The candour with which deputy speaker of parliament Jacob Oulanyah recently faulted his colleagues was startling but enlightening.
Oulanyah told Ugandans that their legislators had recently wasted valuable time politicking rather than discussing matters concerning development. Being one of the superintendents of parliament, we cannot doubt Oulanyah’s assessment.
Oulanyah was addressing members of the civil society during the parliamentary week recently. The Omolo representative has been quite consistent on this matter and once advised members to start watching debates in United Kingdom’s House of Commons (parliament) to learn how they present questions to the prime minister.
Oulanyah’s veiled barb against some members was triggered by pitiable presentation skills of some of them. And Oulanyah is spot on.
When it comes to debating some bills, a bigger part of that role, especially for the majority National Resistance Movement (NRM) members, is left to the caucus to decide. In the end, the NRM caucus has used its numerical strengths to rubber-stamp all government-sponsored bills.
The scattered voices of the opposition cannot be heard in the deafening din of the majority. At times, when shove comes to push, the opposition has walked out and left the matter to be decided by majority NRM.
And the NRM are never embarrassed by this exodus. Instead, they aye the bill with all the glee they can muster. In a way, parliament has been passing NRM caucus decrees disguised as national bills.
And since they have done this job so well, wouldn’t it be better if we suspended the House and reassigned the duty of making laws to the NRM caucus? The NRM chief whip, Ruth Nankabirwa, put it more succinctly during the clamour to remove presidential age limits.
“Do you expect me to whip members into legislating ourselves out of power?” she asked. What beats such honesty? Put it the other way, it would be foolhardy to amputate the hand that feeds you.
Some MPs have proudly said they were sent to parliament as representatives, not delegates. Apparently, in the wisdom of MPs, a representative can choose either to present what their constituents think about a certain matter or represent their own standpoint. However, a delegate has no choice but to support what the voters want.
Therefore, whenever there is a disagreement between the interests of the MPs and their constituents, the former prevails.
This is what happened during the acrimonious debate, which saw the bill about the removal of presidential age limits passed.
Even when a sizeable number of Ugandans preferred maintaining the Constitution, the MPs’ interests, rented with some silver coins, prevailed. The question then is: do we need the 400 or more MPs to make such foregone decisions? If the matter had been decided by 150 MPs, would it have made a difference? Never!
Again, another question: what would Uganda miss if we didn’t have youth representatives, women representatives, army representatives or workers representatives?
Every constituency in this country has persons with disability, youths, women, workers and the army is a national professional institution.
The interesting part is that, by their admission, members of the armed forces present in parliament are in the House as “listening posts”. But when it comes to voting, they chose the NRM side. What value have all these interest groups added to the lives of Ugandans?
The lives of women and youths have definitely not improved as a result of being represented in parliament. The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill (now Act) was fervently sponsored by Dr Chris Baryomunsi as a private member’s bill. Naturally, this would have been sponsored by the feminists in the House. What happened?
Baryomunsi’s efforts in the broader sense indicate that one does not need to be a woman to sponsor a law intended to insulate women against intrusion of their bodily integrity.
Further, one does not need to be below 35 years to know the problems afflicting the youth. Parliament legislates for the country, and the problems of special interest groups such as women in a given constituency are not so different.
On the face of it, parliament seems fractious but one thing appears to unite all: the beckon and rustle of silver coins and minted paper. This parliament has become a rubber stamp for all manner of supplementary budgets especially those from State House.
They have abdicated their role of oversight of the executive and become fellow travellers. We need to rethink whether it isn’t high time that we amended the Constitution and reassigned the work of legislators to district councils or another well-suited NRM organ.
The author is the business development director at The Observer Media Limited.