Uganda pilots scientist–MP ‘shadowing scheme’

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Five Ugandan scientists will shadow five Ugandan legislators in a new pairing scheme, trialled by the Uganda National Academy of Science.

Starting in September, the five scientists will spend a week at the Ugandan parliament where they will shadow a corresponding member of parliament (MP) and meet with the parliamentary researcher who deals with legislators’ science queries.

The scientists will also sit in on science and technology committee meetings, chaired by Joseph Kif’omusana Mugambe, an MP for Nakifuma county taking part in the pairing scheme, and visit constituencies with their MPs.

In turn, the five MPs will visit the scientists at their respective research institutes such as the Makerere University Community Wireless Research Centre and the Joint Clinical Research Centre and Infectious Disease Institute at Mulago Hospital in Kampala.

"This is a bid to speed up understanding between two influential types of people, whose work has a huge bearing on the livelihoods of their people," says Paul Nampala, executive secretary of the Uganda National Academy of Science.

"Scientists can expose MPs to current trends in genetic modification, climate change, biotechnology and intellectual property," says Nampala. Similarly, he adds, "we hope scientists will learn to appreciate policy and law-making processes with which they are sometimes impatient".

The five scientists are being selected from a list of more than 40 who applied following an initial announcement in March at a function in Kampala, says Zaam Ssali, programme officer at the academy.

The five MPs participating in the scheme will come from the Ugandan parliament’s science and technology committee, according to Joanna Sprackett, an international policy officer from the UK Royal Society, which is helping to organise the scheme.

The Ugandan scheme is based on a similar scheme that has been run by the Royal Society and the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) since 2001.

"If the Ugandan scheme is expanded in future years, we hope MPs from a range of committees will take part," Sprackett told SciDev.Net. She adds that the Royal Society and other partners might roll out the programme to other African parliaments if it demonstrates any impact.

Chandrika Nath, POST physical science adviser, told SciDev.Net, "Activities may be expanded to include fellowships so African scientists could spend three to six months preparing briefings on science and technology for legislators and helping committees identify upcoming issues".