State House tells off begging MPs
Posted Wednesday, October 30 2013 at 02:00
PARLIAMENT- Silence engulfed the Public Accounts Committee yesterday after State House officials who were accused of running a “bottomless pit” by asking for more money for the presidency, accused MPs of overwhelming the President with endless financial requests.
Some PAC members had criticised State House of lavishness and for crippling critical sectors such as health, agriculture and education. However, State House Comptroller, Ms Lucy Mbonye Nakyobe, accused MPs of begging and being part of the problem.
Responding to PAC Chairperson Kassiano Wadri, who had labeled State House officials “careless” in light of what members called “groundless” supplementary budget requests, Ms Nakyobe said: “State House is unique and there are things you can’t foresee as an Accounting Officer. For instance, as of now, I don’t know who is going to request the president for medical assistance. Such things make it difficult for us to plan effectively.”
When the committee insisted that she explains the poor budgeting at State House, Ms Nakyobe, added: “There are so many emergencies at State House, all State funerals are financed by State House, and Public Service [ministry] does not have funds for this provision. We can’t know who is going to die tomorrow but we have to foot the bill.”
Ms Nakyobe added that even when an MPs dies, authorities in Parliament run to State House for assistance. “Even those members who go to India for medical treatment, we facilitate them using State House budget and all these are emergencies.”
When asked to name the MPs who have benefited from State House cash, she pleaded with the Committee Chairperson to “let the dead sleep in peace”.
All this while, the rest of the PAC members were silent, prompting Mr Yona Musinguzi (NRM, Ntungamo Municipality) to ask the State House Comptroller: “Who is conning you?” But this question was not answered, raising further questions on whether officials at the Parliamentary Commission budget for funeral expenses and run to State House for funds.
Dr Chris Baryomunsi, a member of the Parliamentary Commission told the Daily Monitor that MPs have a medical insurance cover paid for by the Commission and that Parliament fully meets funeral costs for MPs who die in office.
There was a squabble in the Committee after NRM MPs-Eddie Kwizera and Saleh Kamba accused PAC vice chairperson Paul Mwiru (FDC, Jinja Municipality East) of being a beneficiary of President Museveni’s cash handouts in Busoga.
However, Mr wadri defended his deputy who contested the insinuation that his constituency had benefited from the President’s sacks of money to the people of Busoga. Mr Wadri appealed to the members not to “stretch a wound that is about to heal”.
The latest revelation from State House Comptroller according to the Executive Director Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Ms Cissy Kadaga, will resurrect public debate on whether a financially-strapped legislature can effectively carry out its oversight functions and whether Accountability Committees in Parliament can “bite a hand that feeds them”.
Leader of Opposition in Parliament Nandala Mafabi said MPs who pick money from State House have no “locus standi” to question President Museveni on accountability matters. “These are the people who behave like a hired mob in Parliament each time we try to block the State House supplementaries,”
The Auditor General in a report on State House for June 2011 noted undeclared domestic arrears to the tune of more than Shs804.3 million in utility bills.
Mr Eric Rukundo, a senior Accountant at State House told the Committee that in the financial year under review, State House received Shs173 billion but accrued arrears because of underfunding.
Ms Nakyobe said over the years, State House has been getting supplementaries on account of “perennial” underfunding. She said at the beginning of the Financial Year, State House was given Shs64.8 billion as opposed to Shs173billion. Because of underfunding, she was forced to re-allocate the approved budget to find money for emergencies like President’s travel abroad and others.
In July, a group of highly indebted NRM MPs requested President Museveni to help them settle their debts.
The President reportedly promised to look into their matters. Reports in Parliament show that some MPs go home with zero pay at the end of the month. Others have been dragged to court over multiple debts.