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Parliament turns into a restricted area

By Dicta Asiimwe

A mean looking policeman stands on guard. His loaded gun is strapped around his chest. A man in a black suit and neck tie walk speedily past him. He must have come to see his representative in parliament or to listen to the parliamentary proceedings from the gallery.

‘This is not a market, it’s the parliament. You don’t just walk in. Are you on appointment?’ the policeman charges. The shuddering man shakes his head to concede he has no appointment.

‘Go back,’ the cop tells him in a tone that does not invite further questions. The shuddering man retreats and trots back.

A few days ago, the Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga had issued stern rules that any person, other than members or staff of the national assembly, would access the Parliament Chambers to attend proceedings or meet a parliament official without prior permission sought and obtained from the Clerk’s office 48 hours earlier.

There is no more freewheeling access to parliament by members of the public. Don’t waste time on the merits or demerits of the regulations. The fact remains- restricted access to the August House. From now onwards anyone wishing to sit in the gallery or consult his/her MP needs consent of the Clerk of Parliament. The hitherto public institution of uncontrolled access has suddenly turned into a restricted area like a military installation.

As the country nears election time and with likely opposition surprise protests at key public institutions parliament and electoral commission, the government access to many such places will be curtailed.

In Kadaga’s new rules Besigye and others can no longer go to parliament like they have done in recent times and caused a scene.

At the parliament gates, police ask visitors to prove they have appointment with any MP or staff of parliament. If the visitor answers in the affirmative, e/she is asked to call the staff or MP and let the police speak to them before the visiting person can be allowed inside parliament.

Kadaga justified the rules saying that by allowing in visitors with no appointments, parliament had turned into a market and not the respectable institution it is supposed to be.

‘Where you work, do people come in without appointments?’ Kadaga asked.

Tom Butime, Mwenge MP, agrees with Kadaga that parliamentarians should be able to choose the people they want to see. However, MPs have always had the chance to choose their guests as the reception calls the MP’s office before the visitor is sent send them there. MPs pick their visitors from the visitors’ waiting room.

‘Have you looked at the Kenyan parliament, does every Tom, Dick and Harry access parliament?’ Butime asked.

In the Kenyan parliament, visitors can only go to parliament if they have signed cards from a senior staff at parliament or a signed card from an MP. In case of the Strangers Gallery, members have to sign cards for not more than two people and guarantee the behaviour of the cardholder.

In the Britain parliament from where both Uganda and Kenya draw their parliamentary system, members of the public do not need permission to access the national assembly chambers. The British parliament website also encourages members of the public to tour their parliament.

Chwa County MP Livingstone Okello Okello said Kadaga should have had a committee of parliament discuss the rules to handle public access to parliament before she announced them.

MP Florence Ekwau Ibi Florence said Kadaga seemed to have put measures in place to avert likely opposition demonstrations at parliament ahead of the 2011 general elections.

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