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Sugar or fine speeches?

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati & Isaac Mufumba

Voter expectations give Parliamentary Scorecard a reality check

While officiating at the launch of the Parliamentary Scorecard 2008-2009 on July 28, Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi amused attendees.

He narrated how a group of wailing people approached him during the Constituent Assembly and asked him for money to transport the body of a relative who had just passed on at Mulago Referral Hospital.

No sooner had I given them the money than the wailing stopped, the PM concluded.

Nsibambi was making the point that the Parliamentary Scorecard, designed and executed by the African Leadership Institute (AFLI), is a useful tool that, however, needs to be tweaked to reflect the reality of the factors affecting the performance of an MP in Uganda.

I can afford to ignore them (mourners) if I am performing my duties well, but a Member of Parliament cannot, Nsibambi added.

The scorecard evaluates MPs performance in terms of attendance and participation during plenary sessions; participation and contribution during committees; and performance in the constituencies in regard to attendance of district council meetings, accountability for the Shs.10 Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and whether they have offices in the constituency and known telephone contacts and political assistants.

AFLI’s Parliamentary scorecard is the most comprehensive tool that exists to assess the performance of members of Uganda’s Parliament. This year’s is the third AFLI has published and it generally indicts the majority MPs for dismal performance.

However, in a rare show of unanimity MPs of both the ruling NRM and opposition parties have in turn expressed strong disagreement with it, disproving the criteria it uses to assess their performance in the House.  Some like that of Aruu County MP, Adonga Otto have threatened to sue the institute for defamation.

The bitterness is inflamed by the fact that the Scorecard is released only seven months to the end of the Eighth parliament. This is the last assessment before the 2011 elections when the MPs must seek re-election. The impact of the AFLI Scorecard is unclear but MPs fear it could influence their fate or fortunes.

The scorecard seeks to empower Ugandans to make informed decisions about who is best fitted to be their MP, by providing accurate and objective information about every MPs past performance. But is it the appropriate evaluation tool? Are the methods and parameters in tandem with those unwritten parameters that society uses to gauge MPs?

Take the case of Kongasis County MP, Bartille Toskin. He says he contributed to the construction of an examination hall, a library and classrooms in his constituency. These are tasks for the Ministry of Education. However, his office could not be found by AFLI officials and he scored 11 percent, an F, for constituency work. Will he get re-elected?

Bukoto South MP and DP Secretary General, Mathias Nsubuga pays tuition fees for five students in Kyambogo and Makerere Universities. AFLI officials could not trace his constituency office but he was among the top 10 best most influential backbenchers during debates and attendance of LC V meetings. He scored 92 percent for plenary work but was among the worst performers at constituency with only 7 percent. Will he be voted back?

What about Regional Cooperation Minister Isaac Musumba, who maintains a personal grader to do periodic maintenance of the roads in his Buzaaya County constituency? He scored a mere 30 percent on constituency work and could not account for CDF money. Will he be re-elected?

Jinja East MP, Nathan Nabeta, maintains an ambulance to transport the sick although it is the Ministry of Health that should have provided an ambulance for Walukuba Health Centre. He also scored 84 percent for his work on Parliamentary committees. If he is re-elected, will it be because of his work in parliament or the ambulance?

Nabeta thinks it will be because of services to his voters.

Why do you think they (voters) ask us what we have done for them? They want things that they can see and touch. That is how we are rated, says Nabeta.

Not surprisingly, the most powerful parties NRM and FDC do badly in the plenary, leaving the highest score to the single Conservative Party MP, Nampijja followed by minnows from the DP. However, NRM leads in performance at the constituency level followed by the Independents who are usually NRM allies.

Widespread poverty and unemployment appears to be the main cause of variance between society’s expectations of MPs and their legally stipulated roles and functions.

Society might be aware that MPs are legally mandated to ensure that their constituents’ voices are heard and as a result, their needs responded to by government, but the same society views MPs as vehicles for individual and socioeconomic transformation. They are expected to singly deliver development.

MPs are expected to attend fundraisings and funerals, construct roads, pay school fees and provide basics like salt and sugar and bridge the gap where government falls short.

