Twenty million shillings is a very big amount of money. This is the latest loot that nearly each Ugandan MP has grabbed from the public kitty. With the exception of a handful with a healthy conscience, all the legislators have been united in this greed.
Of course, the ruling party MPs and their presumed opponents across the aisle always find common cause as they drink deep from the public pot. We remember the self-allocation of cash for unaffordable brand new motor vehicles; the lucrative private healthcare benefits that their constituents cannot imagine; the clamour for public funding for what they called their “VIP funerals”; and all manner of self-elevation in the queue of those sucking at the shrivelled breast of our exhausted motherland. This is a united parliament when it is their turn to eat.
The pretence this time is that the loot is to facilitate them in the fight against the new coronavirus. Whereas this virus is a threat to human lives and economies, it is an opportunity for Uganda’s MPs to feed their insatiable appetite for public money, not for the common good, but for personal benefit.
Here is the scandal in all this. Outside of parliament, MPs and their Speaker have no useful role to play in the fight against Covid-19. This is a function of the healthcare professionals, supported by the executive branch of government and the security forces.
Just to refresh our memories, a Ugandan MP’s job is clearly stated in Article 79 of the Constitution of Uganda, namely: (a) to make laws; (b) to protect the Constitution and promote the democratic governance of Uganda. This is a huge mandate that should keep any parliament too busy to attend to matters that are the responsibility of other branches of government.
So, we must ask a few questions. First, where in the Constitution of Uganda do MPs and their Speaker derive authority to meddle in the day-to-day work of the Executive branch and the civil service of the Republic? Second, how exactly does an MP fight the coronavirus? Third, why is it important that MPs be paid by their voters to go and teach them (the electorate) what professional healthcare workers (HCWs) are trained to do? Why not fight for that money to be given to the HCWs?
Fourth, why do MPs not use constituency development funds that they already receive to “sensitise” their constituents? Fifth, given that the MPs cannot hold rallies or even moderate-sized meetings, is it not more economical and efficient to use radios and SMS to “sensitise” the public? The scandalous irony is that even as MPs swell their bank accounts with Shs20m each, the lower ranks of government on the ground in the constituencies are struggling to cope with the demands of maintaining surveillance, physical distancing, testing, quarantining, transporting the sick and pregnant and maintaining law and order.
In my home district of Rukiga, for example, citizens of goodwill have been donating money and fuel to the District Covid-19 Task Force. Ms Pulkeria Muhindo, the RDC, has been giving frequent updates to Banyarukiga, complete with transparent reporting of how much has been donated by whom.
The amount donated, substantial by individual standards, is still relatively small in a district of 100,000 people. Imagine what this dedicated group of foot soldiers would do if they had that extra Shs40m (we have two MPs)?
Now, this column does not indulge in fuzzy speech. I call things what they are. The loot by MPs, totalling Shs10b ($2.6 million), is another act of corruption, pulled off in public, with an arrogance born of contempt for the people they pretend to represent.
Yes, this is corruption, an excellent example of Transparency International’s definition of the term. That great organisation defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” It classifies corruption as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.
“Grand corruption consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good,” Transparency International says. “Petty corruption refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and midlevel public officials. Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power and wealth.”
No need to elaborate on this. Transparency International’s language is very clear. We are witness to grand political corruption, a classic manifestation of what Susan WakhunguGithuku, the Kenyan publisher, calls Grabiosis Africanopathis. Tragedy as opportunity. Public pain as private play for those entrusted with public resources. Looting and grabbing as a reflex response to any whiff of money.
Some of the MPs will use the money to settle personal debts and obligations. Others will use the money to campaign, bribing voters under the guise of assisting them in the struggle against Covid-19. All will be indebted to Rebecca Kadaga, Parliament’s Speaker, who has fought hard to ensure the MPs get their loot. She will be candidate for re-election as Speaker next year, remember?
Happily, we have a handful of survivors in the wreckage. Two MPs, Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and Jonathan Odur (Erute South), have gone to court to stop this latest loot by their colleagues. This has, predictably, earned them Kadaga’s wrath.
I also salute MPs who have rejected and returned the money. They include Francis Zaake (Mityana Municipality) Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka Municipality), Robert Kyagulanyi (Kyaddondo East), Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala) and Fred Mwesigye (Nyabushozi).
Whereas I take issue with those who have returned the money, not as a matter of principle, but on the technical grounds that it was irregularly allocated by Parliament, I salute them for their courage to distance themselves from the dishonesty of their colleagues.
The tragedy, of course, is that the voters will be given morsels from the loot, in exchange for promises that they will vote for the men and women who continue to exploit them. Come Election Day, the impoverished citizens will keep their part of the deal.