The annual forum of the Network of African Parliamentary Committees on Health (NEAPACOH) kicked off on Wednesday 13 December 2017 in Munyonyo, Uganda, with a call on Members of Parliament (MPs) to increase health budgets in their countries. This call was made by the Speaker of the Uganda Parliament, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, who presided over the opening session of the forum.
The Speaker noted that for a country like Uganda, the health budget remains low and the country is far from reaching the Abuja Declaration that requires countries to allocate 15% of national budgets to health. She decried the fact that while health insurance could help alleviate the problem of lack of access to health care by citizens due to high costs, the efforts of the Parliament of Uganda to reform health insurance have not been successful.
The Speaker further challenged MPs to talk about the quality of life of Africans, which remains very poor. She posed, “The president or politicians will say ‘have many children’, but nobody talks about the quality of life of those children.” She added that, “I’m challenging Ugandan MPs in this meeting to bring a motion to parliament on the quality of life, so that we can discuss this important issue in parliament.”
Speaking at the meeting, Dr. Rose Oronje of AFIDEP (representing AFIDEP’s Executive Director), noted that given the critical role of parliaments in development efforts, AFIDEP has continued to strengthen the effectiveness of parliaments through the provision of research and other evidence to inform decisions, and also through capacity building initiatives. She called on MPs to champion evidence use within parliament in order to strengthen parliaments’ effectiveness and contribution to tackling development challenges in Africa.
The theme of this year’s NEAPACOH forum is “Building the capacity of African policy makers for reproductive health and family planning challenges and opportunities for parliaments to enhance reproductive health and family planning”. In line with this theme, AFIDEP conducted a 2-day pre-forum training workshop for parliamentary staff who accompany MPs to NEAPACOH forums on evidence-informed decision-making. The workshop attracted 15 staff from 6 African parliaments.
Technical discussions at the NEAPACOH meeting today reiterated the need for African MPs to use their functions in parliament to tackle development challenges in Africa through legislation, oversight, resource allocation, and representation.
On their side, many MPs committed to working on these issues, but noted the real challenges they face in conducting oversight over the Executive back in their countries. Many Executive arms of government in Africa dominate parliaments and therefore undermine parliaments’ efforts to conduct oversight. MPs from some of the parliaments also noted that they mainly play a ‘rubberstamp’ role, especially in the budgetary process, and therefore they are not able to address the resource challenges being raised at the meeting. Party politics was another issue raised by the MPs, and especially how this remains an important issue that undermines parliament’s performance. These issues raised by MPs show the significance of sustaining the on-going efforts around Africa to reform parliaments in order to strengthen their performance and overall governance systems in the countries.
Other speakers at the opening session of the NEAPACOH forum included Dr. Jotham Musinguzi (Director General of Uganda’s National Population Council); Mr. Patrick Mugirwa (Director of the Partners in Population and Development Africa Regional Office (PPD-ARO)); and Mr. Alain Sibenaler (UNFPA Country Representative for Uganda).
AFIDEP is a co-convenor of NEAPACOH annual forums together with several other partners led by the PPD-ARO. AFIDEP’s work with NEAPACOH is funded by the Hewlett Foundation.