The Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tion Time: chal­lenges & op­por­tu­ni­ties

By: MUSA MU­GOYA

In a bid to per­form its over­sight and rep­re­sen­ta­tive role, par­lia­ment adopted a num­ber of over­sight mech­a­nisms. They in­clude: Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tion Time, Sec­toral com­mit­tees, Ques­tions for Oral An­swer­ing and  Mat­ters of Na­tional Im­por­tance rules among oth­ers. It’s the first mech­a­nism that I will  ad­dress for now.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tion Time as re­ferred to un­der Rule 34 of the Rules of Pro­ce­dure of Par­lia­ment is  time des­ig­nated  every Wednes­day start­ing at 3 pm of the sit­ting of Par­lia­ment and it lasts for 45 min­utes un­less the Speaker in ex­cep­tional cases ex­er­cises his or her dis­cre­tion to ex­tend. Dur­ing this ses­sion, mem­bers are free to ask any (one) ques­tion on any mat­ter with the ex­cep­tion of the leader of op­po­si­tion who is al­lowed to ask more than one ques­tion and the Prime Min­ster is ex­pected to re­spond in­stantly though not of­ten.

This mech­a­nism bench marked from the House of Com­mons in the United King­dom was adopted by the House, on Feb­ru­ary 29 2012, on rec­om­men­da­tion by the Com­mit­tee on Rules, Priv­i­leges and Dis­ci­pline in its Re­port on the Rules of Pro­ce­dure of Par­lia­ment of Uganda. How­ever it was not ef­fected  un­til No­vem­ber 2013, 21 months later af­ter Eli­jah Okupa MP Kasilo County raised  non-ad­her­ence to the rule on the floor both in Au­gust and No­vem­ber 2013.

Since then, the rule has been ob­served though not of­ten due to ab­sence of the prime min­is­ter; and ur­gent busi­ness in the house for ex­am­ple bills, mo­tions, con­sid­er­a­tion of com­mit­tee re­ports and min­is­te­r­ial state­ments that need to be han­dled ex­pe­di­tiously.

The na­ture and con­tent of the ques­tions from the mem­bers range from gov­ern­ment poli­cies, as­sur­ances, is­sues of na­tional im­por­tance, in­for­ma­tion that mem­bers need clar­ity on, the per­for­mance of gov­ern­ment agen­cies and in­sti­tu­tions. These ques­tions are sup­posed to be con­cise and so should the re­sponse.

In cer­tain in­stances the Prime Min­is­ter does not have ad­e­quate re­sponses, thereby promis­ing to re­spond in the next seg­ment af­ter car­ry­ing out in­quiries and fol­low ups or di­rect­ing the Min­is­ters in whose man­date the in­for­ma­tion or is­sues lie to make a min­is­te­r­ial state­ment- which some­times they do not do hence some ques­tions go­ing unan­swered.

It’s also im­por­tant to note that mem­bers feel that the des­ig­nated 45 min­utes is not ad­e­quate be­cause they of­ten have a lot of ques­tions to ask. Some ques­tions which are raised by mem­bers are ques­tions for oral an­swer­ing na­ture but due to the fact that the man­dated 14 days for the Min­is­ters to re­spond to mem­bers’ ques­tions has­n’t been ob­served, mem­bers find it eas­ier to put these ques­tions to the Prime Min­is­ter. For in­stance there about 56 Ques­tions for Oral An­swer­ing which have not been re­sponded to and some of them are from the be­gin­ning of the 9th Par­lia­ment.

De­spite of those short­com­ings, the rule has achieved a lot, in­clud­ing; en­abling Mem­bers to bring to the at­ten­tion of Gov­ern­ment mat­ters of emer­gence na­ture from their re­spec­tive con­stituen­cies; re­duc­ing the bu­reau­cra­cies in var­i­ous gov­ern­ment min­istries, agen­cies and de­part­ments in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of gov­ern­ment pro­grams.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tion time also brings pres­i­den­tial pledges made by H.E the Pres­i­dent and Min­is­ters in the con­stituen­cies to the House to be com­mit­ted to by the Prime Min­is­ter since Rule 168(2) of the Rules of Pro­ce­dure of Par­lia­ment rec­og­nizes a gov­ern­ment as­sur­ance as an un­der­tak­ing or promise, made by a Min­is­ter, Prime Min­is­ter, Pres­i­dent, or Vice Pres­i­dent on the floor of the House, thereby play­ing en­abling mem­bers to play their rep­re­sen­ta­tive and over­sight role.

In or­der to ad­dress some of these chal­lenges:

  • the next par­lia­ment needs to  es­tab­lish a mech­a­nism where well-tai­lored ques­tions are asked so that mem­bers  come to the House pre­pared with the ques­tions they are to ask. This would solve wast­ing time on the floor since the pro­gram is only given 45 min­utes in a week

 

  • The Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter also needs to es­tab­lish a desk with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of col­lect­ing and prepar­ing in­for­ma­tion from all gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and agen­cies, and to ex­ten­sively brief the Leader of Gov­ern­ment Busi­ness on the an­tic­i­pated sub­jects to be asked about. This will help to ad­dress the em­bar­rass­ment the per­son of the Prime Min­is­ter suf­fers on the floor due to lack of ap­pro­pri­ate and fit­ting re­sponses.

 

  • Par­lia­ment also needs to  es­tab­lish a fol­low-up mech­a­nism for the unan­swered ques­tions to be ad­dressed by the Prime Min­is­ter in time. This is be­cause de­lay de­feats eq­uity.

 

Other than that, as ear­lier noted, it’s a good ini­tia­tive which is only miss­ing out on a few in­gre­di­ents that  could strengthen the Leg­is­la­ture’s over­sight role on the Ex­ec­u­tive.