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MPs must safeguard dignity of the House

29th July 2011
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Editorial Cartoon

For the last two days the National Assembly has treated the public to what many have termed ‘Comedy in the August House’, an incongruity, given that we expect seriousness from the members.

Eyebrows have been raised at the manner legislators have been going about debating what is indisputably a serious business in the National Assembly.

On Wednesday morning the public witnessed Nyamagana MP Ezekiah Wenje being ordered out of the debating chamber for what was described as being disrespectful, following a heated exchange with the House chairperson, Sylvester Mabumba.

Yesterday morning three MPs were served with marching orders by the Deputy Speaker, Job Ndugai, apparently for violating rules and etiquette of the house, such as switching on the microphone, apparently to speak, before being granted permission.

The three, Tundu Lissu, Godbless Lema and Peter Msigwa were ordered out of the House for the violations.

Though this is not the first time we are witnessing these developments in this parliament, the trend has the public wondering why the MPs are violating the very rules most participated in drawing up and all swore to follow to ensure an orderly running of the House business.

It will not be far-fetched to say that the rate at which violations are occurring, may in the end break previous parliament order violation records. We doubt that MPs would be happy to carry such a dubious record.

Having said so, we must state from the outset that the House rules are not without imperfections, which may be the cause of the violations and should be addressed instead of turning parliament into a place of ridicule.

Some members of the public have sometimes faulted as too rigid, the enforcement of the rules and procedures in the House, saying members with valuable contributions were denied chance.

Indeed the erring MPs may in most cases have inadvertently broken the House rules and procedures while seeking to offer valuable inputs in debates.

Another weakness in such debates are the partisan emotions that are blatantly displayed in some of the debates, even if the issues on the table are of national interest, where party allegiances should be set aside.

The opposition is to be credited for its robust interventions on key issues debated in the House, including promoting cost control. The government is now more careful, knowing that it is closely scrutinised in its use of public resources. This is as it should be.

While this is a very welcome development, giving tangible meaning to democracy, some members may unknowingly undermine it by violating House rules and procedures that promote democracy.

The MPs must remember that democracy and order are not mutually exclusive. That is why they must recommit themselves to their sworn oaths to respect the House rules, just as the Speaker must act promptly in offering guidance and dealing fairly with those who err, in order to project an image of mature democracy in the House.

This is important if they expect the public to continue taking them seriously as worth representing them and holding the government and its institutions accountable.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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