By Apolo Nsibambi
I thank His Excellency the President, honourable ministers, honourable Members of Parliament, civil society, the Judiciary, development partners and religious leaders for having worked together to enable Uganda transit from a Movement to a multi-party system in a peaceful manner.
Prophets of doom predicted that the transition would be bedeviled by anarchy and violence. They were wrong. Some incidents of violence that occurred are regretted.
We must thank God who has continued to bless Uganda despite the mistakes we have made. We ask Him to continue guiding us as we grapple with many challenges.
We must nurture our young multi-party system by being diligent, forgiving and accepting that opposition parties are not enemies of Uganda. Opposition parties must have sound policies and they must be patriotic and avoid being sectarian.
The critical challenges which Uganda faces include: eradication of material and poverty of knowledge and corruption; wiping out terrorism which has been spearheaded by Kony; resettling the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Acholi, Lango, and Teso sub-regions to their homes; enhancing national integration; agreeing on lasting solutions to the current energy crisis and acquiring the culture of accepting defeat when we compete for presidential, parliamentary and other elections. Additional critical challenges include forming the political federation of East Africa and addressing HIV/AIDS and other problems.
According to the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2005 Section 3.0, the Prime Minister shall be the Leader of Government Business in Parliament and be responsible for the coordination and implementation of Government policies across ministries, departments and other public institutions.
The Prime Minister chairs Cabinet meetings in the absence of the President and Vice-President. He or she is a Member of the Parliamentary Commission which is chaired by the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker during his absence. The Commission deals with emoluments, gratuity and pension and personal matters concerning Members of Parliament.
In practice, the Prime Minister is represented on the Commission by the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs. The Prime Minister is a member of the Business Committee of Parliament which is chaired by the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. He is normally represented by the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs.
All chairpersons of standing and sessional committees are members of the business committee, whose role includes determining the order of business in Parliament and it is required by Article 94, Clause 4(a) of our Constitution to give priority to Government business.
The Prime Minister assists his colleagues the ministers in shepherding bills and resolutions through Parliament. He or she ensures that every ministry is represented by a minister or minister of state to reply to questions for an oral answer and questions which are raised by Members of Parliament without prior notice.
According to Article 117 of our Constitution, ministers are individually accountable to the President for the administration of their ministries and collectively responsible for any decision made by the Cabinet.
Where an issue arises where Cabinet has no prior collective decision, the Prime Minister makes prompt consultation with senior colleagues and he or she makes a Government position on the issue normally through the sector minister in charge of the issue.
The Prime Minister interfaces with the Speaker and Deputy Speaker on concerns of the Cabinet and back benchers. The Prime Minister works closely with the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs in all the mentioned functions including capturing the mood of the House.
The Prime Minister interfaces with the Head of State regarding pressing concerns of the House and seeks his advice.
How will the transition from a Movement to a multi-party system affect the role of the Leader of Government Business in Parliament, who is also the Prime Minister?
The first point to remember is that Article 82A of the Constitution, as introduced by Clause 20 of the Constitutional (Amendment) Act 2005, provides for the existence of opposition in Parliament.
Furthermore, some members were elected as independent Members of Parliament.
Article 83 (1) (g) and (h) of the Constitution prohibits a person elected as an independent to join a party in Parliament. According to these provisions, any person who infringes on them forfeits his or her seat in Parliament.
In the British Parliament, the leader of the opposition is called His or Her Majestyâ€™s opposition and statutory recognition is accorded through the grant of an annual salary to him or her.
Parliament has not yet considered proposals which Government has made regarding the status, remuneration of the leader of opposition and how he or she is elected. These are contained in the Administration of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2006.
Meanwhile, I must point out that common sense dictates that the Speaker and Leader of Government Business in Parliament must meet the Leader of the Opposition through an agreed forum in order to discuss and where possible agree on controversial or critical matters.
It is also prudent for the Speaker to give priority to the Leader of the Opposition in obtaining recognition to speak on the floor of the House after the Government side. Indeed, this recognition is already given to the Prime Minister by the Speaker.
Government will have a Chief Whip who may replace the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs. The Leader of Opposition should, in consultation with his or her party leadership and other minority parties, choose a shadow Cabinet and an opposition Whip. It would be necessary for the Leader of Opposition to be a member of the Business Committee of Parliament and participate in determining the business in Parliament.
Managing a young multi-party system is a give-and-take exercise in the interest of national building. It requires the elites in Government and the elites in opposition to make political concessions to each other so that good governance may be enhanced.
The opposition should criticise Government constructively and the Government must listen and respond to the alternative policies and other issues suggested by the opposition.
For example, Uganda has an acute energy crisis and Government has made proposals to solve it. If there are experts in the opposition who can improve Governmentâ€™s proposals, Government must accept them.
It is disappointing to note that during the Presidential elections of February 23, 2006, opposition parties promised that if they won the elections, they would facilitate immediately the return of the IDPs in camps to their original homes. However, when Government made concrete plans to resettle the IDPs from Teso, Lango and Acholi to their homes, leaders of some opposition parties opposed the move on partisan grounds. This is sad.
However, when the Prime Minister invited Honourable Members of Parliament from the sub-regions of Teso, Lango and Acholi, the Honourable members made important suggestions to the resettlement plan and supported the return. This example shows a correct relationship that should exist between Government and opposition parties.
The writer is Prime Minister of Uganda and Leader of Government Business in Parliament. He delivered this speech to NRM MPs-elect to the 8th Parliament on May 10