Wor­ry­ing Trend of the Re­moval of Par­lia­ment Ap­proval Pow­ers on Ma­jor De­ci­sions

By: Winnie Watera

The three arms of Gov­ern­ment; the Ex­ec­u­tive, Leg­is­la­ture, and the Ju­di­ciary per­form dif­fer­ent roles al­though in Uganda we con­fuse the roles of the Ex­ec­u­tive and those of the Leg­is­la­ture be­cause they work closely.  The Leg­isla­tive arm of Gov­ern­ment, also known as Par­lia­ment plays an over­sight role of the works of the other arms of gov­ern­ment on be­half of all Ugan­dans.

Leg­is­la­tion is a fun­da­men­tal role played by Par­lia­ment.  The Ugan­dan Par­lia­ment has dili­gently per­formed this role save for a few bills that have over the years stalled like the Mar­riage and Di­vorce Bill, 2009 and the Re­tire­ment Ben­e­fits Sec­tor Lib­er­al­i­sa­tion Bill, that have been brought forth from the 8th Par­lia­ment and will prob­a­bly go on to the 10th Par­lia­ment. This notwith­stand­ing, Par­lia­ment has also ex­er­cised its dis­cre­tion to is­sue checks and bal­ances on ex­ec­u­tive’s de­ci­sions al­though some­times in ret­ro­spect.

Gov­ern­ment has in the past sought Par­lia­ment ap­proval be­fore the ex­e­cu­tion of cer­tain de­ci­sions es­pe­cially when it comes to taxes, spend­ing power and bor­row­ing on be­half of the Ugan­dan peo­ple, though lately not so much. The re­cent past has shown a dis­turb­ing trend in that re­gard. In more pre­sent years, Gov­ern­ment has pro­posed laws and amend­ments in­tended to cur­tail or re­move par­lia­ment ap­proval pow­ers. Most no­tably, The Pub­lic Fi­nance Man­age­ment (Amend­ment) Bill, 2015 that re­moved Par­lia­ment ap­proval be­fore Gov­ern­ment could bor­row from the Cen­tral Bank.  Al­though there was an out­cry against this spe­cific amend­ment, the Bill passed, con­se­quently re­mov­ing the re­quire­ment. The oil laws also gen­er­ated a de­bate in 2012 and 2013, when the Min­is­ter was given overzeal­ous pow­ers while to­tally dis­re­gard­ing Par­lia­ments opin­ion. The Pub­lic Pri­vate part­ner­ship Bill too had reser­va­tions when it came to Par­lia­ments ap­proval. The most re­cent is the Uganda Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (Amend­ment) Bill, 2016 whose sole amend­ment is, “to re­peal the words,’ with Par­lia­ment ap­proval’.”

Judg­ing from the afore­men­tioned trend, the Ex­ec­u­tive arm of gov­ern­ment has taken it upon it­self to pro­pose and en­sure the pass­ing of leg­is­la­tion that over­rides or cur­tails Par­lia­men­t’s over­sight pow­ers over the ex­ec­u­tive. This goes against the ideal prin­ci­ples of sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers, on the part of the gov­ern­ment. Par­lia­ment rep­re­sents the views of the peo­ple and the gov­ern­ment should re­spect that.

It is also hard to de­fend Par­lia­ment on this be­cause at one point the mem­bers stand op­posed to a par­tic­u­lar is­sue and for a good rea­son and be­fore one knows it there is a com­plete U-turn on the mat­ter. One can’t help but ask what hap­pens along the way. Sim­i­larly, con­tin­u­ous al­le­ga­tions of Par­lia­ment be­ing just a rub­ber stamp come to play. Both arms need to per­form their dis­tinct roles in or­der to limit any one branch from ex­er­cis­ing the core func­tions of an­other so that it’s eas­ier to pro­vide for checks and bal­ances and over­sight roles.