23 February 2014

Uganda: Parliament Catching Up With MPs Over Absenteeism

Hon Tonny Nsubuga Kipoi's short tumultuous parliamentary stint has come to an abrupt and unscheduled end.

If the crimes he allegedly committed in Uganda and outside its borders had not curtailed him, the recent adoption of the report of the committee on Rules, Discipline and Privileges on his conduct effectively concluded his short involvement in the 9th Parliament.

Kipoi, who registered his profession as a businessman, belonged to the NRM party and represented Bubulo West, in Manafwa district. The committee on Discipline, acting under the Rules of Procedure and on instructions of the Speaker, investigated Kipoi's continued absence from the House, without explanation and/or permission.

Kipoi was serving on the committees on Gender and that for Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises. The adoption of the report by Parliament means that the Clerk to Parliament will inform the Electoral Commission about the existence of a vacancy in Parliament after which the processes required to fill it will begin.

Parliamentary records show that the legislator only attended seven of the 103 sittings held during the Second Session (June 2012 - May 2013). There was, however, no record that he had appeared for any House sittings in the first part of the Third Session, starting June 2013 till the end of the year.

Kipoi was initially charged with treason and remanded in Luzira prison in December 2012.

With members describing their former colleague as "an embarrassment to Parliament and Uganda," it was no surprise that they approved the recommendation to have him axed from the House. Kipoi became the second legislator to be axed under the same Constitutional provision in about three months, following Gen David Sejusa, a UPDF representative. Gen Sejusa sought and got permission to stay away, but was denied the much-sought-after extension(s) to his leave.

In both cases, the committee recommended that the individuals cease to be Members of Parliament under Article 83(1) (d) of the Constitution and Rule 101(10) of the Parliament Rules of Procedure, and that the process for replacement be initiated.

For now, only two members have been nabbed, and have paid the price - vacating their seats in the House. However, it is possible that a couple of others may have similar sins - staying away from the House without seeking leave from the speaker.

The Constitution provides that a Member of Parliament shall vacate his or her seat in Parliament if that person is absent from 15 sittings of Parliament without permission in writing of the speaker during any period when Parliament is continuously meeting, and is unable to offer satisfactory explanation to the relevant parliamentary committee for his or her absence.

Members, whose misconduct, misbehaviour and persistent desertion of their electorate would lead to their recall under Article 84 of the Constitution, have always hidden in the provision that this can only apply when the Movement political system is in place.

Even when voters thought that their members' desertion would lead to a recall, it could not happen, as the requirements for a recall provided for under this same Article are so stringent that only one attempt has been made in over ten years. Even then, this would have to be under the Movement system, which was abandoned in 2005 in favour of the multi-party system.

It is time for members to improve their conduct and behaviour with regards to attendance, which always affects House quorum - and may deteriorate further as 2016 approaches. The speaker can always refer their cases to the committee on Rules for determination.

The author is a senior information officer at Parliament .

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