OFWONO OPONDO: Madam Speaker, Parliament is not above Criticism

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Government Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo

Ordinarily I should have left Tuesday’s outburst against me by the ever bully Speaker of Uganda’s parliament, Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga to pass without much comment, had it not been made on the floor where I have no right of reply. But alas, it is now habitual for Kadaga to try ride the high horse on matters of legitimate public discourse whenever she disagrees, or simply feels slighted.

In what amounted to a diversionary broadside show, Kadaga singled me out for chiding with false accusation of disrespectful behavior for stating a fact that government would go ahead with relief food distribution in Kampala metropolitan for the most distressed contrary to parliament’s wishes to halt. A section of MPs wanted ‘relief’ food distribution throughout the whole country, something government said it could not afford for now.

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Unfortunately, the attack, was so laughable because parliament, during the same sitting on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed the 304Bn supplementary budget including for the relief food already under distribution as presented by the executive. Am actually so vindicated that food distribution to those identified by the relevant organs of government as the most vulnerable in metropolitan Kampala, and government hospitals countrywide wasn’t halted. And as well, perhaps, if distribution had been halted, the unfolding scam in the prime minister’s office wouldn’t have been detected this early.

Her outburst, was a futile attempt to divert public attention from the real reason why a section of MPs wanted countywide relief food distribution, which was to give them food parcels to directly hand it over to their voters so as to gain electoral advantage. It is necessary to state that MPs have been getting free agricultural inputs including hand hoes, maize and bean seeds, coffee, cocoa and tea seedlings, and livestock for distribution to their votes, but hasn’t produced much success.

She, who wears a public cloth must accept public criticism. If left unchallenged, the belief by Kadaga, that disagreement with parliament is an unwarranted affront, motivated by ill will, lack of respect or knowledge how parliament works by ‘strangers’ is dangerous. It should be recalled that in 2017, Kadaga audaciously referred to a court directive as “stupid”. Earlier, she also locked out journalists who don’t tow her line from covering parliament and they are still in court challenging her decision. Today, many can’t openly dare her.

While we appreciate the constitutional, political and ritual importance of parliament, it is becoming evident, that those who run it, are gradually turning it into a village court, where all matters pass. That behavior has gradually clogged and is whittling down the importance, efficiency, and credibility of parliament and its members, unless of course they are so blind-shielded with power not to notice.

This is not to suggest in anyway, that parliament, or indeed the speaker’s office, shouldn’t entertain petitions from ordinary citizens. Rather, it is offering unsolicited advice, that voters, are better served through their MPs, and consistent with Commonwealth practice, we claim to follow.

In not brooding even well intended criticisms, Kadaga is inadeptly undermining parliament, an otherwise a democratic institution, and she shouldn’t be allowed. We, the citizens elect and through taxes, pay for parliament and its members and staff. Kadaga should be told that as citizens, we are enjoined by the constitution and shall not stop shinning the brightest light on parliament, and its officers particularly those whom we elect.

As one of the longest serving MPs, albeit taking good ride on affirmative action, Kadaga ought to know that citizens reserve the right to hold parliament in check and it doesn’t matter if the criticisms don’t abode well with the reigning psyche of the prevailing leadership.

But my suspicion, based on past experience, is that in attempting to halt relief food distribution, some MPs could have wanted a direct role to appear especially as caring and providing for their respective constituencies.

In this way, they could have cajoled the executive into surrendering food packages to distribute to households in their respective constituencies as a way of gaining electoral mileage over their local rivals in the forthcoming elections.

This practice that has been repeated many times in the past, with hand hoes, and other agricultural inputs like maize and bean seeds, cocoa, tea and coffee seedlings, and livestock, but whose impact or success are hard to actually quantify.

I want to promise speaker Rebecca Kadaga, that I, and many more others, shall continue to challenge the decisions, actions and behavior of parliament as an institution, criticize its members when we feel they have gone or are going astray.

And this will be done even when those decisions could have been made with best of intentions but when we are not convinced because that is really the essence of a functioning democracy. And surely, the matter of me being paid from “money appropriated” by parliament, is cheap to say the least. But in any case, no public official is paid through the wishes of leaders, however big they may consider themselves to be.

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The views expressed in this article [Opinion] are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Africa Tembelea’s editorial stance.

Opondo, is the Government Spokesperson and head of Uganda Media Centre

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