‘Rebel’ MPs return as Umeme gets a roasting

Sunday March 30 2014

Employees of Umeme at work recently. MPs want

Employees of Umeme at work recently. MPs want the firm’s contract cancelled. file photo 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Every so often, what looks like a defeat is actually a victory. So it proved during the heated debate on the disputed Umeme contract that our legislators, their “infidelities” notwithstanding, still care for Uganda.
With 12 years to the end of what MPs called “a very bad” contract for Uganda, Parliament on Thursday rejected a proposal to re-negotiate Umeme contract and recommended that the “unfair” deal be terminated immediately. This means that the government would have to pay Umeme Ltd $147.6 million (about Shs370 billion) on termination of the Concession Agreements.

The money is supposed to be paid to the company within 91 days, short of this, government shall be required to pay 20 per cent interest per annum on the outstanding amount until it is fully paid.

The decision to terminate Umeme contract after eight years of “losses” to the taxpayers was reached after the Ad hoc Committee on the Corruption in the Energy Sector recommended it. It emerged that even if Umeme contract is terminated “naturally,” the government would still pay the company $129.15 million (about Shs320 billion). If Umeme initiates the termination, Ugandans again pay the company $98.4 million (about Shs246 billion).

In an unusual show of solidarity, both sides of the political divide pulled in the same direction even as Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi begged the lawmakers to wait for the advice of the Attorney General, Peter Nyombi who was not in the House for unclear reasons. While Mbabazi claimed that Nyombi was sick, Elijah Okupa told the House that he went to his chambers and saw him working.

The NRM MPs, led by former minister Kakabumba Matsiko (Bujenje) defied Mbabazi. The premier told the House how Cabinet had instructed Mr Nyombi to review the Umeme contract and report back on the implications of termination. Mr Mbabazi, however, said Mr Nyombi came back with a partial report and requested more time to consult the experts. It emerged that a team of experts was put in place by Cabinet but has not reported since October 2012.

The Committee chaired by Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South) found that since the taking over of power distribution by Umeme, electricity tariffs have continued to rise and Uganda’s domestic tariff ranks the highest in Africa, and second highest in the world.

In an indication that the privatisation of the power sector did not help Ugandans, the lawmaker argued that the power sector faces inadequate funding, limited connectivity while the power distribution system is still characterised by dilapidated infrastructure in most areas even as Umeme claims to have invested $130 million in the network. The House noted issues of high energy losses, high levels of government subsidies (until February 2012), poor quality of supply and energy utilisation inefficiencies.

‘Rebels’ return
On Tuesday, Parliament resumed business after weeks of unexplained ‘indolence’. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga claims she wanted to allow the Committees time to generate business.
The highlight of the day was the ornamental return of the four expelled NRM MPs. They entered the House in style. Members from across the political spectrum nearly gave them a standing ovation as they walked into the chamber. They put on grins of victors. Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Mohammed Nsereko (Kampala Central) and Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) interrupted business in the House as they greeted grinning ministers on the front bench and reached out to the back-benchers

After they took their special seats - in the middle of the chamber - Madam Speaker who allocated them the seats immediately posted them to standing committees. Nsereko is a member of the Human Rights Committee, Ssekikubo was sent to Public Accounts Committee, Buyaga West MP BarnabasTinkasiimire, another expelled MP, was given Equal Opportunities Committee and Niwagaba went to Rules, Privileges and Discipline Committee. Ms Kadaga has also since restored all their benefits until the Supreme Court rules on the matter.

FDC’s dirty linen
In a case of a dejected man crying over spilt milk, Odonga Otto, who declined to serve in Wafula Ogutu-led Shadow cabinet, citing unfair treatment, condemned the party leadership on the floor of Parliament. The cantankerous FDC MP complained that the new Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Ogutu, was “appointed” and not “elected” in total disregard of The Administration of the Parliament Act.

He also rejected the appointment of former Uganda Peoples Congress irony lady, Ms Cecilia Ogwal. Ms Ogwal is the new Opposition Chief Whip. The Administration of Parliament Act, 1997, provides for the organisation and administration of the Parliament of Uganda and for the employment and remuneration of staff of the Parliamentary Service. He faults his leaders for violating this Act.

In trying to stop Otto from washing the party’s “dirty linen in public”, new Public Accounts Committee chairperson Alice Alaso, who is also the FDC party Secretary General, immediately jumped to the defence of Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, the party president.

Ms Alaso told Parliament that Mr Otto had informed the party that he was going to court and wondered why he chose to bring the matter to the House. Ms Kadaga ruled against Mr Otto, saying as Speaker, she cannot involve herself in internal party politics. As the 2016 elections draw nearer, the FDC should be in better shape than it is.

business in parliament this week
1. The public finance Bill, 2012
2. The narcotic drugs & psychotropic substances (control) Bill, 2007
3. The plant protection and health Bill, 2010
4. The Hiv/Aids prevention and control Bill, 2010
5. The implementation of government assurances Bill, 2008
6. The marriage and divorce Bill, 2009
7. The public private partnership Bill, 2013
8. The trade (licensing) (amendment) Bill, 2012
9. The national biotechnology & biosafety Bill, 2012
10. The anti-corruption (amendment) Bill, 2013
11. The retirement benefits sector liberalization Bill, 2011
12. Report of the committee on public service and local government on the petition by the people of Kilayi parish, Mbale District
13. A summary of reports of the committee on foreign affairs on its visits to Uganda’s missions abroad between July 2010 and November 2013
14. Report of the committee on national economy on the proposal by government of Uganda to borrow $7,000,000 from the Arab Bank for Economic Development (Badea) and another $ 15,000,000 (from the Opec Fund for International Development (OFID) plus another us 15,000,000 from, the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) for the rehabilitation and expansion of Kayunga and Yumbe general hospitals project
15. Report of the committee on national economy on the proposal by Government of Uganda to borrow up to $12.0 million from the Islamic Development Bank to finance the upgrading of the Tirinyi-Pallisa-Kumi and Pallisa-Kamonkoli road
16. Report of the committee on public service and local government on the statement by the minister on non-payment of salaries of public servants.