The Speaker of Parliament & her Deputy – together with their support staff are in a drive to bring Parliament closer to the people.  This is the first time ever that the Parliament of Uganda is out to engage the public in what they have termed ‘a people centered parliament’. From 5th to the 10th Feb the public will access Parliament for a series of events & tours and are invited for a day in the life of MPs. The debating chamber is open to the public.

Rt Hon Kadaga opened the Public dialogue on the 3rd floor Conference Hall of Parliament on 7th Feb and implored members of civic society, academia and the NGO world to be vigilant partners in the legislative role of Parliament. The Deputy Speaker who was the main discussant said that public interface, critique & participation would enrich the legislative process and strengthen Parliament.

He outlined the channels through which Bills come to Parliament i.e. Private Members Bills, Petitions, Motions & Private Bills.  He pointed out that in his life as an MP, there has never been a Private Bill tabled from sections of society or interest groups as is the case in other countries.  He explained that Parliament’s role is a processing role, not an initiating one.  The Executive, Interest groups, Members of Parliament have the key role of originating what could eventually end up as Acts of Parliament.

Hon Oulanya said that there seems to be a gap between Parliament and the public which ought to be closed. The Public should work closely with Parliament in executing its roles. “there exists a provision for members of the public to participate in public hearings when Bills are being scrutinized at Committee stages. This is something that civil society and the general public need to embrace – because the hearings were created for them” Oulanyah said.

The Deputy Speaker dwelt on what the public could do to add value to what Parliament does. “Private Bills are an opportunity for you, the public to initiate a law. You can also present petitions on important matters to the Office of the Speaker or via your area MP”. He emphasized that various opinion should create a working relationship with Parliament. He advised that people should desist from making adverse public statements in the media that harm the image of Parliament without adequate information or cross-checking of facts.

Hon. Wandera Ogalo, former EALA MP agreed with the Dep. Speaker that there is a lot of public misconception about Parliament, which the Institution alone cannot rectify without input from civic society and the general public. Prof. Gerald Karyeija said that the Public needs to take responsibility and engage their MPs on all fronts. “As voters and individuals – we need to establish the stand of our MPs on issues that affect us and those being debated in Parliament. We also need to clearly define the kind of MPs we want and what we expect from Parliament so that we have a basis to judge them”.

Francis Gimara, President of the Uganda Law Society said that the Public needed to understand what the role of an MP is according to the Constitution before formulating expectations. “Is the duty of an MP to give you school fees, buy an ambulance and cover funeral expenses? Is it he/she who repairs roads?”

The interface involved different civil society organizations and was opened by the Speaker, Rt Hon. Kadaga who stressed that Parliament was committed to improve its engagement with civil society. This was one in a series of events planned for Parliament week which is running under the theme, “Engaging the public in a people-centered Parliament”.

In the Question & Answer session, I asked why Parliament found it necessary to establish its own Radio (currently in the offing) with the attendant huge expense instead of strengthening UBC and securing slots for Parliament as is the case with BBC which avails space to Parliament in UK.  The House of Lords & Commons in Britain don’t have a Media outlet but get adequate coverage from the BBC and the broad Spectrum of other media. Why can’t we do the same in Uganda?

The explanation was that UBC is controlled by the Executive and Parliament as an independent arm & does not want to cow-tow on the whims and fancies of another arm of Government!