In Summary

Lessons for MPs. MPs must (re)learn to value their constitutional role. Parliament’s public affairs department should take interest in spearheading the drive to open the eyes of MPs to the intricate nature of legislative business.

For all the many years of writing commentaries, not once have I ever written the words “I told you so.” Whenever I have been right, I have never gloated about it.

But on this one - about the 317 Members of Parliament, who voted “yes” during the age limit debate, perhaps in the mistaken belief that they would get a two-year extension to their term of office, I make an exception.

So, here I go: Hee hee, I told you so, hee hee! I said you were just a bunch of short-sighted MPs, didn’t I? I surely did. I even tweaked a nursery rhyme to illustrate your short-sightedness. (See: “Is NRM a closed system interacting less and less with its environment?” (Daily Monitor of January 1.)

Here’s that rhyme: “Three blind mice/See how they run/They always run after the farmer’s wife/Who cuts off their tails with a carving knife/Did you ever see such a thing in your life/As three blind mice?”

Here’s how I modified it: “Three hundred blind MPs/See how they run/They always run after the party chairman/Who blocks their brains with cash handouts/Did you ever see such a thing in your life/As three hundred blind MPs?”

President Museveni has made it categorically clear that whatever he does, he follows his own beliefs. What more did the MPs want to understand before they tried to “cut a deal” with him?

The President has a calculating intelligence; he can’t cut deals with any of the hatchlings in NRM.

In my view, the egg now on the faces of our MPs as a result of the Constitutional Court rejecting their bid to extend their term and that of the President for two years, is not solely a result of greed.

What is more insidious at play here is the inability of MPs to analyse complex situations and pay attention to details about key things that determine their very legislative roles.

MPs don’t work for the President. They work for the people they represent. The issues they must pay attention to are out there among the people, not in Parliament. Parliament is a building.

The only thing that makes this House (with capital h) different from any other house, is Article 79(2) of the Constitution that clearly states that … “no person or body other than Parliament shall have power to make provisions having the force of law in Uganda …”

Even the President can only give directives, not laws.
Perhaps the power MPs wield occasionally gets to their heads and they forget – even temporarily – its source. That is why I believe Ruth Nankabirwa, NRM’s Chief Whip, who admitted rather coyly that, “… we did not give it (term extension) much attention on the floor of Parliament.”

Paying attention to detail is not our cultural forte. Leave that to the Japanese.
On a visit to Japan years back, I learnt that Japanese would rather say “I don’t know” instead of “yes” to something they are not sure of.

By contrast, the talking heads in our Parliament pass a law on Mobile Money, then they turn around, unabashedly, to say they didn’t even know what the damn thing was all about!
That is how, in their excitement to get rid of the age limit clause, they shortsightedly veered to the edge of a political cliff and, with little prodding, they jumped! The suckers!

MPs must (re)learn to value their constitutional role. Parliament’s public affairs department should take interest in spearheading the drive to open the eyes of MPs to the intricate nature of legislative business.

Thorough research must be done on the important matter of public participation in the decisions MPs make. As Justice Kenneth Kakuru aptly put it, public participation “is one of the basic structures of our Constitution.”
Clearly, the credibility of Parliament rests on the ability of MPs to pay close attention to voters’ views.

Dr Akwap is the acting deputy vice chancellor for academic affairs at Kumi University.