100 YEARS OF UGANDA’S PARLIAMENT: IS IT PROGRESS, REGRESS, OR CAPTIVITY?

Published by Patra K on

100 years of Uganda’s Parliament: Is it Progress, Regress, or Captivity?

Source: ACFIM Publication Commercialised Politics and Captivity of State Institutions in Uganda

Political analysts trying to make sense of the performance of Uganda’s Parliament are torn between progress, regress, and captivity. One of the guests on last week’s episode of ACFIM Talks, Ms. Namayengo Lydia, described the 100-years as mixed experiences because despite its survival, to date is under captivity by the Executive.

Hon. David Pukol, the Executive Director of Africa Leadership Institute (AFLI) who was also a guest on ACFIM Talks, noted that Parliament has been characterized by masculinization. In terms of composition, 65.1% of the MPs are male whereas 34.9% are female portraying the existent gender disparity. In terms of leadership in parliament, women take up 33.5% of roles such as leaders of committees, cabinet, and shadow ministers.

He also avowed that parliament is behaving like an adolescent and not an adult because of their wanting performance in terms of plenary attendance which is at 66.9%. The table below shows the percentages of their members from different regions in different performance factors.

Performance factor

Northern region

Central Region

Eastern Region

Western Region

Plenary attendance

20%

16%

21%

18%

Committee attendance

42%

43%

49%

40%

Oversight (Issues of national concern raised)

27%

27%

11%

36%

Since independence, Uganda has had ten Parliaments five of which have been under the National Resistance Army / Movement (NRA/NRM) leadership. In 2020 ACFIM published a study titled; Commercialised Politics and Captivity of State Institutions in Uganda. In the study, parliament is one of the institutions that were interrogated.

The study argues that all the ten Parliaments Uganda has had since independence have exhibited characteristics of captivity, the difference has been in scale and degree. Key highlights of captivity include the 1961 debacle.

Prime Minister Dr. Apollo Milton Obote usurped powers of Parliament, suspended the independence constitution which had been crafted during the Lancaster Conference in October 1961, and replaced it with his own. To state it bluntly, Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote unilaterally abrogated the constitution and replaced it with one of his own choice – the so-called “Pigeon hole constitution” – an act that demonstrated that the supremacy of the head of Government can capture the Legislature.  Historians and political scientists describe the act of singularly abrogating the constitution as an assault on constitutionalism.

The Pigeonhole Constitution that was imposed on the First Parliament was soon replaced with the Republican Constitution which came into force in 1967. Parliament under the Republican Constitution was transformed into the Second Parliament of Uganda without seeking a fresh electoral mandate.

Between 1972 and 1979 during the tenure of the late President Idi Amid Dada, there was no Parliament, he suspended it. Amin ruled by decree. Parliamentary order was restored in 1980 when UPC returned to power.

We remember the 6th Parliament (1996-2001) as a vocal and progressive institution whose actions of criticizing government corruption and abuse of office suggest a degree of independence from the executive. It was systematic in its resolve to investigate corruption. It is this Parliament that censured ministers Sam Kuteesa and Brigadier Jim Muhwezi, whilst Gen. Salim Saleh – brother to President Museveni – was forced to resign his position as defense advisor to the President following his admitted involvement in the improper takeover of Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB), a privatized state enterprise.

But it was in the 7th Parliament (2001-2006) when Uganda was faced with a constitutional decision on the safeguard of Presidential term limits, the organ responsible for soberly debating this matter for the greater good of the country chose to transact with the executive. For UGX 5 million ($2,000) that was disguised as facilitation to every MP, the fate of term limits was decided. A total of 232 MPs voted in favor of the removal of term limits and only 50 against, with one preferring to abstain from the process.

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