Sunday December 24 2017

Age limit cost runs into billions

Protest. Left to right: Butambala MP Muwanga

Protest. Left to right: Butambala MP Muwanga Kivumbi, Kira Municipality MP Semujju Nganda, Busongola North MP William Nzoghu, Rubaga North MP Moses Kasibante and Soroti District Woman MP Angelina Osegge display the money they returned to Parliament during a press conference recently. PHOTO BY ALEX ESAGALA 

By Stephen Kafeero

Tax payers paid billions of shillings in allowances and other related expenses to facilitate MPs to pass the controversial age limit amendment and are likely to pay more in attempts to stave off mounting challenges to the Bill that now awaits presidential assent.
Ruling party lawmakers on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to remove the age limit from the Constitution and also voted to increase the term of Parliament and the President from five to seven years.
Some of the costs such as the facilitation given to the legislators are easily quantifiable because the money was released directly to the MPs while many other expenses are either laced in allegations or there are no official statistics to determine what amount was spent on which activity.

Known costs
Close to Shs13 billion was wired to the accounts of legislators for “consultations” on the Bill in October, with each MP receiving Shs29 million.
About 10 MPs, including Opposition Chief Whip Ibrahim Semujju Nganda (Kiira Municipality), Ms Angeline Osegge (Soroti Woman), Mr William Nzoghu ( Busongora North), Mr Moses Kasibante (Rubaga North), Mohammad Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala County) and Medard Segona (Busiro East) returned the money, arguing that Parliament was already facilitating them to do the work they were being paid to do.

The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, which was charged with scrutinising the Bill budgeted for Shs715 million to facilitate its activities within and outside Uganda. It is still unclear how much the committee spent, given that some of the planned activities were never undertaken.

The committee had planned to spend Shs227.2 million on consultations in the four regions of the country with each regional meeting costing more than Shs45 million.
Each of the 23 MPs sitting on the committee was to receive Shs400,000 as per diem while Parliament staff were to get Shs290,000 per field day each. Another Shs175,000 was for police officers on the consultation trips, Shs150,000 for drivers, Shs5 million for fuel and another Shs5 million as contingency.

The committee also budgeted to spend Shs88.3 million on a retreat to consider the draft committee report. The money would be spent on the venue, full board accommodation, transport refund and contingency.
On travels outside the country to benchmark, the legal committee budgeted for Shs400 million to visit three countries. For each of the visits to the three countries, Shs36 million was to be spent on air tickets for five MPs, Shs11.2million on air tickets for two staff, Shs64.8 million for MPs’ per diem, Shs19.4 million for staff per diem and Shs1.9 million for visa fees.

There is also the cost of the Parliament property that was destroyed during a scuffle that ensued on September 27 when a joint force believed to be part of the Special Forces Command (SFC) soldiers that guard the President, among others, and police officers forcibly evicted legislators opposed to lifting the age limit from the House chambers.

The damaged property included nine microphone stands, six digital microphones, three table goose neck microphones, one table microphone stand and the main power amplifier. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said the MPs who caused the damage would be made to pay.
The MPs who were badly injured during the September 27 scuffle had to be treated.
Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze spent more than Shs200 million for her treatment in India.

The bulk, about Shs120 million was paid by Parliament while the remaining bill was reportedly footed by Opposition leader, Dr Kizza Besigye and Buganda Kingdom.
Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake Butebi, who sustained injuries on the head, reportedly spent more than Shs250 million for the treatment in the United States of America with reports suggesting that there are ongoing negotiations for Parliament to clear the bill.
The other MPs were treated in the country and it is not clear how much each spent.

Unknown costs
There are reports of plans to challenge the amendments both within and outside the courts.
Already, six Opposition lawmakers led by Opposition Chief Whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda have sued Speaker Kadaga, challenging the manner of their December 17 suspension.
Other lawmakers have lodged a suit in the East African Court of Justice to challenge, among other things, the processing of the Bill.
To defend these and other legal challenges, government will have to use tax payer money.

In 2011, Police reportedly used Shs80 billion in the four months the ‘Walk to Work’ protests raged. It is not clear how much has been spent to suppress dissent against the anti-age limit removal so far.
At every major junction in Kampala City and neigbouring towns, police and the military were heavily deployed along with armored vehicles and other equipment in anticipation of violence.

