Why are MPs shy in plenary and brave in committees?

There are unfathomable reasons why some MPs misfire. But the key question is: Why do some MPs shine in committees and stumble in plenary? Is it that many of them sign for sitting allowances and immediately disappear?

Analysis from the Hansard, the official record of Parliament, indicates that for six months, more than half of 386 MPs in the 9th Parliament spoke less than 10 times on the floor and nearly 50 MPs didn’t say anything serious on the floor.
What this means is that either some MPs constantly sat in Parliament for six months (June-December 2014) without saying anything or they simply missed House proceedings with impunity.
With the exception of Mr Issa Kikungwe (DP, Kyadondo South), Mr Peter Omolo (FDC, Soroti), Mr Kaddumuka Sozi (Independent, Mityana North), Mr Francis Epetit (FDC, Ngora), Mr Hussein Kyanjo (Jeema, Makindye West) and Mr James Kiiza Rwebembera (NRM, Bugahya) who have been on and off for legitimate reasons, other members, excluding the two presiding officers the Speaker and her deputy, have no convincing explanation for the pitiable performance in plenary.

In Parliament last week, a combination of absenteeism and the Daily Monitor story: “Worst and best MPs exposed” eclipsed the on-going budget scrutiny.

Why MPs fire blanks
There are unfathomable reasons why some MPs misfire. But the key question is: Why do some MPs shine in committees and stumble in plenary? Is it that many of them sign for sitting allowances and immediately disappear? Or they are silent in plenary because they are not fluent in Queen’s language?

Unlike MPs in developed countries, few of our parliamentarians are linguistically adept having spent years perfecting their vocal talents in the debating schools. Although this can be useful in as far as inculcating confidence, some missed the opportunity.

Is inferiority complex among legislators the reason why they unfailingly dodge House proceedings? Or invoking inferiority in trying to explain the poor performance of MPs will be making a mountain out of a molehill? Is it that some political parties gag MPs to the extent that they are not allowed to freely express their views on the floor? Or some are just incompetent but when the media exposes them, they decide to invoke collective responsibility to divert attention and whitewash failures?

Lack of research is also hindering debate in the House. In complaining about the mischief of “a huge Parliament” in June last year, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah said: “You look at the quality of debate, look at the level of research. Someone just comes into the chambers and starts debating. I used to read the Hansard but I have stopped reading it. We miss the big picture because in our debates, we are so political because politics is the only thing that does not require research. I have been ridiculed and criticised even by the Business Committee, that I am suppressing debate. We [MPs] have a different kind of expertise which we are not using well.”

Disappointing performance
And yet in trying to explain their pitiable performance on the floor the worst performing MPs said, they are active in committees and asked the authorities in Parliament to introduce the Hansard for committees.

However, it’s not entirely true that 90 per cent of legislators speak in committees. As a matter of fact, some MPs have been caught on camera playing solitaire in the middle of committee proceedings.

For others, as the case for plenary sessions, they either dodge committee meetings with impunity come late or simply register in the attendance book and disappear.

The salient images from our parliamentarians are probably that of MPs from either side shouting and scolding each other. The tragedy is that their pay is consolidated in such a way that whether one attends the House proceedings or not, he or she is paid in full.

But for MPs to be more effective, they need capable, experienced and diligent researchers. And at the very basic level, MPs need researchers to help them polish questions for the Prime Minister for oral answers and parliamentary speeches.

Researchers would be able to use the important issues of the day to raise salient issues and debate with confidence.

It’s obnoxious for MPs to sit in Parliament for six months without saying anything. The word parliament is derived from French “parler“, which means “to speak“. Public debate, exchanging arguments, and even political disputes governed by clearly defined rules are the core business of any parliament.

Ours is categorical: Members of Parliament demand accountability from the Executive through raising different issues on the floor of the House and summoning ministers and other government officials to appear before them in committees on different matters.

ymugerwa@ug.nationmedia.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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