Uganda: Coronavirus - MPs Question Plan for House to Sit in Shifts

Kampala — Dr Diana Atwine the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health in a Thursday morning tweet questioned the continuous sitting of Parliament in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, yet one of the guidelines to stop the disease is social distancing.

"One particular place that is worrying us as health (Ministry) is our Parliamentary sessions that have continued in face of lockdown. May God protect our legislature. I am deeply worried," Dr Atwine tweeted.

But Parliament which has insisted on remaining operational to complete the budget process for the 2020/21 Financial Year , had on Wednesday moved to answer the worries of Dr Atwine and others who have used social media to question the conduct of MPs.

While opening the Wednesday afternoon plenary sitting, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said that as a matter of helping to contain Covid-19, Parliament which last month sent away most of the staff and interns, will be sitting with MPs attending plenary in sessions of 80 legislators, 10 Ministers and 10 staff including the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms.

"The 80 members to attend Plenary per day will be selected by the party whips and the Speaker will select the independents," Ms Kadaga said.

Ms Kadaga who also announced more measures that include MPs leaving the House in a sequence manner, no consultation with the Clerk and Speaker during sessions, ordered the return of plenary sittings to the chambers.

Sittings have for the last three weeks been held in the spacious Conference Hall. Among other measures, the MPs will see microphones sanitised immediately after each MP speaks, communication between MPs and Speaker's office will be by telephone or electronically, and, journalists to digitally follow committee meetings.

All MPs need to attend.

Much as majority of the MPs supported the decision to continue sitting to handle all pending tasks, they demanded that a large space be identified to allow every one of the 461 represent their constituents but sitting in a recommended social distance arrangement. Mr Alex Ndeizi (PWDs) said that certain constituencies risk being left out especially during the critical time of budget appropriation, if MPs attend in shifts.

"We need to consider other constituencies that may miss out. An issue might be discussed when the MP for that Constituency is not present," he said.

Ajuri County MP, Jonathan Odur questioned the issue of quorum if the 80 MPs need to pass any legislation since it requires at least two thirds of the House.

But, the Speaker said that quorum is not relevant since there is no law to be considered at the moment.

Mr Moris Kibalya (Bugabula South, NRM) said that MPs are not sure of whether the party whips will apply equity in selecting those to attend the plenary sittings. First Deputy Prime Minister, Gen Moses Ali said there was no intention by government to undermine Parliament. He, however, supported the reduction of number of MPs per sitting.

"As the executive, only one third of Cabinet is meeting," he said. "You are helping the virus to spread by mixing together and ignoring the rules".

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