As anticipated, the secretive Shs103 million each MP has received to buy luxury vehicles just when other Ugandans are facing serious economic challenges has drawn widespread public condemnation.
Outpourings of disbelief mixed with anger at a House which has been applauded for taking a firm stand against waste in government clouded the re-opening of Parliament as members struggled to defend themselves.
Civil society leaders described the MPs’ gleeful acceptance of the cash as “greed of the highest order”.
“This issue of the vehicles for MPs shows that the 9th Parliament is no different from the rest. It is a shame that they too have turned into vultures,” the Executive Director Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Ms Cissy Kagaba, said.
“These MPs should walk the talk about being pro-people. The opposition too shouldn’t be part of the loot. This money should be returned and used to increase teachers’ salaries.”
Yesterday, Daily Monitor broke the story that, so far, 98 MPs had each received the money.
It was left to Kakuuto MP Mathias Kasamba to welcome Speaker Rebecca Kadaga from the House’s two-month recess with a demand for an explanation yesterday.
Ms Kadaga responded: “I was shocked to see that headline because I have not received that Shs103 million or any part thereof.”
The Speaker said she could confirm that the Commission has been negotiating with the government for a long time over the matter.
“This is not unique. The LC1s were supposed to get bicycles, Gombolola chiefs have motorcycles, RDCs have cars,” said the Speaker. “I think that members should also be facilitated. What has been the problem is the state of the economy. That’s why members have not been facilitated. But I will support them to get their cars when the economy improves.”
Transparency International-Uganda Chapter’s board chair John Kakaire nevertheless, asked MPs to return the money and it is given to poorly paid teachers who continue to unsuccessfully lobby for a pay rise.
“There is no justification as to why taxpayers should lose Shs38.6b to be spent on 375 MPs at a time when the country’s service delivery is in shambles. We cannot give them Shs103 million each when the rest of Ugandans have nothing to eat and there are no drugs in hospitals,” he said.
Civil society enjoyed support from an unusual quarter with the ruling party’s Vice Chairperson for Eastern Uganda, Capt. Mike Mukula, asking his colleagues to either return the money or use it to develop their constituencies.
“The economy is on its knees, teachers are crying. The issue of vehicles should be resolved amicably, if it is belt-tightening let’s all tighten including those in Executive until the economy improves,” Mr Mukula said.
But across the floor, a closed-door shadow cabinet meeting saw members generally take the uncharacteristic line that this pay-out is acceptable.
“The view of the members was that if those in the Executive can buy luxurious vehicles what stops MPs from being facilitated to buy [similar] vehicles?” a source said.
Shadow Information Minister Wafula Oguttu later told Daily Monitor: “Members should have been given loans and then refund this money. When I get it, I am going to use it to repair boreholes in my constituency because I don’t need a vehicle of Shs103 million.”
Mr Oguttu urged civil society to campaign for smaller government.