Kampala, Uganda | URN | The Ministry of Education on Tuesday 23rd afternoon called off a meeting that had been scheduled at the request of Minister Janet Museveni for all Members of Parliament (MPs) to meet officials for consultations over the reopening of schools.
In a communication to this publication, Dr Denis Mugimba, the education ministry spokesperson said the meeting has been called off, but didn’t give a reason as to why this decision was taken.
“The meeting between the Ministry of Education and Sports and Members of Parliament that was scheduled for Wednesday 24th, November 2021 has been postponed,” Dr Mugimba noted in a WhatsApp message, adding that a new date shall be communicated.
Opposition MPs had put a spirited resistance to the meeting at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds, interpreting the invitation as an act of summoning and undermining the independence of the House yet under the rules, the Minister has to appear before parliament and make a statement on any matter and later Legislators can debate on it.
The MPs started objecting the invitation, when it was pronounced last week by Deputy Speaker Anita Among, requesting members to prepare to take the COVID-19 test in readiness to attending a meeting with the education minister, who is also the First Lady.
On Tuesday, the Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah weighed in to calm the sharp division over the matter, re-echoing the request from the Minister in a letter dated 16th November 2021, in which she had sought to address MPs on the preparations towards the re-opening of institutions of learning in January 2022.
Oulanyah said that he watched comments from MPs in response to the minister’s request for a meeting at Kololo Ceremonial Ground, and noticed use of very strong language which Members of Parliament (MPs) should try to desist from.
“I have listened to them and I would like to make my one final appeal to you,” he said. “Essentially, this is about those parents, children and teachers that have really had it rough countrywide and the opportunity is coming for the schools now to be open and the communication is coming for us to pass the message on how these processes would be handled.”
The Speaker appealed to MPs to respond to the call of testing for COVID-19 to enable them attend the scheduled meeting and then see how to pass on the message in order to prepare the teachers, children and schools.
Oulanyah had told MPs that the meeting scheduled for 10:00am on Wednesday 24th would be a semi-parliamentary sitting, and that it would also be attended by other government officials.
However, Leader of Opposition Mathias Mpuuga questioned the implication of the semi-parliamentary sitting. Mpuuga said that he is constrained to encourage his members to attend the meeting that is not properly convened by Parliament.
He said that the danger with the suggested meeting is that it will open a Pandora box for ministers to seek informal addresses to MPs when avoiding to address issues.
In response, Oulanyah said it would not be the first time that MPs would discuss issues outside the House, recalling the President’s address to MPs about the security situation in the country. He disagreed with the belief that the (now suspended) meeting can potentially undermine the authority of Parliament and also curtail any further discussion on the matter.
Oulanyah said that MPs would receive the statement from the minister in whatever form and then agree that they substantially debate the matter, when they return to parliament since nothing stops them from that.
Kira Municipality MP, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda persuaded fellow MPs not to attend the meeting saying that it goes against the Rules of Procedure.
Joseph Ssewungu, the Kalungu West MP said that an estimated 1 billion Shillings is going to be spent in a day at the Kololo meeting preparations, yet it would be provided to schools to enable them open up in January.
He said that it would be dangerous for parliament to take part in the meeting since it would set a bad precedent.
Muhammad Nsereko, the Kampala Central MP also said that it would be a bad precedent for MPs to attend the meeting at Kololo. He questioned why the Minister does not present her statement virtually like it has been done before.
The same sentiments were raised by Bugiri Municipality MP Asuman Basalirwa.
MP Ssemujju then moved a motion for parliament to require the Minister for Education and Sports to make her statement in a sitting of parliament and not in an informal environment.
But Speaker Oulanyah said that the motion was not sustainable in law since he had already taken a decision on behalf of the House for the scheduled meeting to take place.
Oulanyah concluded that those who would like to attend the meeting in Kololo can do so and those who don’t like to come, arrangements would be made for them to follow from wherever they are.
After all the arguments, the ministry abruptly called off the meeting.