Absenteeism in Parliament: Legislators or Political Merchants?

Uganda’s speaker of parliament, Hon. Anita Among has decried the perpetual absenteeism of ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs) which has paralysed parliamentary business. She made the outcry last week while chairing a session where legislators were irked and charged due to a certain minister’s failure to appear and respond to matters of national importance on the floor of parliament.

Rule 50(1) under the parliament’s rules of procedure clearly and articulately stipulates that ministers shall attend sittings of the house to answer questions asked of him or her. Furthermore, Rule 112(1) provides that every member shall attend the sittings of the house unless leave of absence has been granted to him or her by the speaker. Under sub-rule (3), application for leave of absence shall be done in writing unless the speaker, in exceptional circumstances otherwise, permits.

It is unfortunate that the honourable ministers and MPs entrusted with full authority of overseeing social order in Uganda have turned deviant, a behaviour so contrary from their oath. SecretsKnown therefore associates with the position of the speaker plus a few legislators on concerns of absenteeism and condemns it in the strongest terms. Perpetual absenteeism of ministers and oftentimes Members of parliament (MPs) is a wastage of tax payer’s money that is spent on their salaries and other emoluments.

It is imperative to note that the cost of administration for a house of 529 members is huge and burdensome. Keep in mind that each member of parliament is entitled to a consolidated pay of Ugx 25 million ($6,702), a monthly gratuity of Ugx 950,000 ($254), town run allowance of about Ugx 1 million ($267), Ugx 2.6 million ($695), an IPad, medical cover of Ugx 333 million ($89034) per month and travel allowances among other emoluments.

SecretsKnown asserts that the continuous obtaining of salaries and other emoluments of MPs and ministers while absent from duty/ constitutional mandate is absolute thuggery and also a form of corruption. Such impunity and behaviour among MPs and ministers should not be tolerated. The leadership of parliament under the speaker should take decisive and authoritative action against these MPs and ministers through measures such as censure and recalling through legal means.

Relatedly, Rt. Hon Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga the former speaker of parliament similarly screeched on absenteeism of ministers and MPs in the 10th parliament. This goes to show that ministers and MPs have now turned this unethical behaviour into a norm and practice resorting to only attending house sittings when there is debate or voting on controversial matters.  

SecretsKnown dug into possible reasons behind the ministers and MPs absence from parliament.  Parliament business is not normal lately due to the impact of electoral campaign spending on MPs. Research conducted by ACFIM on Unregulated campaign spending and its impacts on electoral participation in Uganda shows that 72.6% candidates lose their properties during electoral campaigns through either direct selling and or attachment to debtors. The same report showed that both winners and losers alluded to have sold prime land/plots, buildings, and vehicles to mention but a few, in order to finance electoral and campaign-related costs. The report also established that other costs included principal and interest on loans acquired, paying election petition costs and financing living costs for families which in part stresses many of the MPs.

Notably, because majority of the MPs and ministers are indebted to money lenders and banks because of loans accumulated during electoral campaigns, they spend their first three years in parliament engaging in deals and establishing business networks to recoup their resources and prepare for the next election. This consequently pushes them away from consistent attendance of parliamentary sessions as per their oath and social contract with voters.

In a nutshell, the cost of financing election campaigns has been rising exponentially since 2006 when Uganda returned to multipartyism turning elections into a do-or-die affair. And because many candidates invest heavily in elections, once elected to parliament prioritize recovering their resources which explains the absenteeism.

In order to address this problem of absenteeism among MPs and ministers in parliament, SecretsKnown implores the speaker of parliament and the August house to enact a standalone election campaign finance legislation in accordance with good practices for regulating money in campaigns. Legislating on campaign financing is a matter of national priority since it protects candidates (members of parliament and ministers) from unnecessary campaign spending that has left them with financial bruises and distresses that cause their continuous absenteeism in parliament.

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