Parliament has amended its rules of procedure to allow for virtual proceedings in both committee and plenary sessions. This will allow Parliamentary business to run through a designated digital platform that enables MPs and staff to attend the meetings remotely.
The amendment followed a directive from the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga to the Rules, Privileges and Discipline committee, to consider amendment of the rules to allow parliament to operate virtually especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The virtual Parliament is envisaged to enable MP’s comply with the Public Health requirement of social distancing and limit the spread of Coronavirus Disease. The current number of MP’s and parliament staff required to attend each parliamentary meeting and the available space in the meeting rooms both for plenary sittings and committee meetings cannot meet the requirement for social distancing.
The Ninth Parliament is composed of 457 MP’s and each committee consists of a maximum of 35 and 30 legislators for Standing and Sectoral Committees respectively.
According to Clement Ongalo Obote, the Chairperson of the Rules Committee, it was deemed imperative to adopt a Virtual Parliament in order to ensure that business is not interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic or any other exceptional circumstances or emergencies as determined by the Speaker from time to time.
In his report adopted by MPs, Ongalo recommended that parliament adopts a hybrid virtual Parliament and not a Complete Virtual Parliament to allow some MPs to be physically present at the meeting while others participate in the same meeting through a designated digital platform. He said that a Complete Virtual Parliament would be challenged since the communications infrastructure in Parliament and the country today is inadequate.
“There are currently challenges of having every Member of Parliament logged onto the Virtual Parliament at the same time. The Committee, therefore, notes that as parliament pilots the virtual Parliament, a hybrid approach is the more feasible,” said Ongalo.
Following the report, Parliament resolved that a member virtually present in the House shall stand or sit against a background that maintains the decorum of the Chamber at all times and in regard to time and manner of speaking, a member desiring to speak shall raise his or her hand and not speak until he or she catches the Speaker’s eye.
In regard to voting, the Speaker is mandated under the new rules to designate a specific voting method for a member virtually present in the House.
These same rules governing the participation of Members in the proceedings of Parliament outside the Chamber of through the designated digital platform shall apply to participation of Members in meetings of a committee. Kadaga emphasized that a decent dress code should be adhered to even when members are making submissions virtually.