The Opposition in Parliament has raised objection to a request by the Minister of Education, Janet Museveni to meet Members of Parliament at Kololo Independence Grounds next week to discuss the re-opening of schools.
This followed a communication from Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among indicating that the Minister, who is also First Lady requested to meet MPs on Wednesday next week to discuss the planned re-opening of schools early next year.
In her communication, Among said that MPs should prepare to carry out Covid-19 tests on Monday to facilitate their attendance of the scheduled meeting.
However, Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda took to the floor noting that rule 52 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure provides that a Minister may make a statement with prior permission of the Speaker whether for the purpose of explaining government policy or action upon on any matter.
Ssemujju said that under the rules, the Minister has a duty to appear before parliament and make a Statement. He said that if parliament allows Ministers to start summoning parliament, it would undermine the independence of the House.
In response, Deputy Speaker Among said that the Minister was not summoning MPs but rather requesting.
“You are the same people who have been complaining about opening of schools,” said Among. “And I did not say she is summoning, I said she is requesting because we do not have space here that can take 500 people. Choose whether you go or not.”
Leader of Opposition -LOP Mathias Mpuuga weighed in saying that the advisory being passed on to the members can be rejected or accepted.
He told Among that she is the custodian of the sanctity of the House which is housed in the Rules that she is a custodian.
“There is danger in allowing the business of parliament to be conducted informally,” Mpuuga. “That informality endangers the manner in which we can hold people accountable. On this side, we have demanded for space to explain our concerns about education and it has been flip flopping and it did not come through as we had wanted.”
The LOP said that since the First Lady is now ready to make a statement before MPs, the best space to do that is the House to which the rules and privileges obtain.
Chris Baryomunsi, the Minister of Information said that it was uncommon for Ministers to organize workshops and invite MPs to discuss matters of importance. He added that it would also not be the first time for the Minister of Education to invite MPs to discuss a matter like the reopening of schools.
Mpuuga insisted that the Speaker has a duty to protect the House and its dignity.
Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja said that the issue of education is important and it is necessary that all MPs meet in Kololo since the parliament building cannot accommodate all of them.
MP Ssemujju wondered whether the Prime Minister is right to say that meetings in Parliament are not important and do not represent Ugandans.
The Deputy Speaker then said that the interaction between the Legislature and the Executive is important and the MPs need to take her request in good faith and attend the meeting.
This plea did not convince Medard Lubega Sseggona, the Busiro East MP who said that the Minister should be humble and do things neatly. He said that Minister Museveni needs to recognize that Parliament supervises her and not the reverse.
Sseggona advised that Parliament should instead convene the meeting at Kololo since the Speaker has authority to declare a particular place precincts of parliament.
Betty Nambooze, the Mukono Municipality MP also informed parliament how her committee on Government Assurance has found it hard to interface with the Minister in regard to the different presidential pledges under the education sector.
Sseggona said that they raised the issues for orderliness and they have a duty to protect the institutional dignity and decorum.
“I would also advise her as a colleague, to listen to the sentiments of her peers,” Sseggona said. “Since this term began, the honorable Mrs. Museveni is one of the few MPs that have not stepped in this parliament and we don’t take that so lightly …and then she calls us and say….do a Covid test, when does she do hers? When do you look at her results?”
Hamson Obua, the Minister of State for Sports defended the need for the Minister to meet MPs saying that the Ministry of Education and Sports has been consulting on the scheduled re-opening of schools and that MPs were identified as one of the groups of people to be consulted.
“This is purely a consultative meeting. We want to widely generate issues from the people’s representatives…after all those are generated from this consultative meeting, we will definitely come to parliament and report to this institution,” said Obua.
He emphasized that the invitation by the Minister is in good faith and encouraged MPs to attend the meeting so that they generate ideas for the betterment of the county’s children.