Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Members of Parliament cannot increase their remuneration without involvement of the Executive.
The court ruled that MPs can increase their pay only through a substantive Bill or Motion introduced by the Executive that constitutionally is the one financial authority in charge of revenues and expenditure in the country.
Each MP earns anywhere between Shs15 million and Shs30 million every month, depending on how far their constituency is from Parliament Building in Kampala.
The legislators have over the years increased their pay without recourse to the Executive. The most recent was in April when MPs, who are 459 in the 10th Parliament, increased their allowances by 39 per cent and that of parliamentary staff by 15 per cent, citing increasing cost of living.
But the practise in not new, and dates way back to the 1st Parliament.
The 1st Parliament opened on October 10, 1962, a day after Uganda attained independence from the British. Before then, it was known as the Legislative Council (LEGCO) which was a colonial Legislative Assembly established in 1921.
Whereas it is accurate to say the 1st Parliament introduced the practice of giving themselves fat salaries and allowances, it is also important to note that even members of the LEGCO did so.
In a motion “Review of member’s allowance” introduced on June 20, 1963, Cuthbert Obwangor, then minister of Regional Administration and also Member of Parliament representing Teso East Constituency, made a case for an increase in the legislators pay.
He began by giving a lengthy preamble to the salary increments, starting from the colonial era.
“Mr Speaker, I am glad that I have the opportunity to again have the honour to move a motion which concerns and affects the interests of the members of this August House,” Obwangor said in his opening remarks.
“The story of payment made to members of this House as far as when it began to be representative is that prior to February 1, 1954, members were getting Shs12.5 for every night they were away from their stations or homes attending the then Legislative Council business or meetings of its committee. After February 1, 1954, the subsistence allowance went up to Shs30 for every night away from home on Legislative Council business of meetings of committees thereof.”
Other allowances included mileage (travel), special journeys, as well as travel expenses in Kampala.
By August 23, 1954, it was agreed by the government that the Shs200 paid to members was not to be taken to cover expenses incurred in connection with special journeys and meetings called by the representative members.
On March 28, 1955, a White Paper was published on the subject of allowances for unofficial members of the Legislative Council. The paper said that the £300 per annum allowance was designed to cover expenses incurred in connection with their Legislative Council duties allowing £150 to be deductible expense for purposes of income tax for these members who were then paying income tax. But the Africans were then excluded, according to Obwangor.
On April 24, 1956, the Legislative Council adopted a resolution to review the White Paper dated March 28, 1955, which the council had adopted on the April 27, 1955. Allowance was increased to £400 per year.
“Now come to the more recent times on the April 17, 1961, when the Legislative Council was reconstructed on the basis of a council predominantly elected by the people of this country. The council appointed another committee to review the matter which was issued on March 28, 1955,” Obwangor said.
Two MPs oppose motion
Out of 92 Members of Parliament, only Alexander Lobidra and George Magezi opposed the motion. Lobidra was an Independent Member of Parliament representing West Nile and Madi North-West constituency. Magezi was then minister of State and Specially Elected Member of parliament.
When Lobidra took to the floor, he said: “Mr Speaker, as usual I am here, the voice of the common man, the lonely voice. Sir, a country like Uganda with such a small budget, very little revenue cannot afford such extravagance. I call it pure extravagance.”
“I know that we are responsible people and we bear a great deal of responsibility in going around our constituencies. That goes without saying that what happened to our forefathers when they were serving the people in villages? They were leaders and used to carry out their work. Did they have £1,200 a year for running those services?”
Lobidra pondered on why MPs were more interested in making money than serving their constituents.
“Mr Speaker, we should show a very good example to our people outside. I am sure the minister of Regional Administration will agree with me that many local district councillors have sent delegations here to claim more allowance. We are responsible people, should we stand up here and then raise our allowance to £1,200 per year?”
“Whenever a motion is brought to this House, as soon as the government says something on the motion, you know what happens – the Opposition members stand up firmly and oppose it. Today we have a motion on the raising of salaries and now they are quiet and contented because they know their pockets are directly affected.”
The Legislator then asked members to be frugal and considerate to the taxpayers. He said for an MP to go throughout their constituency did not require a car.
“He can buy a motorcycle and use that motor cycle for going around the constituency,” Lobidra said.
“Sir, a few days ago, an honourable member suggested that we should even tax the bicycle, the most expensive means of transport the common man can afford. And he went ahead and said, in fact, he started by saying that the budget made the rich richer and poor poorer. Here we are now, by raising our allowances, we are making the poor very, very poor. We in this House are not supposed to live on these allowances. We are supposed to be here as Members of Parliament and get this money to keep us going and, if possible get our own part-time employment at home.”
Lobidra makes suggestion
The MP from West Nile then proposed that their allowances be raised by £80 only.
“We should have our allowance raised from £720 to £800 only, and that is in fact too much. Sir, this may be an increase of £80, but we are now suggesting £1,200.”
“Soon we shall think of increasing it to £3,000. The minister has just told us here that we started by having Shs200 a month. In two, three or five years’ time it will be Shs3,000 or Shs4,000 a month and every year we are increasing the tax, saying we are supporting the common man. Sir, at the end of this century the common man will be finished.”
Lobidra then concluded by saying when MPs went out to campaign, they promised the people that they would stand for them, be their mouth piece and voice, but they were doing the exact opposite.
“How many people amongst us here ever said during campaign that, ‘I am going to the National Assembly and I will get our allowances raised? None of them would ever tell the common man that they have raised the allowances. It is not lack of, it is just selfishness. That is the cause here. The raising of our allowances from £720 to £1,200 is, Sir, selfishness and lack of realisation of what is right for the common man”
“I oppose the motion,” Lobidra concluded.
Specially Elected MP George Magezi then took to the floor. He went ahead and opposed the motion in spite of the fact that he was on the government side.
The committee had recommended that the MPs continue drawing attendance allowance at the rate of £3 a day, then get subsistence allowance at the rate of £3 a night they spent away from home on National Assembly business.
The committee had also recommended the lower rate of £1.15 for each day of National Assembly business for an MP whose home was deemed to be so near the Parliament House.
“This is the first time we shall start paying subsistence allowance to Members of Parliament who live in their own homes, where they would continue to live even if they were not Members of Parliament and I must be told the reason for this,” Magezi said.
As soon as he finished the deliberation, the incensed minister left Parliament in protest. He never participated in the voting which the majority took.
Outside Parliament, Magezi spoke to the Uganda Nation newspaper. On June 21, 1963, Uganda Nation under the story “MPs vote themselves pay rise” quotes Magezi as having said: “In Ghana, a richer country than Uganda, the member’s allowance was £1,200 which was subject to income tax.”
He wondered why Ugandan MPs were not being taxed as their counterparts in Ghana.
“For the economy of this country, it is not justifiable. We are asking a sacrifice from civil servants by decreasing their salaries and yet we can afford to give Members of Parliament an increase of more than 50 per cent,” Magezi said.