­al­is­tic than func­tional?

By: Reagan Wamajji

The weak­nesses of gov­ern­ment in ser­vice de­liv­ery, its ir­res­olute and slow re­spon­sive­ness in han­dling con­cerns and prob­lems of the cit­i­zens are some of the chal­lenges this coun­try has and con­tin­ues to grap­ple with. This is fur­ther com­pounded by the lim­ited av­enues through which cit­i­zens and ag­grieved peo­ple can seek re­dress on so­cial im­pair­ment, in­jus­tice, hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cerns among oth­ers. As such, Ugan­dans have turned to their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the leg­is­la­ture as the last roll of the dice. This is in­creas­ingly done by way of pe­ti­tion­ing par­lia­ment.

Ape­ti­tion is a re­quest to do some­thing, most com­monly ad­dressed to a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial or pub­lic en­tity. This is en­shrined in ar­ti­cle 29(1) (d) of the con­sti­tu­tion of the re­pub­lic of Uganda and rule 29(1) of the par­lia­men­tary rules of pro­ce­dure. No­tably, over the last three or four years there has been a grow­ing trend in a num­ber of pe­ti­tions pre­sented to par­lia­ment re­lat­ing to land evic­tions, ed­u­ca­tion, trade, health, so­cial in­jus­tices to men­tion but a few.

How­ever, one is drawn to ques­tion whether pe­ti­tion­ing par­lia­ment is func­tional, or if it pro­vides the quick, ur­gent, emer­gency and quite of­ten des­per­ate so­lu­tions sought by the ag­grieved cit­i­zens. I think not. And here is why.

Uganda Human Rights Commission officers hand over petition to speaker of Parliament on compensation of torture victims – These days everyone that is aggrieved petitions Parliament.

Rule 29 (8) of the par­lia­ment rules of pro­ce­dure pro­vides that a com­mit­tee shall dis­pose of within forty five days a pe­ti­tion re­ferred to it. The 9th par­lia­ment has so far re­ceived at least 118 pe­ti­tions as of De­cem­ber 2014. Of these only 26 had been han­dled and only 1, in the time frame pre­scribed in the law. The ma­jor­ity of the pe­ti­tions are han­dled within two to three years, if they are in­deed han­dled.

The most crit­i­cal as­pects of deal­ing with a pe­ti­tion is not only the in­ves­ti­ga­tions, but also the ex­pe­di­ence with which it is han­dled and con­cluded, given that the is­sues in ques­tion quite of­ten re­quire prompt re­sponses. Short of this any ef­fort made would be in­con­se­quen­tial and does not fix the malaise of the ag­grieved.

The other fun­da­men­tal flaw is the fol­low up on the res­o­lu­tions of par­lia­ment on the very few pe­ti­tions that have been con­sid­ered. Ide­ally, the res­o­lu­tion of par­lia­ment should be ex­tracted and sent to the con­cerned par­ties as pre­scribed in the rules for ac­tion and fol­low up. Is this the case? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Un­likely.

Most pe­ti­tions in par­lia­ment re­late to land evic­tion grab­bing (over 25 pe­ti­tions), a vice that is de­press­ingly sink­ing the coun­try, ed­u­ca­tion (14), health (8), trade (16), labour (13) con­cerns and agri­cul­ture (4) among oth­ers.

On 25 July 2015, Hon Ssekikubo pre­sented a pe­ti­tion on be­half of res­i­dents of Lwemiyaga county, Sem­bab­ule dis­trict re­gard­ing evic­tion from 2930 acres of land by Uganda In­vest­ment Au­thor­ity. The pe­ti­tion was pre­sented to the house two years ago and passed with­out de­bate or due con­sid­er­a­tion in 2014. Hon Ssekikubo moved a mo­tion to have the mat­ter de­bated again. As this mat­ter con­tin­ues to lag in par­lia­ment, the res­i­dents in ques­tion are on the ropes.

Chil­dren of In­ter­na­tional school pre­sented a pe­ti­tion against child sac­ri­fice in 2009, and it was pre­sented to the house four years later, and yet this was an is­sue of such grave na­tional con­cern then.

A pe­ti­tion on out­break of He­pati­tis B in Ad­ju­mani and Moyo dis­tricts was pre­sented in No­vem­ber 2012 but it was not con­sid­ered un­til April 2014, two years later, as the re­gion con­tin­ued to strug­gle un­der the weight of the mess.

Uganda has­n’t achieved mil­len­nium de­vel­op­ment goals 4 (To re­duce child mor­tal­ity and 5 (To im­prove ma­ter­nal health) and yet a pe­ti­tion on low sta­tus of emer­gency life-sav­ing ser­vices for preg­nant women and new­borns in Health Cen­tres IIIs and IVs in Ka­bale and Lira, is lan­guish­ing in the health com­mit­tee nine months later. What is to be­come of the moth­ers who are des­per­ate for the much needed ser­vices?

Of late the coun­try has been up in arms against the ex­ter­nal­i­sa­tion of med­ical work­ers to Trinidad and To­bago and a pe­ti­tion was pre­sented to that ef­fect. It’s worth not­ing that a num­ber of pe­ti­tions have been raised on the same labour ex­port is­sues but to no avail.

The de­lay and in­con­sid­er­a­tion ac­corded to pe­ti­tions not only robs Ugan­dans of cor­rec­tive ac­tion and life sav­ing in­ter­ven­tions, but also has cost im­pli­ca­tions. A num­ber of pe­ti­tions have been over­taken by events and yet com­mit­tees in­vest time and money to in­ves­ti­gate the con­cerns. In the end re­sources are wasted and to no end.

How­ever it’s fair to note that it’s not al­ways that peo­ple who pe­ti­tion are ag­grieved es­pe­cially when it re­lates to land mat­ters and evic­tions in par­tic­u­lar. But, only due process can pro­vide the much needed clar­ity.

Per­haps some of the re­cur­ring is­sues like land evic­tions, ex­ter­nal­iza­tion of labour, out­break of dis­eases would not be re­cur­ring if par­lia­ment could come out with res­o­lu­tions and pol­icy guide­lines on some these ills.

It is this non re­spon­sive­ness of the leg­is­la­ture to the cit­i­zenry that has ren­dered pe­ti­tion­ing par­lia­ment as a rit­u­al­is­tic rather than func­tional av­enue of seek­ing re­me­di­a­tion.

And so, as Ugan­dans con­tinue to strug­gle for jus­tice, ser­vices, an­swers and so­lu­tions con­tinue to fudge them. The hopes of find­ing re­prieve from their leg­is­la­tors are fad­ing away. But the law­mak­ers should know that if they can’t help the peo­ple they rep­re­sent, no one will.