On December 19, Andrew Baryayanga, the Kabale Municipality MP, got the parliamentary nod of approval to prepare a private member’s bill to amend the Administration of Parliament Act.
The bill largely introduces clauses that empower MPs to elect their own leadership in parliament – a break from the current tradition that allows political parties to appoint their anointed leaders.
Baryayanga is working with Busiro East MP Medard Lubega Sseggona to write the bill titled, “The Administration of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2018,” which has already ruffled feathers of not only the ruling NRM but also the leading opposition party – the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
The object of the bill is to amend the Administration of Parliament Act to increase the membership of the Commission; to provide for the manner of choosing the back bench Members of the Commission, the Leader of Opposition, the Chief Opposition Whip and Party Whips.
The bill also seeks to establish the office of deputy Leader of Opposition and deputy Chief Opposition Whip, and to provide for the tenure of party Whips. According to Baryayanga, the current law lacks fairness because it allocates one position on the parliamentary commission to the backbench members of opposition yet the ruling NRM has three positions.
“Furthermore, the provision did not take into account the existence of other shades of opinion in parliament including the Independent members and special-interest groups. This state of affairs has led to the subjugation of the views of the opposition and other shades of opinion on the Commission considering that the other members of the Commission, being the Speaker, the Minister responsible for Finance, the Prime minister and the three backbench members of the Commission are drawn from the party in Government,” Baryayanga argued.
The Kabale municipality legislator also says his bill is intended to streamline the manner in which the backbench members of the Parliamentary Commission are selected. Currently, the three backbench members of the Commission are selected by NRM’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) and presented to parliament for approval.
FDC also uses the same procedure to appoint its lone representative to the parliamentary Commission, which Baryayanga says renders commissioners unaccountable to the MPs whose interests they should be representing on the commission.
The Parliamentary Commission is the administrative arm of parliament, responsible for the policy direction of the legislature. The backbench members of the commission serve a two-and-half- year renewable tenure.
In August 2018, FDC President Patrick Oboi Amuriat appointed Buhweju MP Francis Mwijukye to replace Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal on the commission while the NRM CEC early in December 2018 endorsed the extension of the tenure of its three members, Peter Ogwang (Usuk), Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers) and Robina Nabbanja (Kakumiro Woman).
Their new mandate is supposed to commence as soon as Parliament reconvenes next week from the Christmas break.
Still in August, Amuriat dropped Kasese Woman MP Winfred Kiiza from the coveted office of Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP) and replaced her with Gulu Woman MP Betty Aol Ocan.
Ocan’s first four months in office have been bumpy. She has struggled to win over most opposition MPs and also constitute a shadow cabinet. In an October interview, Ocan said a number of MPs she wanted to work with in her Shadow cabinet had turned down her offers.
She finally named her cabinet on November 29, but still, some of the appointed shadow ministers plan to turn down the jobs. Before Parliament broke off for Christmas recess, this particular group of shadow ministers met to agree a way forward since Aol had “defiantly” appointed them to her cabinet.
The group comprises of Sseggona, Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka Municipality), Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala), Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) and Francis Gonahasa (Kabweri). In their bill, Sseggona and Baryayanga want to take way the powers of choosing the LOP from the dominant opposition party in Parliament.
“The manner in which the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament is designated and removed is not transparent, has led to the subjugation of the views of other opposition political parties in Parliament, has made it impossible for the opposition members to hold the Leader of Opposition in Parliament accountable and has resulted in the Leader of Opposition in Parliament not to enjoy security of tenure,” the draft Bill states, adding that, “It is important to note that whereas Section 68 of the Administration of Parliament Act requires the Leader of Opposition in Parliament to be determined through an elective process, currently that is not the case since he or she is merely designated by the party with the highest numerical strength among opposition parties in Parliament and is imposed on the opposition Members of Parliament without their will and consent.”
The proponents of the new draft legislation argue that since the LOP embodies and represents views of the opposition parties in Parliament, the process of determining and removal of the office holder should be transparent, and take into account the views and aspirations of the opposition parties in Parliament as well as guaranteeing security of tenure.
FDC is wary of the bill with many at Najjanankumbi thinking it is intended to fail Amuriat’s plans of asserting his control over the Parliamentarians.
“The very reason why [Amuriat] replaced the LOP and other leadership positions in Parliament before the expiry of the two and half years is because one of the clerks at Parliament leaked to us a plan to change the Rules [of Procedure] and take away the powers of the party to appoint and disappoint,” a pro-Amuriat FDC MP who did not want to be named, said.
The FDC fears were cemented by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s ruling in Parliament on December 18, 2018 when she told the House that the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure needed to be realigned with the Administration of Parliament Act to cure an anomaly in the election of the Parliamentary leadership.
Political party chiefs will only nominate candidates and leave the duty of election to the MPs who are the direct beneficiaries of the actions of the leadership in Parliament.
This ruling brought Kadaga into direct confrontation with the Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa. Nankabirwa, shocked that Kadaga, a member of the NRM CEC, had ruled against the same top NRM organ, offered to challenge the Speaker’s ruling (See: Kadaga, Nankabirwa clash over Parliamentary Commissioners, The Observer December 19, 2018).
Interviewed on Monday, Sseggona said that their bill is not targeting individuals but intended to streamline the process of selecting leadership at Parliament.
“The main intent is for equity and fairness to everyone…my intention is not to target anybody, it is to streamline the process not individuals,” Sseggona said.
According to the Chief Opposition Whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, FDC is opposed to the bill because it aims to create a parallel centre of authority in Parliament.
“Parties don’t want to create another centre of power in Parliament. In a multiparty system, it is very difficult for any party to accept another centre of authority that is not answerable to the party leadership [because] the moment you create another centre of power which is almost independent of political parties, it means they are answerable to its electorate which are the MPs, but not the parties,” Ssemujju said.