Parliament- The new members of the 10th Parliament are headed for an astronomical wage package when the national assembly opens its chambers to the new legislators in May.
Besides their statutory power to shape policy and public discourse in a democracy, legislators receive vast allowances, free health care and retirement benefits, hefty salaries and other perks that come along with the title “Honourable”.
If the current pay structure remains intact, the new 458 MPs in the third multiparty Parliament will share more than Shs11 billion per month, excluding a car grant of more than Shs103 million for each member.
While some civil society watchdogs have criticised Uganda’s bloated Parliament as a burden to the taxpayer on account of the exploding cost of public administration, Mr Francis Babu, a veteran politician and former minister, said MPs deserve better.
He proposed an ideal salary, sitting allowance, office management cost both in the constituency and at the national assembly base in Kampala, in addition to three political assistants, transport in the constituency and within Kampala.
However, Mr Nicholas Opiyo, a lawyer, believes the cost of public administration in Uganda is hugely bloated and disproportionate for politicians and political appointees compared to the civil service workers.
“This speaks to the patronage system so carefully crafted to reward political constituencies that maintain the current regime in power,” Mr Opiyo said, adding: “MPs are just but one part of that system. It can only make sense to the clients of the regime and its cronies.”
According to Mr Julius Kapwepwe Mishambi, a director at Uganda Debt Neatwork (UDN), MPs should not look at self-enrichment by plundering the public coffers through all sorts of claims.
“They should remember what they have promised the electorates and the fact that it is by austerity on recurrent expenditures that government can be able to meaningfully invest in service delivery,” Mr Kapwepwe said.
However, the director of information at Parliament, Mr Chris Obore, explained that asking MPs to justify their benefits would be a welcome question only if it helps them do their work better.
“To insinuate that they are earning too much yet doing nothing is speculative talk,” he said.
Defending MPs’ astronomical remunerations, Mr Obore said all their benefits are statutory, just like those of the judiciary and other government agencies. “Do they believe that a country run on democratic principles can work without the institution of Parliament? Mr Obore asked.
Although the MPs and Mr Obore tried to defend their remuneration packages, to an ordinary Ugandan teacher, policeman or soldier, Mr Opiyo and Ms Cissy Kagaba of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, “the benefits for MPs are unjustifiable, immoral and downright discriminative.”
“Do we see value for money or what we see is a bunch of political parasites sucking the taxpayers?” Ms Kagaba asked.
“Parliament is a liability to the taxpayers and the creation of new counties and districts complicated things. Some are serious but others are just pocketing free money.
There is backlog in Parliament and even the new MPs are coming to join the “eaters.” Absenteeism is too much and it is the reason why the recent parliamentary elections were marred by voter bribery because MPs didn’t have anything to show.”