Thought and Ideas
Beggar MPs, curse of districts and a case for return of LCs
Posted Sunday, March 17 2013 at 02:00
The revelation that only 50 Members of Parliament can sustain themselves financially was disturbing yet not surprising.
Even more instructive was the revelation that Members of Parliament (MPs) begged President Museveni to help them sort out their personal financial problems.
How can MPs demonstrate such a level of powerlessness in front of someone or an institution they are supposed to superintend?
Wouldn’t we rather remain with the Executive and do away with a beggar legislature? Is it any wonder that President Museveni makes fun of the title ‘Honourable’?
Yet we are reluctant to blame the MPs because we are aware that the problem lies elsewhere: the organisation of power in the body politic of Uganda.
All power in Uganda is political power. At the centre of this power structure are two major elements: the national treasury and the instruments of coercion. In fact politics (or actually power brokerage) is the only profitable industry in Uganda now.
President Museveni holds control of these elements that can be used to subdue any political actor: if you are a hardcore opposition member who can’t take the money, then kiboko etagawa (coercion will be unleashed unto you as you attempt to act politically. Reference: Dr Kizza Besigye).
However, this vulnerability of national political actors is a threat to the Executive as President Museveni rightly observed; because it (the vulnerability) may attract foreign vultures.
Which is why MPs must be kept on the leash: when they beg for money, give them. When they beg for districts, give them; even when the creation of more districts clearly looks like a national curse.
Did we say that the only power in Uganda is political power? Oh yes. For the cultural leaders, the President is the Ssabagabe (king of kings) in Uganda.
For captains of industry and trade, they sponge off the state. For professionals like lawyers, the most successful ones get their mega cheques from the state either by bargaining under the table in out-of-court settlements or contract offers.
One might say that the above groups only hold soft power. However, even institutionalised power centres like districts are not faring well. In fact the only centres of power now are Parliament and Museveni.
Sometime back, I had a lengthy sit-down at Café Pap with Ms Salaam Musumba, the chairperson of Kamuli District. She kept talking about national policy all the time instead of talking as the ‘governor’ of Kamuli. When I chided her for lack of bearing, she reminded me that she was the deputy president of FDC, a national party.
“It is lamentable that district administrations only get 20 per cent of the budgetary allocations; yet our system puts the district administration at the centre of community development. If one claims to be working for the people, then district administrations should form the engine for his or her social development agenda,” an impassioned Musumba argued.
I ribbed Musumba that all she needed was a meeting with the President and her district development challenges would be sorted.
When President Museveni says he can scrap the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) programme and then give the funds to MPs, he is merely taking advantage of the beggar MPs to further his political interests.
Otherwise he knows that the problem is bigger than merely giving the beggar MPs money; for they would end up spending it on their lavish lifestyles.
A case for the LCs
Since Parliament’s irritating demeanour is starting to rub the President the wrong way, our advice is that he should resurrect the civic structures.
What the country needs is a restructuring of power with a strong emphasis on civic leadership (LCs). Otherwise the current power structure in Uganda is organised in such a way that it cannot be used as a vehicle for social development and other policy compacts.