New Vision (Kampala)

21 February 2013

Uganda: Roll Call As MPs Sign, Dodge House

The raging debate about increasing cost of public administration and whether the country needs 375 MPs gained more credence on Tuesday when speaker Rebecca Kadaga resorted to the tried and tested method of roll call in an attempt to expose MPs who sign for sitting allowance and later slip out to attend to their personal businesses.

In what seems to be another low point in the institutional integrity that has taken pole position in the fight against corruption, less than 40 MPs were in attendance during debate on the oil midstream bill despite 247 appending their signatures in the attendance book.

Kadaga tried in vain to ignore the Leader of Opposition, Nadala Mafabi's concern over lack of quorum during the afternoon session, saying the tendency by some MPs to abuse parliamentary rules of procedure through raising objections of a technical nature was unnecessary.

"You mean you won't hear the debate when there is no quorum?" Kadaga asked, as Mafabi insisted on the anomalous nature of proceeding without quorum as stipulated under rule 23 of the parliamentary rules of procedure.

Facing the specter of adjourning the House in the face of a clogged legislative agenda, a riled Kadaga ordered for the bell to be rang as she checked the attendance register.

However, after a 20 minutes adjournment, the number of MPs who had trickled in couldn't constitute quorum (125), forcing Kadaga to carry out a roll call with a promise to hold absentees accountable.

However, it seems news about the roll call spread like a wild fire, forcing some MPs who were still in the precincts of parliament or in town to scamper back.

Some of the MPs who came back during the roll call included Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, Dr. Twa Twa, Ayena Odong, Fred Sabila, Xavier Kyoma, Elijah Okupa, Fred Bada, and Integrity Minister, Simon Lokodo.

The NRM Chief Whip, Kasule Lumumba voiced her disquiet about the tendency she said tantamount to corruption.

"What these MPs are doing is a form of corruption yet they want other people to be accountable," Lumumba said, advising those who are tired to "resign and dedicate their entire time to their private businesses."

Lack of quorum has stymied work in the ninth parliament, with last year's debate on the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill, 2012 famously adjourned more than twice as MPs dodged parliament.

Quorum in parliament is one third of all MPs entitled to a vote and its mandatory at all times when parliament is voting on any question.

Ministers who do not represent any constituency (Ex-officios) are not entitled to a vote, even when in attendance.

According to the constitution, any MP who misses 15 consecutive plenary sittings without the Speaker's explicit permission automatically loses his seat.

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