The August House Publication; Volume 7, Issue 3, December 2007 had an article: The Challenges of the 8th Parliament, which was an interview of Hon. Erias Lukwago. Read on.
Hon. Erias Lukwago is Member of Parliament for Kampala Central, and the Shadow Attorney General in the current Parliament. The August House sounded him out regarding his experiences as legislator in the 1st session of the 8th Parliament.
How did you view Parliament before you became an MP?
Honestly, I had lots of hope and expectations that Parliament under the multi – party dispensation would live up to its mandate as per the Constitution – and fulfilling the expectation of the people it represents.
I had in mind that the 8th Parliament would exert more authority compared to the individual merit Parliament; that this one would be a lot more independent from the Executive – unlike the 6th and 7th Parliament. I expected vibrancy on a number of critical issues such as the recent court siege, land issues and accountability generally.
The last session – that is, the first year of the 8th Parliament – was one of disillusionment. I am indeed disappointed with the performance of the 8th Parliament so far, which by all standards is below average. We have not lived up to our mandate and the expectations of the people.
What have been your unique challenges so far?
The biggest challenge is how to execute my obligation as a legislator under the current arrangement when I belong to a minority group. For the Democratic Party we are only eight and the entire opposition is seventy MPs in a House of 332 Members. The Movement has numerical strength in the House. This presents a very serious challenge to us. One can hardly push through his or her motion. Take the case of the motion I tabled on the 14th day of December 2006 objecting to the demolition of Shimoni Demonstration School ostensibly to pave way for the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of State and Government. The record speaks for itself including the Hansard and contention by Hon. Janet Museveni that they were going to construct a hotel for CHOGM. What disturbed me most is that many Members voted against their conscience.
It never crossed my mind that there would be even a single Member opposing the motion to condemn the infamous invasion of Court of March 1, 2007 which their Lordships termed as “rape of the Temple of Justice”. Members voted against the motion that resulted in the first walk – out of MPs in the 8th Parliament.
There is a motion that was tabled by Hon. Odonga Otto, which I Seconded to condemn state violence in Zimbabwe. It was well intentioned considering that we are the host country of the Commonwealth heads of Government meeting, and that the values of the Commonwealth are well stipulated, moreover with Zimbabwe having been ostracized from the Commonwealth. The motion was unbelievably thrown out. Hon. Betty Kamya’s motion seeking to establish a Commission of Inquiry into gross abuse of Human Rights in this country, which again I supported, should not have been handled in the manner that the House did. The point I wish to underline is that the 8th parliament is still operating under the tutelage of the Executive, more or less like the 6th and 7th Parliaments which operated under the Movement political system.
The way we deliberate and handle parliamentary business at the plenary of the House is not different from the way business is handled under the NRM Caucus. One would get an impression when we are in the plenary that we are in the NRM Caucus. Little wonder that we in the Opposition have expressed reservation to the Speaker about the way Parliament is being steered.
The other big challenge is the role of the army in the House. I have failed to appreciate it. I have failed to appreciate the role of the 10 member representation of the army in the House. Under Article 208 of the Constitution, the army is supposed to be non – partisan. But for the first year of the multi – party dispensation the representative of the army have been sitting on the NRM side, attending NRM Caucus meetings and vehemently defending NRM policies on the floor of the House and outside Parliament.
What do you have to say about Committees of the House?
It is evident that nearly all House Committees are dominated by the NRM Party. As such you find these committees reflecting NRM policies and programmes. Personally, I sit on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. I was forced to go to the extent of walking out of the Committee on account of the Chair succumbing to pressure from certain circles to change our report regarding PRA suspects who had been brutally re-arrested. We prepared a report condemning Government for the action and the majority of the Committee Members signed it. Unfortunately, the report was withdrawn and an impromptu meeting was called to have it reviewed. To this day – that is, since April – the report has been shelved. It has never been brought to the plenary.
But it is not all frustration as far as the work of Committees is concerned. I am happy with the arrangement enshrined in our Rules of Procedure that four Oversight Committees are chaired by MPs of the Opposition. And, despite the fact that the majority of MPs on these Committees are NRM, the influence of the Opposition is felt. Save for only one committee, that of Government Assurance which unfortunately is chaired by my Party Whip. This Committee has convened very few meetings if any, which is a black spot on our performance as the Opposition in respect to committees of the House.
I am happy with the Local Government Accounts Committee, which has put local authorities on their toes and checked excesses. The Public Accounts Committee chaired by Hon. Nandala Mafabi and deputized by Hon. Ssebuliba Mutumba has exhibited excellent performance in holding Government to account. The Committee on Statutory Enterprises has also performed well.