Honouring the Dead: Special sittings should be held in the morning to allow the ordinary sessions in the afternoon, Ms Rose Akol (Bukedea) suggested to Parliament.
It has not helped matters that while the budgeting process is approaching the evening of its life, the lack of focus and the unprecedented levels of absenteeism in Parliament, has compounded the predicament that we all find ourselves in today.
But in trying to help the government fix the shortfalls in the 2014/15 Budget, the lawmakers on the Budget Committee last week proposed the new phone tax of Shs5,000. This would generate an additional Shs87.5 billion. This proposal had been mooted by Shadow finance minister Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo County), in trying to widen the tax base.
However, the next day, the Budget Committee had dropped the proposal in public interest. It turned out that instead of widening the tax base, the MPs were blindly trying to encourage the government to deepen the tax base-- balancing the books on the backs of the poor in the process.
Mr Ekanya was grilled by his colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet for taking the proposal to the Budget Committee without consulting the Opposition leadership. This explains why the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Wafula Oguttu, confronted the proposal. Other legislators joined the chorus and demanded that the phone tax be dropped because Ugandans are already paying tax on airtime.
Some Ugandans were sarcastic in their response to the proposed phone tax of Shs5,000 annually. For instance, commenting on the proposal, a Daily Monitor online reader, Mr Godfrey Iga, had this to say: “When, the [tax] increase has been passed into law, they will then give themselves pay increase justifying it for being hard working. They don’t live in the real world since their taxes are paid by the ordinary person who is already over burdened by their emoluments in parliament.”
After dropping Ekanya’s phone tax, the Budget Committee chaired by Amos Lugoloobi (Ntenjeru North) resolved to tax sports betting to the fillet by raising taxes by 100 per cent, introduce an annual fee for mandatory inspection of all vehicles in the country and tax mobile money deposits. The Budget Committee proposals have since been forwarded to the President for consideration ahead of 2014/15 budget reading next month.
MPs quiz Kiwanuka
Busiro North MP Gilbert Bukenya raised concern over non-payment of health workers in Wakiso and all over the country in general and called on the government to act. However, after junior Finance minister Aston Kajara failed to explain the endless delays in paying salaries for civil servants and why some had missed pay for several months, Ms Maria Kiwanuka, the Finance minister, rushed to Parliament this week to clear the air.
On Thursday, she was forced to retract her statement that the government had deleted over 9,000 records for civil servants they considered to be ghosts and thus made a saving of more than Shs9 billion. However, MPs told Ms Kiwanuka that the Shs9 billion was not a saving, it’s the money owed to the ‘hungry’ civil servants ministry of Finance officials hurriedly deleted from the payroll and unfairly declared ghosts without proof.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has since instituted a select committee to investigate the delays in paying civil servants salaries even after another Committee of Parliament—The Public Service and Local Government - wasted time investigating the same matter.
Questions on South Sudan war
Leader of Opposition in Parliament on Wednesday presented a statement on South Sudan, demanding to know what UPDF was still doing in a troubled nation if it’s not for peacekeeping or peace enforcement according to Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi. Mr Oguttu also demanded explanation on what International Law instrument the government was basing on to keep “our forces” in combat operations in a civil war of a foreign severing state and who is funding the UPDF operations in South Sudan.
Quoting Article 79(1), Mr Oguttu said, under the Constitution, Parliament is mandated to make laws on any matter for peace, order, development and good governance of Uganda. He said the matter of the deployment of “our soldiers” in South Sudan is a matter of national importance and that the government must explain the mission.
In what looks like a vote of no confidence in the House Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, Mr Oguttu reminded the House that even after the Speaker instructed the committee to remain abreast of the UPDF mission to South Sudan and report to the House, her directive was not disregarded without explanation.
Speaker Kadaga directed the Defence Committee to report to Parliament during the 4th Session, which is scheduled for June.