9 December 2012

Uganda: I Have My Doubts About This Parliament


Some Ugandans are disappointed with the way the current (9th) Parliament has transacted its business.

Granted, individuals in this Parliament have earned their respect, but I will bet that the infection that touched the previous parliaments will definitely touch this one too. Of course the initial indicators have painted a promising picture, and I cannot blame those who are getting overtly excited.

First, the majority of these parliamentarians are inexperienced, compared to the ones in the previous parliaments. As far as I am concerned, this has affected both the level of debate and the outcome of the issues handled. Although previous parliaments also handled quite controversial issues, they had objective and rational MPs who always channelled the heat to a cooling point.

Today's Parliament lacks sober, experienced and respected legislators of the likes of Ben Wacha, Okello Okello, Okullo Epak, Serwanga Lwanga, etc, who were respected by both government and opposition. I quite agree that the current young MPs have made some impact; however, this kind of fire-breathing can only make meaning when it is objective and rational. Any legislation that is influenced by personal and political emotions is always bound to fall flat.

For example, the oil bribery case that involved Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, and other cabinet members, should have gone further than it did if emotions had not overshadowed reason during debate. Yes, the impunity of corrupt officials, including political leaders in government, has reached unprecedented levels and it must be handled decisively.

However, the rule of natural justice must always prevail before any action is taken; otherwise, wrongdoers may use this loophole to seek legal redress and public sympathy. Similarly, the general public is adopting a mob-justice approach, unfortunately, being egged on by civil bodies like Parliament. Consequently, Parliament will lose the public goodwill and confidence it is enjoying if it continues to handle issues in a kangaroo manner.

The election of members to Parliament is another problem as it is based on the exchange of money and political affiliation, as opposed to quality. In many cases, people vote those who pay more, attend funerals and, worst of all, will even vote in a dimwit, as long he/she is from the political party they support. These seem to be the determining factors in choosing the 'best' candidates.

In the US elections, which brought Barack Obama to the White House, retired general Collin Powel, a Republican, publically supported Obama, just because he viewed him as the best candidate. The other fundamental factor is abandoning matters brought to Parliament before their conclusion.

Today, Parliament may raise an issue, say on oil, term limits, etc, and all these, and many others, are pertinent issues that affect the country. However, they lose meaning when they are left hanging as we have witnessed on several occasions. What makes matters worse is the Movement caucus that tends to hijack everything that should benefit the whole country.

What intrigues me are the MPs who parade themselves before the press in the corridors of Parliament so that they can feature on radio and TV. These men and women sometimes pay the media to hoodwink the public into believing that they are outspoken, yet they don't make any significant contribution on the floor of Parliament.

The apparent cause of this is the contemporary politics in which the public seems to value those who make more noise. In the German political system of proportional representation, political parties choose from the best quality of their members, depending on the percentage each party obtained in the general elections. Though this system may have some negatives, it helps in selecting the best quality of members to represent the party.

The other vice is the politics of patronage which has turned out to be a daily menu during Museveni's regime. Members of the ruling party have lost their conscience; they refuse to express critical views in the hope that they will be appointed ministers and thus be able to clear the many debts they have with banks.

When Parliament once refused to pass the national budget, the executive just withheld MPs' salaries and they quickly succumbed because these salaries also service bank loans. Parliament is just another impotent appendage of the state, and it has apparently sold its soul. It, therefore, goes without saying that the Uganda Parliament has lost respect and is slowly becoming a laughing stock.

The author is the Spokesperson for People's Progressive Party.

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