The High Court yesterday ordered MPs to return the controversial Shs20m they received on their private bank accounts to government for public use.
The court order for the refund followed a consent agreement between Ntungamo Municipality MP Gerald Karuhanga, the petitioner, and state lawyers from the Attorney General’s chambers and Parliamentary Commission.
According to the court orders, the funds are to be returned to either the Parliamentary Commission account, the National Covid-19 taskforce or the District Covid-19 taskforces.
“The funds be returned to the Parliamentary Commission pursuant to its letter addressed to the Members of Parliament dated 22nd April 2020; the funds be paid to the district Covid-19 task force in which the members of Parliament are incorporated through the Chief Administrative Officer,” Justice Micheal Elubu ordered yesterday.
“Members of Parliament representing special interest groups shall pay the funds to the national task force,” the judge added.
The consent judgement agreed to by both parties, came barely hours after President Museveni in his televised national address on the progress of the Covid-19 pandemic on Tuesday, castigated the MPs for taking the money in question.
A visibly irritated Museveni said the fight over this money was distracting Ugandans from the real fight against the pandemic.
“The Shs20m caused confusion, it’s bad planning. But secondly, there were also legal and constitutional issues involved. It would be morally reprehensible to give themselves money for personal use when the country is in such a crisis and totally unacceptable to the NRM,” the President criticised the MPs Tuesday night.
Mr Museveni also revealed that he had met the Speaker of Parliament Ms Rebecca Kadaga over the matter and expressed his dissatisfaction about what the MPs had done.
“I agreed with the Speaker that they donate the money to the district taskforce where they come from as this will limit the damage. I heard that some of the MPs had bought things. That’s not good enough. We have a purchaser,” Mr Museveni said.
Earlier this month, in a bid to fight Covid-19, government presented a supplementary budget of Shs304b to Parliament for approval.
However, in the process of approval and appropriating the money to different sectors involved in the fight against Covid-19, Shs10b was dubiously and belatedly included for allocation to the Parliamentary Commission.
The allocation triggered public queries and outrage.
Each MP was given Shs20m as facilitation purportedly to sensitise their electorate about Covid-19.
Following the storm triggered by the money, the Speaker came out to defend the MPs about the money wired to their bank accounts.
On Monday last week, the High Court issued an interim order stopping the payment of money to the MPs. However during the Parliament sitting last Thursday, Ms Kadaga said the court order had been overtaken by events since MPs had already received the money before the order was issued.
She told courts to stop interfering with Parliament work.
She explained that Parliament was working hand in hand with government in the fight against Covid-19 and that they had already released their buses to the health ministry to transport health workers to and from work.
In further defending the Shs10b allocation, Ms Kadaga said part of the money was to be used to maintain the ambulances contributed by Parliament and individual MPs, provide fuel and pay allowances for the drivers of the ambulances already released by MPs to help the Covid-19 taskforces at district level.
However, the move by Parliamentary Commission to allocate money to individual MPs, angered MP Karuhanga, who petitioned court saying the allocation was illegal and unconstitutional.
He said the money was passed without being presented, discussed and scrutinised by the Budget Committee of parliament.
He said this offends the rules of procedure of Parliament and sought court to order a refund.
Reacting to yesterday’s court development, Mr Karuhanga said he was glad that he had finally stopped the move by his fellow MPs from unfairly benefiting from the Covid-19 pandemic instead of also donating to the cause.
Justification. The Speaker explained that Parliament was working hand in hand with government in the fight against Covid-19 and that they had already released their buses to the Health ministry to transport health workers to and from work.