Police also used force to quell protests in the early days of tabling the Bill.
There are also allegations that MPs were promised money in millions each to pass the Bill.
This has, however, been dismissed by government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa as propaganda by Opposition leaders to discredit the government and the ruling party MPs.

The tax payer also incurred expenses in terms of money spent in meetings by both the Opposition and government. For example, in the lead up to the passing of the amendment, President Museveni held several meetings with the ruling party’s organs such as the parliamentary caucus, National Executive Committee (NEC) and Central Executive Committee at State House Entebbe and in other government installations. In all these, for example, the meetings at State House, the tax payer foots the bill.

Ruling NRM CEC members were reportedly “facilitated” with an undisclosed amount of money to popularise the Bill within the party structures with some reports suggesting more than Shs8 billion.
Mr Rogers Mulindwa, the communications officer at the NRM secretariat, confirmed the reports of facilitation to the CEC members to The Observer newspaper “to guide party structures as well as mobilise the public to support the [Magyezi] Bill”.

Those killed and injured

Death:The age limit controversy cost the life of Edison Nasasira. The 22-year-old, a resident of Rukungiri District, was shot dead as police attempted to stop a rally that was to be addressed by Opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye. Many others were injured and imprisoned across the country.
October 18: Farouk Bangirana, a resident of Rukungiri District was shot. He now walks supported on clutches. Robert Muhumuza, a 17-year-old student at Rukungiri High School was shot in the stomach during the confrontation outside Rukungiri Stadium. The duo was part of the six that were seriously injured in confrontations between police and Dr Besigye’s supporters that day.

Rukungiri District police commander Richard Emuna and two other officers were also injured in running battles with Opposition supporters.
September 21: Denis Emojong, a second-year student at Makerere University was hit by a rubber bullet near University Hall as students protested a planned move by members of the ruling NRM to table a bill to lift presidential age limits.


Ibrahim Ssemujju, MP Kira Municipality and Oppsotion chief whip: “The cost that some Ugandans will know is the actual money but there are a lot of other costs. Museveni is now vulnerable and he will not stop the MPs and other groups making demands. To help him stay in power, the MPs and these other groups are doing what in Luganda we call kukula (ripping him off). The actual money that has gone on this project is little compared to the colossal sums and other costs we are going to pay to finance Museveni’s continued stay in power.”

Sophie Kyagulanyi, Thematic Manager Governance and Accountability at Oxfam-Uganda: “This was costly to citizens and we have lost because we spent close to six months debating this one Bill and a lot of resources, including money was dedicated to this one Bill. In terms of participation, only a few citizens were reached by their MPs. By this time, the budget process had already kicked off and discussions were on but we have lost that time and we shall not recover it. The budget process is going to be rushed through and we will not get the best out of it.”

ICT and National Guidance minister Frank Tumwebaze: “This Bill was cost neutral. I don’t see any extra money that the Treasury has incurred on these amendments. The Shs29 million, for example, was not a supplementary but money reallocated within Parliament. MPs had to forego their benchmarking trips. You have not had any supplementary expenditures and whoever says there is a cost to the tax payers in terms of this Bill is mistaken. Apart from the Shs29 million, the falsehoods of the Opposition are intended to soil the NRM MPs and are baseless.”

Chris Obore, Parliament’s director of communication and public affairs: “The House has not incurred any more expenses outside the institution’s approved expenditure to finance the age limit Bill. Any payment from Parliament to a member has to go through their bank accounts and in the parliamentary system. Any other alleged payments that are not from that system is not Parliament money. We don’t know about it.”

Crispin Kaheru, the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda Coordinator: “I think it has been quite costly. I wouldn’t look at the cost in financial terms but the time Parliament has lost not performing its constitutional duty. For nearly half a year, we have been talking about the Bill, first in speculation and more seriously when it was tabled. Yet for more than 10 years we have been nursing wounds of electoral reform proposals that have not even been considered. The cost of discussing a non-progressive reform is very high. If the energy we saw was committed to discussing the package of reforms proposed by the Supreme Court and other entities, we would be miles ahead but unfortunately we are miles back.”