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An empty front bench where ministers are supposed to sit in Parliament. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

Why ministers dodge parliament

Isaac Imaka

PARLIAMENT.

Inability to understand the roles of the leader of government business and the government chief whip could be the reason most ministers are perennially absent in Parliament during debates.

Explaining the possible cause for the absenteeism, government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa said: “Some of them (ministers) think that both the leader of government business and the government Chief Whip are enough to handle any business.”

On Tuesday, members of Parliament complained about the increasing absenteeism of ministers in the House, a behavior that bogs down government business. Absenteeism of ministers is not peculiar to the 10th Parliament. In the last Parliament, speakers had to adjourn sittings on more than two occasions in order to have the ministers in the House.

The effect
Without ministers, it becomes hard for plenary to be conducted because then, there will be no one to respond to members’ concerns.

As she adjourned the House again due to lack of business from government on Wednesday, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga threatened to name and shame the ministers who have dodged Parliament since the year started.

Parliament has in the last three weeks registered a low turn-up of ministers, including the Prime Minister, to the extent that the mandatory Prime Minister’s Question Time scheduled for Wednesdays has had to be skipped on two occasions.

The absence of even the ministers’ head prefect has seen the government Chief Whip play de facto leader of government business, even when Deputy Prime Minister Moses Ali is around.

“I am here and I am in charge. I am monitoring everyone. It is good that the chief whip is active as she is because it also gives me time to recuperate instead of responding to each and every question,” he said, while explaining Ms Nankabirwa’s extended role in the House.

MPs protest
MPs Funagroo Kaps Hassan (FDC, Obongi) and Atkins Katusabe (Bukonzo West) had on two occasions protested the Chief Whip’s role of playing leader of government business, arguing that it undermines the House procedure.

According to the House Rule of Procedure 14, a government chief whip is supposed to, among other things, ensure attendance and participation in proceedings and voting in Parliament of members of the ruling party.

In a text message to Daily Monitor, Ms Nankabirwa said ministers should ensure presence in the House albeit their busy schedule.

“It is true ministers are busy. They are always invited to officiate at various functions; they go for field visits to inspect. They also have ministry work in their ministries and also attend conferences abroad.

“But we agreed that they should delegate and also reserve the three afternoons in a week for Parliament. At least every ministry should be present in every sitting,” she said.
Asked if the ministers, albeit knowing that they have to be in Parliament thrice a week choose to dodge out of indignation, Ms Nankabirwa said “Not at all. The ministers know the power of Parliament which lies in its functions- passing their Bills and budgets,” she said.

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