Govt Considering To Create Assistant Deputy Speaker Position

Govt Considering To Create Assistant Deputy Speaker Position

The government plans to amend the laws to provide for the position of Assistant Deputy Speakers of Parliament, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Norbert Mao said yesterday.

The revelation was in response to our inquiries about the possibility of the House failing to sit if Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa for whatever reason is unavailable during the period when Speaker Anita Among is on maternity leave.

Ms Among, who gave birth to twin sons on October 19, is under Uganda’s Public Service Standing Orders, entitled to 60 days of maternity leave which, excluding weekends and public holidays, lasts for more than three months.

Article 82(1) of the Constitution presently provides for only the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, and neither the supreme law nor an Act or the Rules of Procedure of Parliament permit for an understudy presiding officer, as was the case in the past, when substantive office holders are absent.

To extricate the government from this situation that former Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Prof Morris Latigo yesterday described as a “mess”, minister Mao said arrangements for reforms are underway.

“Unfortunately, there is no provision [in law for a stand-in presiding office of Parliament],” Mr Mao noted, adding, “But we are proposing the position of assistant deputy speakers.”

He did not clarify on the number of assistants and when the mooted proposals, likely to have constitutional implications, would be tabled for consideration by the Cabinet and Parliament. 

First Deputy Prime Minister Rebecca Kadaga first broached the idea of expanding the slots for deputy speaker of Parliament when she was the Speaker of the 10th Parliament.

She at the time implored lawmakers to consider moving a motion to have a panel of speakers preside over the House when the substantive Speaker and Deputy Speaker are away or engaged.

The Speaker heads the institution of Parliament and the House cannot under the law sit to deliberate on legislations and issues of national importance unless the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker is in the chair to steer discussions.

Section 7 of the Rules of Procedure of Parliament also assigns to the Speaker the roles of preserving order and decorum in the House, deciding a point of order or practice, inviting submissions from members, or declining debate on any contribution.

In addition, they receive, meet, and interact with guests on behalf of Parliament, act as a bridge between the Legislature and other branches of government, and represent the House both within and outside the country, with the latter requiring regular overseas travel by a speaker or deputy.

Concerns about whether Deputy Speaker Tayebwa can – as he has done since October 3 after Ms Among took leave – continue to discharge all these duties single-handedly for the next three months, yesterday prompted Prof Latigo to propose that Uganda’s Parliament be restructured as bicameral like Kenya’s.

This, he argued, would allow a speaker of either House to preside over the other if substantive office bearers are unavailable.

Prof Latigo said the 10th Parliament in its early days failed to sit when then Speaker Kadaga and then Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah (RIP) both travelled to the United States to attend the annual Uganda North America Association (UNAA) convention in Boston in 2016.

“Things became a total mess,” Prof Latigo said, adding, “If that situation arises again, Parliament will be in lock.”

In a rejoinder yesterday, Parliament’s Director of Communication and Public Affairs, Mr Chris Obore, said there should be no cause for alarm because “the Deputy Speaker has no complaint whatsoever about spearheading the House when his boss is on maternity leave”.

“If there are any issues that may be challenging, the Deputy Speaker and the Speaker have very open lines of communication. Their relationship is very good for running Parliament,” he said.

Mr Obore added that the members of the Parliamentary Commission,  responsible for the administration of Parliament, will support the Office of the Speaker on a needs basis.

“For technical issues, there is a Clerk to Parliament who takes the decisions and reports them to the commissioners; so, you can say there is a smooth workflow in Parliament,” he said.

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