Dear Members of Parliament,
I am compelled to write you this letter to express my views on your performance as our representatives in the national legislature, to apprise you of your actions and reflect on the current state of our country.
Honourable members, you may not know about me. I am a Ugandan, a resident of a little-known Butangwa-Fuuti village, Karambi Sub-county, Burahya County, Kabarole district, and I have a keen interest in the affairs of our nation.
I believe you are aware that our Constitution guarantees citizens, the freedom of conscience, speech and expression. Further, the principles of participatory democracy necessitate that citizens hold their political leaders accountable with regard to their performance in national office. It is from that perspective that I am writing this open letter, outlining my reasons for discontentment, which I believe are shared by most, if not all Ugandans.
Honourable members, I am immeasurably disappointed by your performance as members of Parliament, which I find well below satisfactory because a majority of you have shown little capacity to (or interest in) addressing your constituents’ and country’s needs. Indeed, Ugandans rated your first year of performance as the worst ever, with a score of 40% in legislation and oversight, according to the NGO Forum report. Here are the issues of concern to me:
1) Failure to prioritise citizens’ needs and failure to design suitable policies
For many Ugandans, playing “political games” is not their priority. They are more concerned with their daily struggle against poverty, unemployment, food shortages, the rising cost of living and lack of access to land or social services. Us, your electors, we would expect to hear your voices on these issues.
According to UNHS 2016/17, more Ugandans are slipping into poverty with about 10 million people now living in extreme poverty. Real democracy means that the members of parliament reflect its people. You are in parliament representing us (your constituents), but let me ask a simple question: How can rich people represent the poor? How I wish every MP were to be given 3-5 minutes to discuss how to lift people out of poverty, just as each was given time to give reasons for or against the age limit bill.
No country can raise itself out of the poverty trap without inclusive and equitable education provided for all, and no country can advance without a healthy population. Why can’t you prioritise important debates on critical issues—such as how to improve health service delivery, or reform Uganda’s education system that has been in place since the early 1960’s—and pass problem-solving legislation on tackling those issues, in a short time, in the same manner that the age limit bill was passed? Programs designed to improve livelihoods are swallowed up by the patronage system and they function as little more than patronage handouts to buy votes during general elections. Yet, you are all quiet, not concerned about this worrying state of affairs.
2) Lack of public participation in decision-making and development processes
I am particularly concerned about the lack of popular involvement of citizens in the formulation of district development plans, the national development plan, and in budget processes. In my opinion, these processes need to be democratised to reflect a bottom-up policy approach, where residents of each constituency participate in those processes and policies—so that the challenges and aspirations of the people of Uganda are adequately reflected in those plans. It is vital that you make sound laws that reflect the needs and concerns of the population.
Most of you do not have constituency strategic plans, which should set the tone or developmental path of your constituencies. Moreover, you are not in constant interaction with your voters. At the community level, we would expect you to have a coordinated and serious approach to community development, proper community mobilisation around development and community-based organising. The exigent demands of development and politics of empowerment require an engaging and interactive leadership—something that seems to be eluding most of you honourable members. You should consider organising consultative councils, which should comprise the representation of various segments of your constituencies including youth, women, and people with disabilities. Furthermore, you need to be active on social media to interact with residents—in particular, the youth—as it is currently the modern mode of consultation and engagement with your electorates. It is also my appeal that MPs should submit progress reports every three months to their constituents on the various national and constituency issues, and respond to any questions that the people may raise.
3) ‘Quiet corruption’ is ruining Parliament’s work
Most troubling to the vast majority of your constituencies is the engagement of most of you in ‘quiet corruption’. This takes various forms and shapes. One not-so-obvious form of ‘quiet corruption’ is absenteeism in parliamentary committees and plenary sittings. This not only hampers parliamentary business but is also a kind of a failure of service delivery, a vice that has a damaging effect on people in Uganda. For example, you cannot crack down on teachers and health workers for absenteeism without genuine reasons, when you yourselves are culprits. Corruption in government is affecting the public sector, which delivers poor-quality services, especially in health and education. In the end, members of parliament cannot be soldiers in the war against corruption if the Members of Parliament themselves are involved in corruption. I humbly demand that attendance of MPs be published periodically for accountability purposes because Ugandans are paying money and you are not doing the job that you are supposed to be doing.
Information from the Hansard and committee sittings indicates that out of about 443 MPs (excluding the speaker and deputy) only about 100 MPs actively contribute to the debates on the floor of Parliament and committee sessions. If the size of the house does not reflect the quality and quantity of discussions, what a disgraceful drain on taxpayers’ money for your salaries and allowances!
4) Parliament is weak in performing its functions, including the oversight role
Less than 50% of Ugandans consider their Members of Parliament to be fully committed to their roles. You should be reminded that leadership is a decision, and once you accept the mantle of leadership, there are roles you must fulfill. You no doubt want all of us, taxpayers and citizens, to be responsible, obey laws and pay our taxes. When we fall short, the government is ready to come down hard on us like a hammer. Likewise, Ugandans will come down on you like a hammer and hold you accountable for your actions.
Instead of performing its oversight role effectively, parliament has been reduced to mere politicking. Instead of exerting pressure on civil servants and executives, most of the Parliamentarians spend your time chasing selfish deals. Parliament has become a job for financial gains as opposed to being a place for persons who stand for a cause. Because many of you are inefficient and not in constant interaction with your voters, it is now a challenge to initiate and maintain a dialogue with citizens that is policy-oriented and not focused political transactions.
Civil society organisations, government bodies, and international development partners cannot continue producing reports with nice recommendations, which never go through the pipeline even though a substantial amount of money is allocated for the research. There are many reports that have been given to parliament and the Government and, if there is no implementation, then it is just a waste of time and resources. We are wasting public funds through allowances. You go for trips around Uganda and the world to get tangible information but it is not put to any useful purpose.
I urge you to give young people a chance beyond representation so that they can actively contribute to the future of their country. Currently, you are creating a future you may very well not be here to enjoy. As an example, decisions are being made around oil and renewable energies; but, it is today’s young people who are going to be impacted the most by these decisions in the future. When planning for the future, it is imperative to involve the people who are going to be alive in the future. That is not the 70-year olds. Rather, it is the 20-30-year olds.
In the view of most Ugandans, the burning issues that you Members of Parliament should be discussing are the following:
- diversification of the economy;
- citizen’s economic empowerment;
- non-functioning institutions;
- rising unemployment;
- dysfunctional democratic oversight institutions;
- respect for labour unions;
- rising levels of corruption;
- lack of drugs and medicine in public health facilities;
- continuous poor results and poor quality of education in public schools;
- lack of potable water especially in the villages;
- the poor state of roads in Uganda and their inadequate capacity to handle the high growth rate of the traffic volume especially on inter-urban routes and cross-border highways;
- rampant mass poverty amongst citizens; and
- the growing income inequalities in the country.
In concluding, I hope that you will respond to the concerns that I have raised. It is the responsibility of elected leaders like you to be responsive to the concerns of the electors who, after all, put you in your hallowed offices. It goes without saying, it is never a good thing to use the authority vested in you by the people for personal gain only, and it should be remembered that history, in the end, is a harsh judge on those who fail in their fundamental responsibilities.
Finally, I remind you that neither the Constitution of Uganda nor the constitution of any party requires you as an MP to hold your party allegiance above that of the Constitution and the people of Uganda.
* Kenneth is the Team Leader of Serve Uganda Initiative