Parliament has failed to constitute Sectoral Committees as members protested the Government Chief Whip, Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa, designating an Opposition MP as Vice Chairperson of a Committee.
Parliament was Tuesday constituting Sectoral Committees for the Second Session of the 10th Parliament. Composition and leadership of Sectoral Committees is constituted at the start of each new Session of Parliament.
During the process, the Government Chief Whip riled Opposition legislators for designating UPC’s Hon. Maxwell Akora (Maruzi) as the Vice Chair of the Committee on ICT, a position he served in during the First Session that ended in May.
Parliament Rules of Procedure provide that the Party or Organization in Government shall designate the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of each Sectoral Committee provided that no active Member of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces shall be designated Chairperson or Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs.
The Rules also provide that Parties through their Whips designate members to serve on Committees. Sectoral Committees examine Bills brought by Government to the House before they are debated by the plenary; they examine government recurrent and capital budget estimates and make recommendations on them for general debate in the House.
During the heated debate, members said that the action by the Government Chief Whip designating MPs from the Opposition negated parliamentary democracy, which provides for two sides of the House, with the latter checking the former.
They asked government to enter into a formal coalition considering that the President had appointed UPC’s Betty Amongi, as Minister for Lands.
Hon. Muwanga Kivumbi (DP, Butambala) reminded the House about the Constitutional provision requiring an MP to relinquish their seat and return to the constituency to seek a new mandate under a new party or as an independent member.
Hon. Cecilia Ogwal (FDC, Dokolo) said that an MP elected under an Opposition party turning around and working with the party in government, breached the spirit of the Constitution.
She suggested that Parliament starts with consideration and approval of Rules of Procedure before constitution of Sectoral Committees.
“One cannot serve the NRM politically while not agreeing with it politically. We cannot consider (Betty Amongi) as Opposition when she sits with the party in government (NRM),” said Hon. Moses Kasibante (Ind., Rubaga North).
NRM legislators however, argued that there was no provision in the constitution of the Rules of Procedure baring an Opposition MP from serving in government.
Hon. Anthony Okello (NRM, Kioga) however said that the Opposition should celebrate since they had gotten a position meant for the government side.
Hon. Muhammad Nsereko (Ind., Kampala Central) said that for an MP to lose their seat as required by the Constitution, Court had ruled, the member must make a pronouncement not simply by association or voting with a party/side.
Hon. Roland Mugume (FDC, Rukungiri Munic.) threatened to lead the Opposition in a walkout and suggested that the House defers forming committees to a later date until the matter is resolved.
The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Winfred Kiiza said that Nankabirwa’s action was not in the spirit of developing democracy and prevented Party Whips from carrying out their duties.
She prayed for time to consider whether UPC MPs can still be designated by the Opposition.
“The government side designating Opposition MPs is not correct; it’s not in the spirit of developing democracy. We need to rethink our position before constituting committees,” said Kiiza.
The Opposition rejected appeals by the Rt. Hon. Deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, to approve other sectoral committees to facilitate the work of Parliament.
“These issues cannot be resolved by amending the Rules of Procedure because they are constitutional. This Parliament was called in June, and we need to form the committees and facilitate the work of Parliament,” said Oulanyah.
He asked the Committee on Education and Sports, which had been approved before the impasse, to commence work.
Sectoral Committees also monitor the performance of Ministries and Departments and ensure that government complies with approved plans and programmes.