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Chris Obore, the size of Parliament does matter

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Added 9th August 2019 03:51 PM

Acting as a real spin-doctor, Obore capitalized on a far-fetched argument of “representation and inclusiveness” as though political representation is as cardinal as it is in education and health (Equity and Access).

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Enock Kibuuka

Acting as a real spin-doctor, Obore capitalized on a far-fetched argument of “representation and inclusiveness” as though political representation is as cardinal as it is in education and health (Equity and Access).

By Enock Kibuuka

Chris Obore, the Parliament’s director of communications and public affairs wrote an article titled “Size of Parliament doesn’t matter, work of MPs does” published in the New Vision of Wednesday, August 7, 2019 on page 12. In that article, Chris laboured to pour cold water it the heated concerns of many Ugandans about the unnecessary big size of our Parliament.

Acting as a real spin-doctor, Obore capitalized on a far-fetched argument of “representation and inclusiveness” as though political representation is as cardinal as it is in education and health (Equity and Access).

He goes ahead to cite the case study of Bukedi (Samia, Bagwere, Iteso, Jopadhola, and Banyoli) area to illustrate his point. “In Bukedi, how would a Samia MP or district chairman represent the views of the Jopadhola or Banyoli when he or she cannot ably communicate with them in the language they understand?” Obore asked.

I also ask, how does President Museveni, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), World Vision officials, Civil Societies, Red Cross officials who extend charitable and philanthropic items to those people communicate to these people and others with whom they do not share a language or dialect?

Obore further aimed at those Ugandans concerned about the big size of Parliament by lambasting them thus, “often people outlandishly assert that there is no need for a big a Parliament and or government” then he offered to “exhort” us to “appreciate the fact that inclusiveness is not achieved by reducing numbers, but by increasing them.” Failing to sustain his argument of justifying the big size of Parliament, Obore tactfully picks up other public services (education, healthcare, teachers, health workers, judges, etc.) to argue for their case to try to use those services to justify the big size of Parliament. I find such juxtaposition amateurish and alien to logical thought. We all know education, healthcare, safe and clean water, proper hygiene and sanitation are some of the merit public goods with an intrinsic value and so aim at improving the quality of life of the people. Is this the same as political representation?

Whereas Obore feels so strongly convinced about his justification for big size of Parliament, his boss, the Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga seems to have a totally contrary view. While interviewing her (the Speaker) on a number of issues regarding Parliament, Vision Group’s journalist Moses Walubiri asked the Speaker whether the size of our Parliament worries her especially now that the new districts are coming into operation, Kadaga responded, “of course it does. I have been concerned about that for some time. When we were planning for the construction of the new building we thought that if we had an arena where 500 MPs that would last us the next 20 years. But, already, we are at almost 460, and before June, we shall have new MPs. So, it is a matter of concern about space, budget, facilities and the quality of debate.” That interview appeared in the New Vision of Saturday, January 26, 2018 titled, “Parliament Size worries Kadaga” published on page 6.

Still, on several occasions, both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament have decried the alarming absenteeism of most MPs but just appearing in big numbers for signing allowances, voting on controversial political issues, and perhaps at lunchtime for free MPs’ lunch at the MPs’ canteen. So, how then does the electorate benefit from the claimed “representation and inclusiveness”? We also need to appreciate the primary function of Parliament which is “to make laws on any matter for the peace, order, development and good governance of Uganda” as stipulated under Article 79 of the Uganda Constitution.

Understandably, where you have a vibrant well-functioning decentralization, then such a big size of Parliament such as ours is for all logical reasons unnecessary given the cardinal mandate of MPs. Lastly, I want to interest Chris Obore to a few case studies, given the size of their GDP vis-à-vis the size of their Parliaments. In the United States of America, there are a total of 535 Members of Congress. 100 serve in the U.S. Senate and 435 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the United Kingdom there is the House of Commons, which is the Lower House of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the Upper House, and the House of Lords which meets in the Palace of Westminster. But in total, they are 650 members. In Germany, the Bundestag or Federal Diet is their Constitutional and legislative body at the federal level in Germany. There are currently 631 seats or Members of the House.

In France the French Parliament is the bicameral legislature of the French Republic, consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly. Each assembly conducts legislative sessions at a separate location in Paris: the Palais du Luxembourg for the Senate and the Palais Bourbon for the National Assembly. The French Congress  occasionally convenes at the Palace of Versailles, to revise and amend the Constitution of France. But in all, the French Parliament consists of 925 Members (that is 348 Senators and 577 Deputies).

In Russia, Parliament consists of a total number of 616 Members, that is 450 Members of State Duma (the Lower House) and 166 Members of Federation Council (the Upper House). In China, National People's Congress (NPC) is the National Legislature of the People's Republic of China. Under China's current Constitution, the NPC is structured as a unicameral legislature, with the power to legislate, the power to oversee the operations of the Government, and the power to elect the major officers of State.

The NPC and the National Committee of the People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a consultative body whose members represent various social groups, are the main deliberative bodies of China, and are often referred to as the Lianghui (Two Assemblies). In total, China has 2,987 members, of course given their population size. In Japan the Parliament (known as the National Diet) consists of House of Representatives with a total of 475 members, where 295 are elected from single seat Constituencies under the Single Member Plurality (First-past-the-post) system, and 180 are elected from eleven separate electoral blocs under the party list system of proportional representation (PR).

The Japan’s Parliament also consists of House of Councillors with a total of 242 members, 146 are elected from 47 prefectural constituencies by means of the Single Non-Transferable Vote. The remaining 96 are elected by open list PR from a single national list. Therefore, with Uganda’s population size of about forty-million people, not to mention its small GDP and a meagre resource envelope, is the size of the Uganda Parliament reasonable? Is it sustainable without hurting service provision? Since the Constitutional Reforms are underway, we should think of merging some of these Constituencies and also raise the qualifications of who should be a Member of Parliament. May be it is prudent that each district be represented by only one Member of Parliament, plus a few other Representatives of special groups, not any Jack and Jill.  

The writer is a teacher at Gayaza High School

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