By Onghwens Kisangala
Last week, David Pulkol, the Director of African Leadership Institute (AFLI), was schedulled to present AFLIs parliamentary performance scoreboard prior to the release of the report on the performance of MPs. The MPs protested. The Independent’s Onghwens Kisangala talked to Pulkol about the issues surrounding the matter.
What is this parliamentary performance scorecard thing?
It is a scientific tool we are trying to develop for the electorates to use to evaluate the performance of their own legislators. These MPs are chosen by their people to be their spokespersons at the national decision making arena huge trust and responsibility placed on these individuals by ordinary men and women.
Therefore, it is important to have factual information that citizens can use especially those that are very far from parliament to understand what their representatives are doing. They need to use this information to be able to appreciate their MPs or question them and even take them on if they are underperforming. When elections come in 2011, citizens must be able to make informed decisions. This is what African Leadership Institute (AFLI) is trying to make possible, not witch-hunting MPs as some of them think.
Last week you were heckled by MPs when you went to seek their views about AFLIs parliamentary performance scorecard before the report is released, what do you make of it?
Well, for us we know what we are doing and we expected this. It is like throwing an object into a beehive, they will all be out to sting you. So it looks like we have just provoked a situation, but for us that is okay. The session was merely to consult MPs, explain to them what they should expect and be able to interpret the scorecard when it comes. It was also an opportunity for them to ask questions. Instead, there was a group of these MPs who came late and made the whole thing rowdy. It looked like the objective was not to listen but rather to quash this report and block its publication.
Why do you have to consult MPs before you publish the AFLI scorecard?
For us we thought that it was important to share a moment with the people being assessed. We did not give the results of the assessment but we simply had an opportunity to explain to them the criteria and the theory behind the parliamentary scorecard, the research we undertake to do the job and so on.
PMs complain that your assessment of them is unfair, what criteria do you use to do this?
To generate the scorecard, we study the records for example of attendance. We read the entire attendance record of the year and establish how many times each MP was present or absent and why. We also look at participation; what contribution did a particular MP make in a particular debate? We also consider the amount of influence the person may have exerted to determine the quality of his arguments. For example, who or how many people referred to your point in the ensuing debate or was it of no consequence? Whom did you lobby in pursuit of a particular Bill? The scorecard brings out the movers and shakers of business in the House. We do this at the committees and other levels up to the district council meetings where MPs from the district are ex-officials.
Does the assessment take into consideration the-value-for-money factor?
Take for example of 2006/07; parliament met only 89 times in the plenary. My God, in a year of 365 days our parliament meets only 89 times and then it takes 88 billion shillings! Is this value for money? And they say they have a backlog of issues to deal with! I think citizens should ask these questions. Interestingly, with so few days to meet, you always hear of lack of quorum for plenary business. Who loses? The taxpayer definitely.
Wouldnt the same procedure of assessment be applicable even on the performance of civil society and other government institutions that receive and spend public money?
Indeed, like for us now when we receive money for the parliamentary scorecard, what is there to show that we have made use of that money? What is the cost of our work and how much do we actually do against what we budget to do? It would be very interesting for example to look at the Judiciary and ask: How many cases have been pending for so much time in which court? What is the average time of disposal of these cases, because justice delayed is justice denied? So, some other institutions would come up to score some of these institutions, otherwise AFLI cant do all or score itself.
Do you have an office in parliament?
We have employed researchers who attend and record proceedings at plenary sessions and committees, except for our challenge of lack of enough equipment and human resources to cover all the proceedings. But it will be in the report, how many committees we were able to cover this time and those that we were not able to. We also send researchers to parliament from time to time with questionnaires to collect specific data.
What does the response to the scorecard on MPs say about leaders in Uganda?
First, it is escapism. The good thing about the attacks against me personally and AFLI by MPs is that both opposition and NRM MPs are bashing us. They say I am biased but now biased against whom? Being bashed by both sides means we are right. All it tells me is that the scorecard is a bitter pill, which some MPs are refusing to swallow. You tell them this is good medicine for our democracy, here is water please take it and they cannot handle. They donâ€™t want to be graded and yet they want the IGG, Electoral Commission, Auditor General, Human Rights Commission, Permanent Sectaries, the district CAOs, every one to account to them. They want others to account to them but not them accounting to citizens of Uganda. I mean it is telling of our leaders that do as I say not as I do. Ohâ€¦ how?
The MPs challenged you about the constituency you represent, might you be on anybody’s payroll in doing this job?
The MPs seemed to have no clue at all in that session. They seemed to think that this is a government of Uganda report or of parliament, they are mistaken. We are doing this for citizens of Uganda. We are developing tools that the voter should be able to use to assess and monitor their leaders so as to strengthen the civic engagement with parliament. They are questioning our mandate; we are a civil society â€“ African Leadership Institute, a think tank. We want to hand over parliament back to the citizens of Uganda. Our mandate is there in the constitution. We want to make it possible to play an active part in the issues of governance, democracy, policymaking, legislation, and others.
Do you get cooperation in the House about data collection?
When MPs are going to be missing in the House for whatever reason, they write to the Speaker seeking permission and he responds. Unfortunately, we do not have those records. We would have wished to factor in those [with] excused and non-excused absence so that we know who takes official leave and who just takes a French one. But the public needs to know that after writing to him 8 times, the Speaker has refused to give us these records and we are going ahead to publish our report without them.
Also in those committees where the public is allowed to attend, we record the proceedings and transcribe to produce committee Hansards. We produce our own Hansards because since history, they have not been able to record committee work of parliament, there is no verbatim. Where the public is not permitted like the Appointments Committee or the Business Committee, we cannot access data. Although if you asked me, I would say the public has to attend all these committees. They have to witness as ministers and other appointees are being vetted. So for us we feel that this is where parliament has cheated the public so much.
We are in a multiparty political system and some PMs say they do not speak in parliament because issues are first discussed at party caucuses to prepare the party position for the plenary where deliberators are chosen to argue the agreed position?
That we cannot talk because we came from the caucus is childish talk. MPs should not be intimidated. The people, to whom they must report, elect them. Unlike in South Africa or Namibia where it is parties that are nominated and elected, in Uganda individuals are nominated and elected directly. Therefore to allow parties to own them is not acceptable. Then we will ask whose interests they are pushing. They must also not allow certain members to dominate party representations each time something is being pushed from a common position. Participation must be broader. May be representation can be rotational per subject such that by the time AFLI comes to make its assessments, at least every one has spoken on one or two issues.
In such an arrangement, a dominant party like the NRM would have their members speak indeed once or twice at most in a whole year.
No. I told you that they are representatives of their electorates first before the party. It is a promotional and protective democracy. If for example they are talking about schools, roads, or whatever else, they have to promote the interests of their people first. Now where the rights and interests are being violated by anybody or government ESO, ISO, CMI, the Police or the civil service, they are supposed to speak out about these issues as matters of national concern. In this way, each MP would have something to speak about where he or she is the best advocate because there will be no other person to speak for his or her people better. If in a whole year the Speaker doesnt see you then you have a problem. Put on bright colours such that he sees you quickly.