Wednesday February 6 2013

MPs who claim foreign travel cash and stay in country to be exposed

Legislators during a House session yesterday.

Legislators during a House session yesterday. Some allegedly pocket per diems and never leave the country. PPhoto by Geoffrey Sseruyange 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

The House Business Committee is concerned that some lawmakers are abusing foreign trips and others have continued to pocket millions of shillings they have not worked for.

These matters came up in the committee, which schedules Parliament work during its meeting on Monday. Members recommended the naming and shaming of MPs who repeatedly dodge Parliament proceedings and take advantage of opportunities for foreign travel to rip off the taxpayer.

“We noted with concern that the issue of absenteeism in the House and cases of abuse of foreign trips by members must be stopped before it’s too late,” a source said. “Some members are cutting their trips, both abroad and inland in order to save some money. This is an abuse and we agreed that the Parliamentary Commission takes up this matter.”

The tricks
The concerns confirm fears that for years some unscrupulous MPs have been pocketing per diem and other travel allowances without leaving the country.

The members, according to sources, agreed that Parliament’s leadership reminds members about the rules on absenteeism in the House.

Parliament’s spokesperson Helen Kawesa yesterday said: “I don’t know about the abuse of foreign and in-land trips, but on absenteeism in the House, the Speaker communicated to members. All members are required to be in the House from Tuesday to Thursday without fail. The Rules of Procedure are very clear on these matters. Those with commitments are required to seek leave of absence from the Speaker in accordance with the Rules of Procedure.”

Rule 101(10) says if the committee on Rules and Privileges finds a member culpable, and produces a report which is debated and adopted, that member ceases to be an MP under Article 83(1)d of the Constitution.

Sources said it was also agreed that all pending Bills, petitions and questions for oral answers be completed within one month.

Due to increased absenteeism in the House, committee meetings normally abort and as a result close to 30 petitions, reports from the IGG and various Auditor General’s reports have not been handled.
Information from the Office of the Auditor General for the Financial Year 2010/11 revealed that lawmakers in the 8th Parliament failed to account for more than Shs4.6 billion in money they took to facilitate their foreign trips.

It has also emerged that some lawmakers, whose details are yet to be disclosed, used underhand methods to obtain facilitation for official travel abroad but never produced a single report to Parliament.
The Auditor General has said the expenditure vouchers lacked relevant supporting documents such as copies of air ticket/coupons, certificate of attendance and briefing notes.

In absence of the accountability and reports, the Auditor General, Mr John Muwanga, said: “I couldn’t ascertain whether the travels were undertaken.”