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Checks and balances in our democracy

By Vision Reporter

Added 5th December 2002 03:00 AM

Reading the Hansard of November 14, 2002, one gets the impression that some MPs do not want close scrutiny of the conduct of their business. Mrs Salaamu Musumba alleged that raising public concern over perceived arbitrary actions of some MPs in relation t

Reading the Hansard of November 14, 2002, one gets the impression that some MPs do not want close scrutiny of the conduct of their business. Mrs Salaamu Musumba alleged that raising public concern over perceived arbitrary actions of some MPs in relation t

By Ofwono Opondo

SINCE the end of the Cold War, the United States remained the only world superpower with no other country having the ability to challenge its dominance whether militarily or economically.

Last year’s twin terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, have banished even the slightest of any genuine criticism of that establishment to the periphery.

This situation is quite similar to the political development Uganda has gone through in the last couple of decades, to the extent that sometimes genuine criticism of certain institutions is seen as a taboo.

Today the world is experiencing US unilateralism but cajoling the United Nations or its western allies in NATO. That type of unilateralism should not be allowed to creep back into our governance.

Now, back to our own politics. The 1995 Constitution came as a watershed from the dark days of omnipotent and tyrannical executive powers under Milton Obote, Idi Amin and back to Obote II.

The new constitutional arrangement was meant to separate and distribute state power among the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary as the traditional apparatus of the state.

This was to ensure that no single organ ever monopolises power, but also to ensure proper checks and balances, so as to avoid the “unipolar,” system we are in now under US hegemony.

But Article 1 spelt out that power belongs to the people and whosoever governs them does so through universal acceptance in elections or referenda.

Reading the Hansard of November 14, 2002, one gets the impression that some MPs do not want close scrutiny of the conduct of their business.

In this particular Hansard, Mrs Salaamu Musumba alleged that raising public concern over perceived arbitrary actions of some MPs in relation to corruption claims constituted “an attack on the institution of Parliament”. She stated, “If Mr Ofwono-Opondo continues to abuse, insult and put to disrepute the institution of Parliament, I think it is a design.… To me it is beyond just an abuse of Parliament and its privilege; it is an attack on democracy.”

These statements are put out of context and are possibly meant to falsely galvanise the whole Parliament as an institution under attack from the Executive.

It should also be stated that, among other roles, the Secretariat carries out mass political mobilisation during which complaints come from the public. Therefore public disclosur, when done in good faith of the perceived injustice, is one sure way to raise public awareness, and cause investigation. The accusations that there is a design by the Movement Secretariat or its officials to undermine the credibility of Parliament are not backed by facts. Every democratic effort through explanation will continue to be made to ensure that this propaganda that the Movement is anti-Parliament and judiciary does not gain currency in the country.

The trends since 1986, expansion of the NRC, and election of the constituent assembly and the last two parliaments through universal adult suffrage prove the Movement’s commitment to an independent and viable legislature.

Then there have been arguments mainly by some MPs that Parliament is the supreme organ of the State. It is the Constitution, which is supreme because all the other organs derive their powers from it. Under the 1995 Constitution, Parliament is only supreme in so far as legislative powers are concerned, while courts are supreme of judicial matters.

This naked reality should be told over and over again so that Uganda does not slide back into the tyranny of one arm of the State as it had done before the advent of the new constitution!

False claims have also been made that pointing fingers at some alleged errant MPs was an affront targeted at individuals critical of the Movement and the Executive.

It has also been claimed in this paper by some prominent government officials that the conduct of some MPs should not be questioned because it would discourage those fighting against corruption. To the contrary, every effort should be made to plug the loopholes so that those investigating and tracking corrupt officials do not get compromised along the way.

These claims are not only false but also calculated to portray the Movement as not interested in fighting corruption, but that instead it fronts and protects corrupt elements within the system.

This is the reason an invocation has been made about the “same political family”. Yet it is on record that when Brig Jim Muhwezi was being censured in 1997, or when President Yoweri Museveni was being publicly maligned over the sale of UCB, this cry of “one political family,” was never invoked.

It is interesting that some of the MPs, who have been at the vanguard of public disclosure of social ills, should now cry foul and again invoke the use of “wrong forum.”

Those who are not MPs cannot be expected to raise their grievances in Parliament unless they are invited and examined under its rules.

Ofwono Opondo is director of information at the Movement Secretariat

Checks and balances in our democracy

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