On October 10, opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) especially from the National Unity Platform [NUP] took a decision to boycott parliamentary sessions.
This was done to demand the government to give an explanation on the fate of over 18 victims who allegedly disappeared under very questionable circumstances.
The government has however remained adamant prompting the opposition MPs to stand their ground.
The decision to keep away from the August house seems to have sent a very clear signal to the ruling NRM government, it would not remain business as usual.
Agitated by their decision, the deputy speaker had earlier attempted to plead with them but all in vain and it is apparent the Mps are not about to return for parliamentary business until the government comes out clean.
Pretty sure their actions must have affected the smooth running of parliamentary business to the chagrin of the speaker and a section of some Members of Parliament across the political divide.
More than a month down the road, the boycott seems to have yielded some results with the Speaker now threatening punitive action to tame them citing the provisions of Article 83(1) (d) of the 1995 Uganda Constitution read together with Rule 112(6) of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure.
It is estimated that if her threat was anything to take seriously, about 59 opposition MPs
could fall victim if they miss 15 consecutive sittings and the tone she used in venting out her frustration suggests that the boycott has had an impact on her.
She reminded me of Dennis Bergkamp, a legendary Arsenal player whose temper always cost him full-time play on the pitch. Whenever an opposing team wanted him off the pitch, they would intentionally commit a foul on him; his retaliation always earned him a red card. Society has never fallen short of people who use their emotions to think, always quick to make decisions that result into regrets.
Many times, the current Speaker’s decisions have made me look back with admiration at the person of Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga. Despite her human shortcomings, she was slow to anger, better still her predecessor Edward Kiwanuka Sekandi.
The duo always acted with maturity and would make decisions after careful thought.
Kadaga for example played the role of a mother to those who did not seem to agree with her. She would think through her actions before opening her mouth to talk. She often did things because they were right and not because they were the official positions of her party, she often disagreed with them on a number of issues.
Be that as it may, the framers of the Constitution envisaged a situation of dictatorship taking a centre stage in the running of the affairs of Parliament; they thus put in place safeguards to protect the minority in the quest to push the sitting government to account.
And in a ‘Democratic” country like Uganda, other measures may be treated as criminal, unlike a boycott that is intended to expose a government as being intolerant to the demands of the minority.
The recent decision of the Constitutional Court in favour of Zake was a polite reminder to those in leadership positions to act with restraint. The Speaker’s emotional nature made MP Zake look like a saint in the eyes of the justices of the constitutional court.
Why? Because of the Speaker’s emotional reactions, the court opined that procedures were flawed in throwing Zake out as a parliamentary commissioner. An appeal to the Supreme Court will make no difference save for the benefit of keeping Zake out of office for some more time as the term of office nears expiration.
I was shocked to hear the Speaker of Parliament opting for threats instead of negotiating with the opposition to suspend their boycott. Whoever has guided her to invoke Article 83(1)(b) of the 1995 constitution certainly misguided her.
She needed to have read the whole article before making the threats. Provisions of the constitution cannot be read in isolation but with the aid of other provisions that seek to enforce and buttress that very provision. The whole 1995 Constitution has its own in-built mechanisms intended to restrain abuse of power.
It is apparent from the wording of Article 83 that the framers of the Constitution were mindful of a probable danger of misuse or abuse of the provision. Article 83(1) (d) of the 1995 constitution provides for the Tenure of office of members of Parliament and that if that person is absent from the house for 15 sittings of Parliament without permission in writing of the Speaker during any period when Parliament is continuously meeting and is unable to offer a satisfactory explanation to the relevant parliamentary committee for his or her absence, they can lose their seat.
The framers were aware that a speaker from the ruling government would never give permission to the opposition to keep away from the August House in the name of a boycott. Thus, the safeguard in that article is that so long as somebody can give a satisfactory explanation such as protesting the disappearance of citizens, then that person would have discharged their duty, and to me, that is a satisfactory explanation and is justified under the law. Boycotts are a form of protest more so when they are peaceful and are provided for by the Constitution.
Secondly, it has to be 15 consecutive and not intermittent sessions meaning these MPs can keep away for 14 seatings and then return on the 15th seating, in so doing, they would stop the running of time under Article 83(1) of the constitution interrupted and then start over again with the aim of avoiding absence for a 15 seatings. If this is done, it will become a cat-and-mouse game; the speaker will have no excuse to fire them or to ask the Electoral Commission to organize fresh elections. The speaker will be left-hand capped and barking a toothless dog incapable of biting.
I will accordingly advise the speaker to abandon her tantrums, she has the mandate to push the leader of government business or the Ministers of Security or Internal Affairs to come up with a well-reasoned report to account for the missing persons, is that too much to ask, would she rather order for re-elections in 59 constituencies at the expense of the taxpayer or to give answers with a view of persuading an end to the boycott.
Let us handle issues pertaining to this government well without necessarily causing havoc to the NRM party and the country atlarge. Need I say More?
The writer, David Mafabi is a veteran journalist and PML Daily senior writer