Why Se­lect Com­mit­tees de­lay, im­ped­ing gov­ern­ment work

By: Isaac Okello

How would you like it if all your con­cerns you ad­dressed to any of­fice was ex­pe­di­tiously han­dled with fea­si­ble so­lu­tions be­ing given?  That is what all who pe­ti­tion Par­lia­ment hope for; that Par­lia­ment will work out so­lu­tions to their is­sues with­out un­due de­lays. In a bid to ad­e­quately re­solve mat­ters brought be­fore the House, Par­lia­ment nor­mally for­wards them to Stand­ing, Sec­toral, Ad Hoc, and or Se­lect Com­mit­tees es­tab­lished in ac­cor­dance with Ar­ti­cle 90 of the 1995 Con­sti­tu­tion of the Re­pub­lic of Uganda and Rules 144 and 178 of the Par­lia­men­tary Rules of Pro­ce­dure.

Rule 207 of the Par­lia­men­tary Rules of Pro­ce­dures states that every com­mit­tee (ex­cept com­mit­tees with spe­cific as­sign­ments) to which a mat­ter is re­ferred shall re­port to the house within forty five days. Those that are un­able to re­port within the spec­i­fied days may seek ex­tra time from Par­lia­ment.

The se­lect com­mit­tees com­prises of at least five mem­bers, des­ig­nated by Party Whips on the ba­sis of pro­por­tional Party rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the house, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion in­ter­ests of in­de­pen­dent mem­bers of par­lia­ment. Mat­ters brought be­fore the se­lect com­mit­tee are of­ten of na­tional im­por­tance, and would there­fore be nec­es­sary to treat them in equal mea­sure, and han­dled ex­pe­di­tiously since time is of essence.

For in­stance, the se­lect com­mit­tee in­sti­tuted to in­ves­ti­gate the pro­cure­ment process of the Stan­dard Gauge Rail­way on No­vem­ber 4th 2014, was ex­pected to be com­pleted by 11th of Jan­u­ary. The stan­dard gauge rail­way meant to link the East and cen­tral African re­gion and ma­jor towns in Uganda for easy trans­porta­tion of goods and ser­vices since the one-me­ter gauge rail­way is too slow and poses a huge chal­lenge for trans­porta­tion of per­ish­able goods.

How­ever, the com­mit­tee has just com­pleted their re­port and are yet to pre­sent to the house. This be­ing a mat­ter of na­tional im­por­tance, it should have been dealt with within the short­est time pos­si­ble in my opin­ion, to save tax pay­ers money and pro­vide a way for­ward for the pro­cure­ment of the Stan­dard Gauge Rail­way so that gov­ern­ment pro­grams are not de­layed.

There are sev­eral fac­tors that make it im­pos­si­ble for the com­mit­tee to work within the spec­i­fied pe­ri­ods, and end up ask­ing for more time. Some of the rea­sons in­clude the fact that some wit­nesses are un­co­op­er­a­tive and are dodgy. Much as com­mit­tees have the pow­ers to sum­mon wit­nesses, there are de­lay­ing tac­tics that the wit­nesses such as claim­ing that the in­vi­ta­tions came late, or they are not ready to ap­pear be­fore the com­mit­tees and should there­fore be given more time. These de­lays frus­trate com­mit­tees in the con­duct of their busi­nesses within the given time frame.

One of the hin­drances to an ef­fec­tive se­lect com­mit­tee is the terms of ref­er­ence given to the com­mit­tees. Some of the terms are of­ten too wide for the com­mit­tees to ac­com­plish within the time­frame es­tab­lished. Be­sides, there are those that are open ended, such as, “and other mat­ters in­ci­den­tal to” that make broaden the scope of busi­ness of the com­mit­tees.

The is­sue of quo­rum is the biggest hin­drance to com­mit­tee work here at par­lia­ment. Con­flict of in­ter­est sets in since there are sev­eral ac­tiv­i­ties at par­lia­ment where mem­bers are ex­pected to be pre­sent at the same time com­mit­tees are sit­ting. For ex­am­ple, in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal con­fer­ences, ple­nary, bud­get­ing process, among oth­ers. As a re­sult, they don’t of­ten have quo­rum to con­duct any mean­ing­ful busi­ness and some­times wit­nesses come and there are no mem­bers of the com­mit­tees pre­sent, not even the chair­per­sons. All these ac­tiv­i­ties make it im­pos­si­ble for the mem­bers of the com­mit­tees to give the com­mit­tees 100% of their time in or­der to ex­pe­di­tiously han­dle the is­sues be­fore them.

In re­la­tions to the above, Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties nor­mally call their mem­bers for cau­cuses when there are con­tentious mat­ters they want to ad­vance in the House. These af­fect com­mit­tee work since they of­ten have to resched­ule the meet­ings to at­tend to the cau­cus meet­ings. As a re­sult, their re­ports are not timely pre­sented to the House for con­sid­er­a­tion.

The is­sue of fund­ing is an­other sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor af­fect­ing the han­dling of busi­ness be­fore the se­lect com­mit­tees. The fund­ing for field trips and fur­ther re­search is nor­mally not read­ily avail­able, in some in­stances as a re­sult of the red tape in­volved. De­pend­ing on the num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions be­fore the ac­counts de­part­ment, it could take up to two weeks for the req­ui­si­tion to ma­ture.

In some cir­cum­stances, the sub­ju­dice rule on mat­ters that are ei­ther be­fore court or the In­spec­torate of Gov­ern­ment for ju­di­cial con­sid­er­a­tion (there­fore pro­hib­ited from pub­lic dis­cus­sions) af­fects com­mit­tee work. Com­mit­tees and wit­nesses can­not pro­ceed to pro­nounce them­selves on sub­ject mat­ters be­fore the courts of law for fear of af­fect­ing the court pro­ceed­ings. As a re­sult, they end up de­lay­ing their re­ports, which in the long run af­fects Par­lia­men­tary ef­fi­ciency.

It is of no value for a com­mit­tee to pre­sent a re­port long af­ter the pur­pose for which it was in­tended have been over­taken by events. For ex­am­ple, in Oc­to­ber 2011 when a group of Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment pre­sented a pe­ti­tion be­fore Par­lia­ment re­quest­ing that a com­mit­tee be set up to in­ves­ti­gate the oils bribery claims among the Cab­i­net Min­is­ters, the com­mit­tee set up brought its find­ings to the house in De­cem­ber 2014, when their rec­om­men­da­tions had al­ready been over­taken by events and were rather fruit­less.

In such in­stances, the de­liv­ery of jus­tice is de­layed, par­lia­men­t’s im­age is af­fected, and gov­ern­ment pro­grams are quelled by such de­lays.