During her maiden weekly media interaction on Friday, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said the Executive had ignored her letters calling for expedited constitutional reforms, and reiterated her call for Parliament to become independent from the office of the attorney general.
Kadaga was flanked by Parliamentary Commissioners Rose Akol, Reagan Okumu and William Nokrach; Finance and Administration Director Okello Obabaru, and Clerk to Parliament Jane Kibirige. Deo Walusimbi recorded Kadaga's speech and a question-and-answer session with journalists. Below are excerpts, starting with Kadaga's take on the issue of MPs' absenteeism from the House:
Our position is that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the days for plenary; the committees sit on Mondays and the mornings of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and possibly Friday. It's also true that some committees have to move out of town during the working days.
For instance, right now, we have a very burning issue of the Mukono-Katosi road. The committee had to travel during the working day to make assessment on what is happening. Other times, some of the committees go up-country to meet with the local governments.
And I would want to make the press and the country to understand that Parliament work is not just about sitting in the plenary; it's also oversight and representation. On other occasions, members are expected to travel outside [for instance for meetings, research or benchmarking, or investigations].
However, for members who have been deliberately absent, I have taken action. You are aware that some members lost their seats because of that. Then, there was a very sinister article about MPs making most trips; [it suggested] that members were travelling instead of attending legislative business.
I just wanted to touch on one committee, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in this ninth Parliament, because they have accomplished all their work; they are only left with one bill, the anti-corruption bill as brought by Honourable [John] Ssimbwa and on some of the occasions, they have been travelling abroad to benchmark on the laws that have been made out of the jurisdiction of this country.
There have been also some other sinister claims about how much members earn when abroad. I would first of all like to make it clear that we don't have hostels in London, Geneva or in South Africa. So, any Member of Parliament going out must pay for accommodation, food, etc. And there are cities in this world which are extremely expensive.
For instance, if you are to go to New York, you have to pay almost $600 and without even a breakfast. I don't expect MPs to sleep in a train in London and then leave it to go to attend the meetings. And I want to know: don't other people in other government agencies travel? Where do they sleep? How do they leave? Don't they get the money from the government of Uganda even to go for beaches?
I don't know whether you would be happy to hear that the speaker of Parliament was sleeping in a muzigo [and] she was beaten by thugs because she did not have money to stay in a hotel.
There was the issue of the Shs 110m: I don't know where the money is being distributed, I don't know who is distributing it [or] who is receiving it. What I can confirm is that it's not money of the Parliamentary Commission. I will now allow the director of finance and administration [Okello Obabaru] to speak [on] the issues of the budget and the iPads.
Obabaru: I don't know where the difficulty is coming from because, as you know, Madam Speaker, the budget of the Parliamentary Commission for this financial year is the same as last financial year's. I don't know where the press got the impression that this year the money has gone up because it has not.
Clerk to Parliament Jane Kibirige: I want the media to understand that when we introduced the iPads, we didn't say that we were going to cut costs immediately because this is a gradual process; there are a lot of complaints and the ICT has to use money to mitigate those complaints. Another problem is that some service providers change goal posts every time; they raise fees.
And also, we have achieved a lot with the iPads because we no longer print all the documentation from time to time. And with the single account which the treasury has introduced, if you have not spent your money, it's going to stay on the account and at the end of the financial year, we shall evaluate and see the savings we have made.
Sanyu FM: How far has Parliament gone to ensure that these development projects like the additional office space on the sixth floor are completed on time to save the monies spent in rent, and may I know your view on electronic voting in the House?
I think the Constituent Assembly went too far [as regards] determining quorum in the Constitution because the method of voting and the time taken to vote without electronic voting is a nightmare. If we take a roll-call in this House, it takes one and half hours, just roll-call.
So, if you have a bill and you have to vote by roll-call on each and every clause, it will take us three months to make one law. We are going to procure a system that will facilitate electronic voting and it's part of the reforms that this commission is making. I hope that by the end of the year, we shall be able to do the electronic voting.
On office space, I think you should thank this commission. There has never been any construction since 1962. It's this commission in the Ninth Parliament that is completing the original plan because this building was supposed to have six floors. So, we are creating more space for the members and we have evicted the ministry of Education; we are renovating Development House.
