The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has issued new guidelines on conduct of Parliament business in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her communication from the chair during the plenary sitting of Wednesday, 8 April 2020, Kadaga said that new measures take effect at the next sitting of the House on Tuesday, 14 April 2020 with the World Health Organisation recommended social distancing requirements in force.
“The following guidelines shall be followed to facilitate the smooth flow of conducting Parliament business in plenary and committees, which shall be held in the chamber and must end not later than 5pm. Every sitting shall have not more than 100 Members of Parliament, five staff of Parliament to be deployed by the Clerk and two staff on the technical bench of government,” she said. Currently, there are 457 MPs in the 10th Parliament.
The new guidelines that supersede the earlier ones the Speaker issued on 19 and 31 March 2020 and again, on 2 and 4 April 2020, dictate that 80 seats shall be noticeably marked in the House for use by the Backbench MPs and each assigned a number.
Prior to a scheduled sitting of the House, the Government Chief Whip, Chief Opposition Whip, the Speaker on behalf of the Independents and the coordinator of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces, shall designate members in accordance with the numerical strength in the House.
“The Clerk to Parliament shall reserve seats for the following; the Rt Hon. Speaker or Rt Hon. Deputy Speaker; the Rt Hon. Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business in Parliament; 10 Cabinet Ministers; the Hon. Leader of the Opposition; any other member scheduled to move business indicated on the Order Paper of the relevant sittings,” the Speaker read in part.
Also, all committee meetings are suspended except for the budget committee meetings on consideration of the budget estimates for the Financial Year 2020/21 and finance committee meetings on consideration of the tax Bills. Other committees must seek approval from the Speaker to conduct business solely aimed at actualising measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prohibition of consultations
Where a Member occupies his or her allocated seat in the House, the Member shall not change seats or draw closer to another Member, the Speaker or Clerks-at-the-Toble; or the Technical Bench.
Also, there shall be no physical consultations with the Speaker or at the Clerk’s Table and any such attempts for any reason or purpose are deemed out of order.
However, legislators said that they were concerned on how their constituents would perceive them when they do not attend the House.
Hon. Nathan Nandala-Mafabi (FDC, Budadiri County West) said that given the situation, the country is already in a state of emergency and therefore, excluding MPs from the House will be disadvantageous to their constituencies.
“The budget process does not know where the Member comes from. When you say there are just a few, it would be difficult. My plea is that we expand this place for budget purposes; you may omit a Member who can give advice in his or her area of expertise. MPs should not miss since the budget affects all regions of the country,” Nandala-Mafabi said.
Hon. Tom Aza Alero (NRM, West Moyo County) said that there should be a message that is communicated to the public to inform the voters about the new guidelines.
“I wish this information could go down to all the villages about the new guidelines. My constituents will receive information that we have been chased away from Parliament. They should know that now we are working in shifts,” Alero said.
Uganda has registered 53 positive cases of the COVID-19 as at Wednesday, 8 March 2020.