Members of Parliament have disagreed with the Legal and Parliamentary affairs committee on the establishment of the Speaker’s panel to help preside over parliamentary sittings.
In its majority report on the opposition sponsored Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2019, the committee rejected the proposal by the Shadow Attorney General, Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa West) to introduce the panel of Speakers.
The Bill also seeks to scrap UPDF representation in Parliament, repeal of the Office of Prime Minister and Vice President, reinstate the presidential term limits and prohibit MPs from becoming Ministers.
The Committee observed that even when the proposal to have a panel of speakers is a desirable practice, it would contravene Article 93 of the Constitution since it would be creating a constitutional position that would require facilitation and other pacts.
“The Committee notes that there is a need for the appointment of persons to assist the Speaker and Deputy Speaker in presiding over the House especially where the Speaker and Deputy are indisposed or are not available to preside over the House. This will ensure that Parliamentary business is not affected when the Speaker or Deputy Speaker is unavailable to preside over the House. The Committee also notes that it is now considered an international best practice in most Commonwealth countries to have additional persons who can preside over the House in the absence of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker,” reads part of the report.
However, the Committee recommended that this should be taken up for consideration during the Constitutional review process.
Currently, the Constitution provides for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker to preside over Parliamentary sittings. Article 82 of the Constitution also prescribes how these will be elected, how they leave office, their emoluments and their subscriptions of their oaths of office.
Angelline Osegge (Soroti Woman) disagreed with the committee recommendation saying that it would be inhuman to subject only two people to chair the House.
She said that in jurisdictions where a panel of Speakers is in place, work is made lighter and that parliament will achieve more in terms of business executed once a panel is put in place.
Cecilia Ogwal, (Dokolo Woman) also said that this is a practice in some of the East African Countries (EAC) including Kenya and Tanzania.
She said that the panel of Speakers must be established and it should carry the spirit of the rules which accommodates all political parties in the House.
Silas Ogon, the Kumi Municipality MP also agreed to the idea saying that once in place, it can be a source of future Speakers for Parliament and that it is for the good of the House.
The Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga appeared to be in support of the idea saying that the proposal to have the panel has stood for some years and had been suggested by several presiding officers.
In October 2019, Kadaga appealed to MPs to plan and move a motion about having in place a panel of speakers to realise the idea which was first mooted during the 6th Parliament (1996 – 2001).
Failure for a Speaker or the Deputy to appear for a plenary session affects the way parliamentary business is conducted.
In Australia, at the commencement of every Parliament, the Speaker nominates a panel of not less than four members to assist.
Generally, the Speaker appoints both opposition and government members to the Speaker’s panel, with government members being in the majority.
On the other hand, Kenya’s Constitution under Article 107 (1) (c) provides other persons who can preside over the House other than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker.
The Article provides that in the absence of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, another member of the House elected by the House presides.
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