Absentee Ministers face tough task on transfer to other dockets

When President Yoweri Museveni makes a midterm reshuffle as expected sometime this year, Ministers who will be moved from one docket to another could have to battle against their records in Parliament in order to be vetted.

The Appoint Members Committee of Parliament which is chaired by Speaker Anita Among is mandated to vet all Presidential nominees including Ministers before being appointed to the new dockets.

Ministers who are moved from one ministry to another during reshuffle have to face the quizzing by the Appointments Committee to defend their credentials in as far as being the political head of a particular ministry is concerned. The Appointments Committee after interfacing with any nominee, writes to the President either approve or reject the candidate.

Now, with a midterm reshuffle looming, Speaker Anita Among has warned that Ministers who will be moved from one docket to another will be vetted and approved in consideration of their attendance of plenary sittings.

The Ministers led by Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja who is the Leader of Government Business in Parliament are supposed to attend plenary sittings to respond to issues pertaining their ministries as raised by legislators.

Before sending Parliament to a two-week recess recently, Speaker Among warned that the House cannot treat the continued absenteeism of Ministers as business as usual because it means the Executive is jeopardizing the work of the Legislature.

“Rule 114 of the Rules of Procedure requires Ministers to attend sittings of the House and where one is unable to attend, he or she shall request another Minister to represent that Ministry’s interests in the House and notify the Speaker accordingly; I will bring this to the attention of the Chief Executive of this country [President Museveni],” said the Speaker.

The Speaker had on September 6, 2023 adjourned the House at 2:02pm after she walked in to the chamber but to be greeted with an empty front page and dozens of back benchers.

“Next time we are vetting, we shall consider the issue of attendance; I am happy that Members of the Appointments Committee are here; those Ministers who will be moved to other Ministries, we shall consider attendance,” Among added.  

The Ministers have a daily plenary attendance schedule signed by Government Chief Whip, Denis Hamson Obua detailing that every Ministry would be represented in the House on each day of plenary sitting.

On September 6, 2023 when the front bench was empty, the Office of the Prime Minister was supposed to be represented by; Minister for General Duties, Justine Kasule Lumumba; Government Chief Whip, Denis Hamson Obua; Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Minister, Hilary Onek; State Minister for Northern Uganda, Grace Freedom Kwiyuchiny; State Minister for Karamoja, Agnes Nandutu; and, State Minister for Luwero-Rwenzori, Alice Kaboyo.

Previous adjournments

It is not the first time that the Legislature is pulling ropes with the Executive over its lack of commitment to the work being processed in the House. In October 2016, then Speaker Rebecca Kadaga sent the House on recess after she found that business could not be conducted without Ministers. She said then that Parliament would not continue with the habits the Ministers exhibited in the 9th Parliament.

About six months later in April 2017, Kadaga adjourned the House after the finance ministers failed to show up to defend proposed tax bills.  Plenary sittings had just resumed a day earlier from a two-weeks recess and legislators were set to debate the Bills that included The Income Tax (amendment) bill, 2017, the Excise Duty (amendment) Bill, 2017, the Value Added Tax (amendment) bill, 2017 and the Tax Procedure Code (amendment) bill, 2017.

Kadaga, who declined to give an audience to the then 1st Deputy Prime Minister Moses Ali’s explanation of the whereabouts of the Ministers, expressed disappointment with the government.

In September 2017, the then Deputy Speaker, the late Jacob Oulanya threatened to suspend ministers who absented themselves from the House and left no one to attend to the matters on the Order Paper. At the time, several ministers who were supposed to respond to questions from legislators were absent despite having prior knowledge of the same.

Because of this kind of behaviour from the Executive, on May 28, 2018, while attending a Parliament live tweet chat, Kadaga revealed that she was compiling a list of absentee Ministers and MPs.

Kadaga who is now the 1st Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Community Affairs insisted then that she had spent time writing the list and was sending warning letters to them. However, by the time she left office, there was no official record of which Minister or MP had been issued with a warning letter save for former eastern youth MP Isima Mafabi who she threatened to throw out of Parliament for absenteeism.

Besides the late Oulanyah in July 2019 announced that he would issue certificates to the best performing Ministers for their compliance to the work in Parliament. At the time, most of the government Bills had dragged and special mention was made for the then, Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa, Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, her Junior Primary Healthcare Minister Joyce Moriku Kaducu, then Minerals State Minister Opendi and then State Minister of Finance in charge of planning, David Bahati for their commitment to business in the House.

Kadaga again on November 7, 2019, prematurely adjourned the plenary sitting because of the absence of ministers. Visibly upset by the continued absence of ministers, Kadaga expressed her displeasure with then Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and his team for failing to attend Parliament despite the advance notice given to them about the issues at hand that require their attention.  “We are not going to keep massaging and pleading with ministers to come and do what is expected of them and answer questions requiring their responses, therefore, the House is adjourned until next week,” Kadaga said.

On that day, the ministers for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities; Energy and Mineral Development; Foreign Affairs; Local Government; Works and Transport; Lands, Housing and Urban Development; Security; the Attorney General and Prime Minister were expected to respond to critical issues in their dockets.

While chairing the House on Tuesday, 25 August 2020, she said the Ministers always blame Parliament for ‘sitting on government work’ and yet they do not show up for plenary sittings to handle government business.

In the 11th Parliament, the first adjournment due to the absence of the Executive in the House was on August 19, 2021.  Among, deputy Speaker was not happy that there were no Ministers to respond to matters of national importance being raised by MPs while their constituents were watching TV.

Among, almost six months later while presiding over the House on February 4, 2022, revealed that she would write to the President protesting the continued absence of senior ministers during plenary sittings.

Her statement followed urgent matters raised by MPs a week earlier that required responses from senior line ministers but were deferred due to their absence. One of the urgent matters was by Bughendera County MP Moses Kizza Acrobert, about the deadly incursions by the Allied Democratic Forces-ADF rebels. Security Minister, Jim Muhwezi was not available to respond. Other issues included the fuel crisis and the devastating wildfires in National Game Parks.

On that day, all the opposition lawmakers had walked out of Parliament to protest the continued absence of senior ministers.

One thought on “Absentee Ministers face tough task on transfer to other dockets

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