Op-ed – A people-centred Parliament is ideal but MPs should clean house first

By Badru Walusansa

In the recent past, Parliament has come under increasing scrutiny from the Ugandan public for various reasons. The need for a “people-centred” Parliament has been a loud appeal by many.

A people-centred Parliament is, in many ways, a hallmark of democracy because it allows for public engagement with legislators on a broad range of issues and activities such as policy formulation and oversight.

Ideally, a people-centred Parliament enhances public trust and confidence but also increases citizens’ participation in the business of Parliament. In fact, the Parliament of Uganda envisions a “people-centred Parliament” and efforts to have such, are ongoing.

On 7 February 2017, I was part of Parliament Weeks’ Panel Discourse on laying strategies for engaging the public in activities of the House. During the discourse, members from the Civil Society Organisations, the media and general public presented well thought out arguments on how to enhance citizens’ participation in the work of Parliament.

One outstanding proposition was the need to promote civic education so that the public is aware of the cardinal functions of Parliament as spelt out in Article 79 of the Constitution of the republic of Uganda.

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga seconded the need for civic education, stating that Parliament will soon commission its radio and Television stations to relay information about business of the House to the public.

Former Member of the East African Legislative Assembly Daniel Wandera Ogalo also argued that Parliament should be accessible to the public since parliamentarians are extracted from the wider public. This act will help increase citizens’ participation in decision making processes.

Whereas civic education is crucial, Parliament can do much more to cultivate public participation in its activities.

First, Parliament needs an overhaul in order to restore its credibility before the public. If we still have a Parliament where legislators largely prioritise issues concerning their welfare rather than the public good, then how do we expect to have a people-centred Parliament?

Secondly, the independence of Parliament is under threat especially from other arms of government like the Judiciary and Executive. Parliament has been reduced to an institution where numbers, rather than substance play a role in decision making. In fact, many Ugandans, basing on various media reports, regard Parliament as an extension of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and its interests. It is therefore essential that the doctrine of separation of powers is urgently pursued for Parliament to regain its independence and restore public confidence.

Thirdly, the conduct of some of our legislators should be regulated since it tarnishes the image and integrity of Parliament. For example, why should MPs continuously absent themselves from the work they are paid to do and no punitive action is taken against them? Why should MPs pride themselves in being legislators, solely for the sake of self-enrichment rather than for advancing interest of their constituents?

Unless the above issues are addressed, having a people-centred Parliament will remain a distant rosy dream and the public will feel the more alienated by the House.

 Mr. Walusansa is a commonwealth correspondent

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