In response to concerns about the possibility of Parliament not functioning when Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa is unavailable during Speaker Anita Among’s maternity leave, the government intends to amend laws to establish Assistant Deputy Speakers for Parliament, announced Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Norbert Mao.
Speaker Anita Among, who recently gave birth, is entitled to a 60-day maternity leave, lasting over three months when excluding weekends and public holidays, according to Uganda’s Public Service Standing Orders. However, the Constitution (Article 82(1)) currently only recognizes the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, with no provision for an understudy when these positions are vacant.
To address this issue, Minister Mao stated that arrangements for reforms are in progress, and they are proposing the addition of Assistant Deputy Speakers. The number of assistants and the timeline for these proposed changes, which may have constitutional implications, were not clarified.
First Deputy Prime Minister Rebecca Kadaga initially suggested expanding the Deputy Speaker positions when she was the Speaker of the 10th Parliament. Her idea was to have a panel of speakers preside over the House in the absence of the substantive Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
Under the current rules of Parliament, only the Speaker can preside, maintain order, decide points of order, and interact with guests, among other responsibilities. In addition, the Speaker or Deputy Speaker represents the House within and outside the country, often requiring international travel.
The concerns about Deputy Speaker Tayebwa’s ability to single-handedly fulfill these duties for the next three months have led to suggestions for restructuring Uganda’s Parliament into a bicameral system, similar to Kenya’s, allowing a speaker from either House to preside when the primary office bearers are unavailable.
Prof. Morris Latigo, a former Leader of Opposition in Parliament, highlighted a previous instance when Parliament failed to sit due to the absence of both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. He argued that such a situation would result in a deadlock and proposed the bicameral model to prevent it.
In response, Parliament’s Director of Communication and Public Affairs, Mr. Chris Obore, reassured that Deputy Speaker Tayebwa had no issues leading the House during the Speaker’s maternity leave. He also emphasized the strong working relationship between the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, with support from the Parliamentary Commission as needed. For technical decisions, the Clerk to Parliament takes action and reports to the commissioners, ensuring a smooth workflow in Parliament.