Why re­duc­ing Par­lia­men­t’s size is­n’t just dif­fi­cult, it’s im­pos­si­ble

By: ES­H­BAN KWE­SIGA

In 45 BC when Julius Cae­sar wanted to tighten his grip on the Ro­man Sen­ate (the equiv­a­lent of Par­lia­ment), he in­tro­duced a range of re­forms dri­ven to­wards more rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Ro­man peo­ple, some of which in­cluded in­creas­ing the size of the sen­ate.

Con­sid­er­ing the sen­ate had tra­di­tion­ally been re­served for men of high sta­tus, wealth and no­bil­ity, Cae­sar quickly re­al­ized that he had lit­tle or no con­trol over the ac­tions of mem­bers of the sen­ate. Well know­ing that the higher the num­ber of Sen­a­tors the harder it will be for them to de­velop unan­i­mous con­sent that may not work in his favour, he de­vised one of the ear­li­est states­man strate­gies dri­ven at con­trol­ling sen­ates and Par­lia­ments. To con­sol­i­date his power over it and while us­ing the pre­text of more rep­re­sen­ta­tion, he al­lowed “men of low birth” into the sen­ate thereby in­creas­ing its mem­bers from 600 to 900 Sen­a­tors and suc­cess­fully man­ag­ing to turn the mem­ber­ship of the Sen­ate into in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing pres­tige and so­cial stand­ing, rather than ac­tual au­thor­ity – this was also one of the rea­sons that led to his assig­na­tion by the no­bles.

Sev­eral years af­ter Cae­sars as­sas­si­na­tion, what started at a sim­ple strat­egy of states­man­ship would later be re­ferred to Ger­ry­man­der­ing (ma­nip­u­lat­ing the bound­aries of an elec­toral con­stituency so as to fa­vor one party or class) and prac­ticed in sev­eral coun­tries through­out world his­tory that in­clude; Aus­tralia, Canada, Chile, France, Ger­many, Greece, Hong Kong, Hun­gary, Ire­land, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Nepal, Philip­pines, Sin­ga­pore, Su­dan, United King­dom, North­ern Ire­land, United States and Venezuela. So much so that our very own Mil­ton Obote was also ac­cused on Ger­ry­man­der­ing lead­ing to the gen­eral elec­tions in De­cem­ber 1980.

True to Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni’s po­lit­i­cal sci­ence back­ground, over the years he has drawn a move straight out the Julius Ceasar and Mil­ton Obote Ger­ry­man­der­ing hand book by cre­at­ing a se­ries of coun­ties and dis­tricts un­der the pre­text of al­low­ing for broader rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Ugan­dans but also con­ve­niently al­low­ing him po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage fol­lowed by pock­ets of crit­i­cism, in some cases with the op­po­si­tion promis­ing to re­duce the size of Par­lia­ment once it has the house ma­jor­ity and his crit­ics en­dors­ing this mes­sage – but is this a re­al­is­tic promise?

De­spite re­peated calls by the Pres­i­den­t’s crit­ics to re­duce the size of Par­lia­ment the ex­act dot-to-the-dot process to ac­com­plish this is not as sim­ple as it sounds.

The­o­ret­i­cally speak­ing the process to re­duce the size of Par­lia­ment would in many ways be a mir­ror to the process of in­creas­ing it. When in­creas­ing the size of Par­lia­ment, gov­ern­ment moves a mo­tion to cre­ate new dis­tricts or coun­ties or mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties; the ra­tio­nale for this is usu­ally to bring ser­vices closer to the peo­ple or to ac­com­plish broader rep­re­sen­ta­tions for some seem­ingly mar­gin­al­ized groups. Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment then have to put it to the vote.

In the past MPs have voted in favour of cre­at­ing new dis­tricts (con­se­quently in­creas­ing the size of Par­lia­ment) be­cause new dis­tricts are curved out of ex­ist­ing dis­tricts which re­duces the ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries within which an MP has to cam­paign thereby al­low­ing ex­ist­ing MPs po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. Whether they are will­ing to ad­mit it or not; in some ways the prac­tice of ger­ry­man­der­ing also iron­i­cally cre­ates po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage (es­pe­cially dur­ing the cam­paign sea­son) for the very op­po­si­tion MPs that pub­li­cally cru­sade against it.

Sec­ondly; for Par­lia­ment to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce its own size, MPs will have to will­ingly give up their own seats as well as vot­ing for the abo­li­tion of some dis­tricts and coun­ties. There are sev­eral multi-lay­ered is­sues that would pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing out­side the de­sire to pro­tect their own pres­ence within Par­lia­ment.

On a prag­matic level; there are two ways to re­duce the size Par­lia­ment. The first would be that gov­ern­ment would have to fi­nan­cially com­pen­sate MPs to give up their own con­stituency seats. The av­er­age MP gets about UGX 20 mil­lion in salary and al­lowances per month – sum­ming up to about UGX 1.2 Bil­lion over the space of a 5 year term. Even then, if an MP was paid UGX 1.2 Bil­lion as a com­pen­sa­tions amount, that sum would not be­gin to cover other in­dem­nity costs that will come with an MP giv­ing up their seat in Par­lia­ment plus it bor­ders on try­ing to fix the sys­tem the same way it was bro­ken; with bribery. Imag­ine that.

Con­trary to what most peo­ple think, a pres­i­den­tial de­cree can­not re­duce the size of Par­lia­ment see­ing as that would be un­con­sti­tu­tional given that MPs are de­mo­c­ra­t­i­cally elected and not ap­pointed by the Pres­i­dent. Other cre­ative le­gal so­lu­tions such as a ref­er­en­dum can only go as far as ex­press­ing pub­lic sen­ti­ment – but do not out­line the dot-to-the-dot process for re­duc­ing Par­lia­men­t’s size.

As it is now; the 10th Par­lia­ment will have 57 more MPs than the 9th Par­lia­ment from 375 to 432 mem­bers. Come 1st July 2016, 4 new Dis­tricts will be come into ef­fect, 1st July 2017 it will be 6 new Dis­tricts, 1st July 2018 Par­lia­ment will have an­other 6 new Dis­tricts and 7 new Dis­tricts on 1st July 2019 to­tal­ing 23 new dis­tricts in the next 4 years. A process that is im­pos­si­bly ir­re­versible.

There is no break­ing free from what has al­ready been bro­ken.