The sixth floor shall be ready by the end of this year and all this is intended to cut costs for rent. Let me invite Honourable William Nokrach, to answer the question regarding recruitment.
Nokrach: When there is need for recruitment, the matter is brought to the attention of the commission and then an advert is drafted. For example, in the recent recruitment exercise, 7,000 people applied for the 52 vacancies and what Parliament did was to go for interviews through external interviewers and the written interview was based on the index numbers, not names.
New Vision: Are you agreeable to the amendment of the Constitution to downsize Parliament and what can you say about the tight security that hinder members of the public to access Parliament?
On the issue of overrepresentation, there will be constitutional amendments; if you want to downsize Parliament, you will go to the committee and make your proposals because this is a constitutional matter which is not decided by Rebecca Kadaga.
I will ask Honourable Okumu to answer the question regarding security.
Okumu: Security at Parliament is something that the commission has noted. We are working on it and the restrictions are lessening, and they will lessen further because this is a public place.
NTV: What measures do you have against the members of the committees which do not produce reports on the floor of Parliament? And aren't you concerned with the way NRM is whipping its MPs against reintroduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill?
On the bill, the House is not in session. MPs are busy on the budget. I don't know whether you expected me to recall the House from the budget process for one bill. We are waiting for the committees to finish their work; the House will be recalled and then see what to do.
The backlog in the committees: last November, I required every chairperson of the committee to come on the floor and account, and that was done, but of course you are not interested in that and you did not report it.
There are also sanctions I have issues and there are some chairpersons whom I have embargoed from travelling because their committees have not been working, and I have conditioned some before travelling.
Radio One: Doesn't the distribution of money to the MPs mean that they have failed to manage their financial affairs well hence being heavily indebted? Do you think this institution is independent? And do you have any updates on when the executive is tabling the constitutional amendment?
I think I have been consistent on the issue of constitutional reforms and if you were listening during the state of the nation address, in my communication, I told the government that we do not expect to be stampeded at the last minute to rush laws which have not been well thought out.
I have been on record that I want these laws to be passed in the third [quarter] of the last session of Parliament, before members get busy and disrupted. I have written to the president, to the attorney general; no one has answered me. On the independence of Parliament, I think that this is work in progress and our independence will be judged on events and how we respond to them.
What I can assure you is that we shall remain focused and continue to fight for our rights. One of the areas that we shall not relent from is to be able to get our legal representation. You will appreciate that we are forcefully represented by the attorney general. Each time we have applied to court to represent ourselves, they have refused.
But in Kenya, the national assembly has got its own legal counsel; they are not represented by the attorney general. So, that is one of the battles we have to fight, to ensure that we get independence from the office of the attorney general because on many occasions, he represents the interest of the executive, not the interest of the Parliament.
Then on the distribution of the money to MPs, what I can confirm is that some MPs are very heavily indebted, and this commission had tried to secure funding so that members' debts could be bought off and rescheduled. But it required a guarantee from the ministry of Finance, [and] the government refused to give us the guarantee and reschedule the debts.
Actually for your information, there are members who find difficulties in walking out of the precincts of Parliament because bailiffs are waiting and moving out at the gates. It's a very serious matter. These are your leaders; I think it will not be good if members are flog-marched here because of debts and you photograph them. But I also want to [blame it on] banks.
When I was studying law, soliciting for business was unethical. But these days, as soon as we finish the elections, the banks go to the electoral commission, get members' numbers and they ring them to borrow from them. And that is why I called members in the meeting to caution them, but some members said: "Don't treat us like Children; we want to get money."
[Now] they are the same members who are really in serious problems. We have now written to all the banks to say that in the 10th Parliament, the Parliament of Uganda will not guarantee any loan for a member. If a bank wants to lend money to a member, they will deal with the member as an individual.
In the current system, members go to the chief accountant... and we have been turned into a collection agent for banks for free. And in the future, no member shall be allowed to commit more than a third of his/her earnings and we shall make sure that this regulation is done before the end of the Ninth Parliament and we hope that the members shall be disciplined and keep within the one-third limit.
But I want to appeal to you to seek for information from the right sources. Look for me because I am the official spokesperson of this institution... but sometimes I see things and I wonder. Try not to damage this institution because we are your partners. And don't be used, because I hear that there is a new smear campaign that is about to start in September. Watch out.