By Martha Nakimuli
Parliament has defended the passage of the Public Order Management Bill .In a release on parliament’s website , a clear description of events which led to the passage of the bill are clearly laid out .The statement also refutes media allegations that the Public Order Management bill was passed in just two minutes.
Below is the statement,
The passage by Parliament of the Public Order Management bill (POMB) early last week has put the Office of the Speaker of Parliament in the spotlight. While several false accusations have been made and conspiracy theories span, none points to the role and mandate of the Office of the Speaker.
In some circles, the Speaker, Rt.Hon. Rebecca Kadaga has been accused of ganging up with the Opposition to defeat the passage of the POMB, yet others are pointing fingers at the Deputy Speaker for allegedly smuggling the Bill onto the Order Paper. A number of media reports have insinuated that the Deputy Speaker passed the bill in just two minutes.
It is important for public to appreciate that the Office of the Speaker of Parliament plays the role of an arbiter in a multiparty Parliament where several clashing interests are at play. The Ninth Parliament has a membership of 375, all of whom (excluding ex-officio MPs) joined Parliament from different political parties and interests. The Speaker’s role in this instance therefore, is to ensure that all those interests are given a platform in the House.
The Speaker of Parliament is mandated by the Constitution to determine the order of business in the House (Constitution of the Republic of Uganda Article 94-4a).
It is normal Parliamentary practice for Members of Parliament to consult the Speaker as the Order Paper for the day’s sitting is being prepared. The preparation of the Order Paper, although a clear mandate of the Speaker, is always a consultative process and meetings are a normal routine.
In the case of the POMB, it is true that a team of the Opposition MPs led by Hon. Betty Aol as the Deputy Opposition Whip visited the Speaker’s Chambers before the sitting on Tuesday 6th August 2013 to present their views on the Order Paper. The same office, minutes later, hosted a team from the Government side led by the Right Hon. Prime Minister.
The Speaker, who had been away on official duty was informed in the consultative meeting that debate on the POMB had long been concluded and what was required that day was the third reading to pass the bill into an Act of Parliament. To this she consented and the bill was included on the Order Paper.
It is therefore diversionary for some media and political circles to misinform the public that the Speaker has sympathised with one side of the House(opposition) yet she met the two different political sides ahead of the sitting of the House, and made a decision based on the two meetings.
Commonwealth Parliamentary practise demands that the Speaker as a presiding officer of the House should be impartial and ensure even handedness between different groups and parties.
Philip Laundy in his book ‘The Office of Speaker in the Parliaments of the Commonwealth’ summarised the role of the Speaker stating that;
“The Speaker must conduct the business of the Office in a non-partisan manner and is responsible for ensuring that all MPs are treated fairly and impartially. Balancing the right of the majority to conduct business with the right of the minority to be heard is one of the Speaker’s most difficult tasks. Given the often adversarial nature of parliamentary business on the floor of the House – with a majority Government and a minority Opposition – the role of the Speaker is often referred to as being similar to that of a referee”.
Contrary to what was reported in the media (The Daily Monitor, Wednesday 7th August 2013, ’MPs pass Order Bill in two minutes’), the presentation, debate and passage of the POMB did not take place in two minutes. The Bill was tabled in Parliament for its first reading on October 25, 2011 and referred to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. The Committee interfaced with several stakeholders including four ministries (Defence, Internal Affairs, Justice and Security), six political parties, Commissions, and NGOs for about five months, and in March 2012, presented its report to Parliament.
Debate on the Bill followed for several weeks with Parliament grappling with the implications of the Constitutional Court ruling in the case of Muwanga Kivumbi vs Attorney General (Constitutional Petition No.9 of 2005). MPs proposed several amendments to the Bill, some of which were adopted and the Bill amended, until it was passed on August 6th, 2013.
The public should appreciate therefore, that the Parliament of Uganda and the Office of the Speaker in particular, have no intentions of disregarding procedure while passing laws, so as to please particular political interests.
Parliament has as its primary responsibilities; accessing the propriety of proposed laws, making amendments where necessary, passing the laws and is accountable to the Constitution while doing so. At no one time therefore, will the Office of the Speaker be caught off guard abusing the Constitution to serve selfish interests.
In a multi party Parliament, it may not always be possible to serve and satisfy all parties all the time. What is important at the end of the day, is that all business conducted in the House is done in line with the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure; the two most important guiding principles in the legislature.