The Scorecard shows that MPs who accounted for CDF spent most of the money on either meeting constituents’ personal needs or providing services that should have been provided by the government.

A report entitled, Parliamentary strengthening in developing countries  challenges these criteria

notes that most Ugandans expect their MPs to deliver development to their constituencies rather than demanding that they play an effective role in terms of legislation and oversight.

It points out that parliaments and MPs “do not operate in a vacuum: their functioning and effectiveness is shaped very much by the country context and in particular the political context”.

The question is whether a person whose vote is determined by who gives him a kilogram of sugar or salt attaches value to how much debate such an MP is involved in while in parliament.

Surprisingly, however, for an institution that should take lead in accountability, the number of MPs who properly account for the CDF reduced this year. Much as some 95% of MPs accounted for CDF in the 2007-2008 Scorecard, only 78% accounted for CDF to parliament in spite of being obliged by law to do so.

Dr Yasin Olum of Makerere University Faculty of Social Sciences, said AFLI has given a starting point to assess leaders performance since the institute is the first to carry out such work and their work has ignited public debate.

I think AFLI is doing a good job. For example we all know that one of the things an MP ought to do is attend parliament sessions, and when AFLI Scorecard records that an MP attended 10 out of 96 plenary sittings, I think this would be a cause for concern, Olum said. He notes that what needs to be investigated is whether, MPs go ahead to work harder or improve their performance in constituencies following the scorecards rating of them.

Youth MP Denis Obua who is one of the star performers in plenary according to this years scorecard attributes his performance to his keen interest in researching about the topic he is to debate about in parliament. This helps me debate from the informed point of view and in the end my presentation can be a reference point for other MPs, said Obua.

To achieve more attendance of parliamentary sessions, Obua suggests that a clear parliamentary calendar should be made spelling out when an MP is expected in the constituency and in the house. Attendance is affected by political pressure that is building up as MPs seek re-election and they cannot wait to be in their constituency while their competitors are busy mobilizing against them.

Majority MPs did not attend all 96 plenary sittings of parliament; an MP like Gen. Aronda Nyakairima managed only 2 out of 96 plenary sittings.

Livingstone Okello is always attending parliament as he has consistently ranked among the top 10 that attend plenary. Ogenga Latigo and Nandala Mafabi were the top participants in plenary business as leaders although the number of lines attributed to Mafabi reduced to 4381 (from 3517 lines in 2006-2007 scorecard) with Latigos going up to 6091 lines. The number of lines the words the MP spoke written in the Parliament Hansard measures participation parameter.

An important observation of last years Scorecard was that most Members of Parliament attended plenary sittings infrequently or not at all. It is notable that the best performers in attendance continue to attend more and more with each coming year. While the top ten performers in 2006  2007 attended between 45% and 57% of the plenary sittings and the top performers in 2007  2008 attended between 68% and 85% of the sittings, in 2008  2009 the top performers attended between 73% and 88% (with 6 MPs attending 85% or more).

The Scorecard notes that average participation has increased again in Third Session: from 616 lines in Second Session to 820 lines in Third Session. This could be partially due to the increase in sittings from 80 to 96 in Third Session. While 88% of MPs spoke at least one line in 2006  2007, only 84% of MPs spoke at least one line in 2007  2008, but this has increased in 2008 2009 to 95% of MPs. This is a marked increase in participation. This means that only 17 MPs did not speak at all in plenary sittings.

It also noted that the debate influence scores continue to increase significantly each year. The top performer in the First and Second Session, Jachan-Omach Mandir Fred, scores 2 times higher in debate influence between those two sessions.

This year, the top performer was Suruma Ezra who more than doubled Jachan-Omach Mandir Freds scores in the second session. In fact across all sessions, the top five performers each year in debate influence are outperformed by the top performers the following year. This suggests that MPs are engaging one anothers prior comments more systematically in parliamentary debate.

The Parliamentary Scorecard is an innovative project that we hope will help to strengthen democracy in Uganda. It does not aim to find fault with MPs or Parliament, but instead to help Parliament serve its citizens better, AFLI Board Chairman, Elly Karuhanga said at the Serena Conference Center where the scorecard was launched. Unfortunately, the MPs who are rated as poor performers do not think so.

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