The opposition bench continues to try and hold Parliament at ransom after boycotting sittings of plenary counting towards 15 times-the number of sittings which if a member misses without notifying the Speaker can lead to disciplinary action. And the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Anita Among, has sounded a warning to the boycotters, threatening to take action if they pass the 15-sitting mark. On the other hand, the boycotters have issued seven conditions, adding to the original ones, on which they are tagging their return to the House.
The main issue is the demand that Government produces supposed opposition supporters that have allegedly gone missing and this is the one which the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has consistently rebuffed in its reports which have found most of the claims “political”, only raised to gain mileage and sympathy from gullible organisations and individuals.
This is in spite of investigations by the UHRC and its report which revealed that out of the alleged “thousands missing”, only a few have been found connected in any way to having been of interest to the state.
In its latest report released in response to a petition from NUP containing a list of names of 30 allegedly missing persons, UHRC discovered that of those reported missing, 12 had been found in their homes, alive and well, while for the other 18, NUP couldn’t provide their particulars (such as National Identity card numbers) for appropriate follow-up. The Commission was fed with scanty information that leads nowhere while all along Government has wanted credible information to establish the facts and do its part.
As the impasse stands, sections of observers and the opposition MPs have come out to fault the Speaker for threatening to bring out the stick. They accuse her of highhandedness and lacking empathy for their cause. However, we need to be serious as Ugandans, lest we plunge this country into serious problems. Parliament, as an institution, has rules which must be abided to for its proper functioning to benefit the people of Uganda. It’s called the “August House” for a reason-it is a distinguished forum where the voices of citizens are presented for inclusion in the country’s laws. That process is guided by established norms that make the work of the institution seamless and organized.
When the good functioning and orderliness of Parliament is threatened, it’s the Speaker’s role to take charge and prevent the House from going into disrepute. Her duties are well spelt out and when she raises attention to the rules, she is doing so by the authority entrusted to her and not because it’s her personal preference. When Rt. Hon. Among says that after if a member misses 15 sittings without notifying her office seeking for leave of absence, and that then the member is liable to disciplinary action, that’s not an idea of Office Holder but it’s the rules of Parliament which all Members should be conversant with.
Any MP that doesn’t think it imperative for Parliament to have rules governing its operations is in a wrong place. Parliament can’t be like a bar place where people come and go anyway they want. There must be an authority in charge. After all, the House has over 500 MPs majority of whom are attending and conducting business normally. The few absconding cannot hold the House at ransom and stop it from doing its Constitutional duty, much as the multiparty system clearly demarcates space and a role to be played by the opposition bench.
The boldness and courage of the Speaker in insisting on the rules will instill discipline in the House and set a precedent for safeguarding the culture of upholding rules that govern the Legislature.
For those who think that the absence of an MP without authorisation of the institution of Parliament is of no consequence, what if the Speaker and Deputy Speaker absconded from duty without notifying anybody, what would be the fate of the House and the affairs of the country that need urgent attention? What’s difficult about notifying the Speaker before going on the boycott and indicating the reason for seeking leave of absence so as to win the Speaker and other Legislators over for the same cause? The majority MPs are sympathetic with the issue of human rights as it touches all of us but the approach of boycotting Parliament is wrong and diminishes the possible returns from collective effort of a united House.
Another problem that I have sensed with the boycotting MPs is that some are attempting to make up for what they have failed to do in their constituencies. Sensing how time is flying by, they have crafted a way to get back in then good books of the electorate by playing the emotional card. They made impossible promises to the electorate such as that they would get rid of President Museveni (that he wouldn’t swear in for this term) and that they would do everything that they accused Government of failing to do. Finding themselves with nothing new to show for their presence in leadership except their enviable earnings, they have taken to activism yet it’s a time to legislate. A lot of business is discussed in Parliament and every time a member is absent, he or she misses the opportunity to represent the people.
For instance, last week, there was discussion on the progress and challenges in implementation of Parish Development Model (PDM), the flagship wealth creation programme of Government. Who raised the concerns of the constituents of boycotting MPs? Don’t their interests and lives matter, on top of their right to representation and an opportunity to benefit from available opportunities? I predict a difficult political future for many MPs because, as H.E the President would say, they leave undone what they ought to do and do what they ought not to do. We pray for them!
The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary
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