Uganda: 'MPs plot to kick ministers out of Parliament'

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A private member’s Bill to separate the executive from the legislature will soon be tabled in Parliament, Sunday Vision has learnt.

The Bill proposes that all MPs who are appointed into ministerial positions or elected speaker or deputy speaker should relinquish their parliamentary seats.

The Bufumbira East MP, Eddie Kwizera, is the brains behind the Bill. He told Sunday Vision that having ministers who are also legislators beats the doctrine of separation of powers and is an abuse of resources.

“We are working on the Bill and sooner than later it will be brought to Parliament. We need to separate the executive from legislature so that both arms of the Government can function well and avoid conflict of interest,” the seasoned NRM lawmaker said.

He explained that ministers cannot objectively debate the same laws they draft when they are before Parliament for passing. “MPs were, for example, given sh103m each to buy a car in 2012, but some ministers may have decided to keep the money and instead use Government cars.

They are facilitated as MPs and also enjoy all the perks of being a minister. This is abuse of resources in a country that has a high rate of unemployment,” he added.

History repeats?

This, however, will not be the first time such attempt is made. The Sixth Parliament in 1999 rejected a similar Bill from the former Amuria County MP, Onapito Ekomoloit, and former army representative Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu.

The duo wanted to amend Article 113 of the constitution so that ministers would have to resign from their parliamentary seats immediately they are appointed to the executive.

This article currently provides that Cabinet ministers shall be appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament from among MPs or persons qualified to be elected MPs. It also says a Cabinet minister shall have responsibility for such functions of Government as the President may, from time to time, assign to him or her.

The Article further states that a minister shall not hold any office of profit or emolument likely to compromise his or her office.

Kwizera, however, broke ranks with a section of legislators across the political aisle that backed a proposal that Speakers of Parliament should also resign their parliamentary seats immediately they are elected Speaker, to concentrate on serving the people of Uganda in these capacities.

“That proposal is not in my Bill because the Article 82 (2) states that the Speaker and Deputy shall be elected by MPs from among their number. You cannot head an institution which you do not belong to,” Kwizera argued.

Quest for better governance

The Uganda Governance Monitoring Platform (UGMP), which released Parliament Watch Bulletin — a citizen assessment of the first three years of the Ninth Parliament on Monday, is the brains behind the proposal for Speakers to cease being MPs.

UGMP is a civil society governance monitoring group comprising 18 Ugandan organisations united in the quest for good and democratic governance.

It argued in its bulletin that while the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga performed very well in a number of areas, she also faced some constraints which made it difficult for her to steer the August House independently.

“On certain occasions she (Kadaga) is quoted as having participated in debates on some critical issues and even publicly declared passage of laws considered as controversial,” Job Kiija, a coordinator of citizen mobilisation at UGMP, told the gathering that included MPs and academicians.

Kiija stressed that this not only damaged Kadaga’s image internationally, but also cast her as someone that had taken sides with one group against another, yet she ought to have been neutral.

The report also noted that Parliament as an institution has been criticised widely for failing to act on allegations of bribery of its own members, especially when suspected to be engineered by the ruling NRM party.

Accountability

The report further recommends that Speaker and Deputy should have performance targets which are made public at the beginning of each annual session and that the targets should take into account the citizens’ expectations.

FDC president Mugisha Muntu proposed a similar bill in 1999 but it was rejected

While launching the citizens’ assessment report, Kadaga said the separation of powers is crucial in providing checks and balances.

“The influence of the executive in the final decision making sometimes hampers the delivery of our work and affects the independence of the institution,” she said, in a statement read by the Jinja East MP, Paul Mwiru.

Prof. Sabiti Makara, a political scientist at Makerere University, says the proposal is good for democracy because it enhances separation of powers and the effectiveness of the Government.

“The minister will be able to monitor what goes on in their ministries because he will be having enough time. This can help stop irregularities like corruption and nepotism in their respective ministries,” he said.

Makara also says the move gives the President effective control over his Cabinet because he is not politically tied when it comes to appointment.

“He may concentrate on looking for good technocrats outside Parliament to run the ministries,” he adds.

Prof. Ndebesa Mwambutsya says both proposals can enable the leaders to dedicate their service to the general population rather than their constituencies, without any fear of being voted out of Parliament because of their absence on the ground.

“Most of the parliamentary audit reports have established that ministers are poor performers in parliament in terms of attendance because they are always performing state functions,” Mwambutsya remarked.

He, however, fears that the Bill might be thrown out again as it was done in 1999.

Ministers’ responsibility

According to the constitution, the ministers shall individually be accountable to the President for the administration of their ministries and collectively be responsible for any decision made by the Cabinet.

Fred Omach, the state minister for finance in charge of general duties, agrees with Kwizera that the ministerial job is demanding, but quickly adds that it depends on how one handles the two positions.

“Yes, it is demanding. But I was a member of Pan African Parliament and at the same time a member of this House. I managed to handle the two positions,” Omach, who is also Jonam County MP, said.

The minister disclosed that this proposal is among many ideas being discussed at various forums but declined to discuss details.

SOURCE: New Vision, October 13th 2014: http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/660655-mps-plot-to-kick-ministers-out-of...