Majority of Opposition MPs and a minority section from the ruling NRM are opposed to amending the Constitution to lift the presidential age limit, but as cash starts pouring in in the name of consultations and other reasons, it is apparent that there will be no consensus on the money.
A section of Opposition parliamentarians have already picked their money and maintain that they will not return it as advised by some of their leaders. The reasons they advance are not any different from their predecessors in previous Parliaments.
The common reason is that it is public money and instead of returning it to government, one rather spends it to the benefit of his or her constituents.
Some people, however, view it as common “greed” among legislators unable to stand their ground and back their positions when presented with money.
Money, analysts and observers have opined in the past, is one of the greatest factors that unites without pushing and shoving, legislators even beyond Uganda.
To take or not to take the money?
On Wednesday, a section of Opposition lawmakers led by their chief whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda stormed the Parliament accounts office to return the money.
Mr Ssemujju and his colleagues argue that no additional funds are needed for consultations on the proposed amendment to lift the age limit.
MPs after all are paid emoluments, a salary and facilitation for a two-round interface with their respective constituents. The other issue is the rationale followed to determine which MP gets what, given their constituencies are different in terms of population, location and other factors. This time, the legislators are getting a round figure of Shs29 million.
In fact, the legislators opposed to the facilitation as happened in 2005 when MPs were paid Shs5 million to scrap the term limits from the Constitution, are terming it as outright bribery.
From the ruling party, those in favour of taking the money say it is part of Parliament facilitation for a special duty they were asked to undertake when Speaker Rebecca Kadaga sent them on recess recently.
Within the Opposition, Mr Ssemujju’s predecessor as opposition chief whip, Cecilia Ogwal, is leading the ‘anti-return money’ campaign. Ms Ogwal, one of the most senior legislators in the House, argues that the money distributed does not belong to President Museveni or those rooting for the amendment, but to the Ugandan public.
Returning it to the Treasury, for those who share her view, cannot and will not have an impact. This school of thought would rather have the money committed to development projects in the respective constituencies. The other school of thought is to have the money committed to Opposition activities, but this argument falls flat given the Opposition numbers in the House. With an overwhelming majority, NRM lawmakers easily take a lion’s share.
Another argument is for the legislators to project national concerns even if it goes against their personal benefit.
In the face of all this, the question whether to take or not take the money advanced to them ostensibly to consult is not new for Opposition legislators in the Ugandan Parliament.
In fact, money distributed to parliamentarians in this manner has been a Leader of Opposition in Parliament’s (LoP) nightmare irrespective of the office holder, especially when the said leader wants to enforce a decision.
Whether money to hold consultations on Naads, the Marriage and Divorce Bill or the alleged bribery of legislators to pass the Constitution Amendment Bill 2015 without electoral reforms, Opposition MPs have always found themselves entangled.
In 2011, then FDC president Kizza Besigye and then LoP Nandala Mafabi faced opposition from Opposition lawmakers who declined to return Shs20 million from the government ahead of the February general elections. MPs like Odonga Otto (Aruu South) and Issa Kikungwe (Kyadondo South) openly vowed never to return the money.
Perry Aritua, the executive director Women Democracy Network, says the argument by a legislator who claims to oppose the age limit removal but goes ahead to take the “consultation facilitation” is lost. She argues that MPs should use the process of the term limit removal in 2005 where MPs bagged Shs5 million as an example.
It is a Catch-22 situation for Opposition MPs. Taking the money is political suicide for some, especially in urban constituencies. In other constituencies the popular option is to share the money other than returning it to the Treasury where they are unsure it will be to their benefit.
After all is said and done, however, will a united coalition against a life presidency exist?