NEWS ANALYSIS | URN | For his strictness, time management and no-nonsense attitude, Jacob Oulanyah has won some souls as an ideal speaker for the Ugandan Parliament. But he has also lost some, who believe that he does not give members as much time to speak, as Rebecca Kadaga does.
Each of the two speakers have strong points upon which members are judging them as they faceoff for the top job, when the eleventh parliament opens its doors in May, 2021. This is Kadaga’s third bid for the speaker’s job and a second attempt for Oulanyah, who has also served twice, as the Deputy Speaker.
According to Bunyole West Member of Parliament James Waluswaka Oulanyah is very strict on time and challenges the MPs so much, while Kadaga is accommodative, even for those who are less informed, comical, spontaneous and somewhat ill-prepared for debates.
“When an MP rises to give a point, some of these MPs do not know the procedures, and Oulanyah asks them, Honorable member, on what rule are you rising? so sometimes a member just sits down.” West Budama North MP Okot Othieno says that Oulanyah always prefers to stick to the rules.
On the day he is chairing the house, Deputy Speak Oulanyah enters the chambers at exactly 2 p.m. the scheduled time for the plenary to start. Even with five members of Parliament, business in the house starts and ends on time. According to him, the failure to keep time is a sign of disrespect and poor planning.
Oulanyah doesn’t allocate time to any item that is not on the order paper, and does not entertain any deviation. But some MPs argue that such strictness denies them an opportunity to debate matters extensively, while others have developed a fear for him saying that; “he is too strict, and often wants to follow certain things to the dot.”
“If Oulanyah has 45 minutes to handle an item, he will use the exact time to deal with it, yet Kadaga can give you time even after cutting you off,” Waluswaka says. He adds that Oulanyah is often soft with the executive, shuts MPs down and acts like a judge.
On several occasions, Oulanyah has complained about the quality of debate in the house, saying it was going down, and advised MPs to do thorough research and have an understanding of the Parliamentary procedures. He has often asked members to look at the debates in the first Parliament and the constituent Assembly and make comparisons.
“He is very serious, sticks to the matter, and does not want MPs to deviate. Although this is bad for MPs, it is good for the house because he guides debate and finishes the matter in time,” Another MP who preferred anonymity to speak freely told URN. To others, Oulanyah is too tough and principled but also tries to uphold the sanctity of Parliament.
But Erute North MP Charles Angiro Gutumoi, says that being too principled should not be taken as being tough or working against Parliament. Some MPs say that Oulanyah is tough and sometimes challenges MP in a way that makes them feel humiliated if they are not well prepared.
A female MP from Northern Uganda says that Oulanyah keeps a distance, even from those who come from the same area as him. The same MP adds that whereas Kadaga is so close to the Busoga Parliamentary group, Oulanyah assumes his relation with Acholi Parliamentary group is obvious and does not put in any effort.
“I have been here for five years, and if you asked me, coming from the North he should ideally, be meeting us as deputy speaker, but he keeps a distance “the MP says.
Kadaga, on the other hand, is not known to keep time. She usually starts her sessions as late as 4 p.m. and can choose to keep the house in session until 9 p.m. or even beyond, and to her supporters, this is enough to show that she invests a lot of time in listening to everyone and allowing them to participate in the debate without undue restrictions.
Often, even before the plenary session, Kadaga’s office is crowded with guests from all corners of the country and all of them get an audience with the Speaker. A story is told of staff in the Parliament canteen who had been fired without pay by her employer, but was reinstated after Kadaga’s intervention.
It is this kind of attitude that gives Kadaga a niche over her challengers, and as the MPs credit her; “She is always willing to listen and look beyond one’s capacity to legislate, as long as they can represent their constituencies.” MPs also say Kadaga is more of a mother, who does even the little things for the ‘children’ in the house.
They also credit her for defending the institution of Parliament over the executive. Bugahya county MP Pius Wakabi says Kadaga is bold and not cowed by the Ministers. She tasks the Ministers to account and gives the government deadlines, an indicator of her objectivity.
This view is also held by Maurice Kibalya, the Bugabula South MP who says that Kadaga protects the interest of MPs, and defends the institution against the interests of the ruling party.
But Several MPs think that both Speakers are emotional. “You can imagine sometimes someone asking for the removal of an MP from the house and in some cases a Speaker shutting down a member rudely,” an MP says.