MPs who have taken the Shs20 million given to them as part of the COVID-19 supplementary expenditures might be in trouble.
In his address on the update about his coronavirus guidelines, Tuesday evening, President Museveni condemned MPs for allegedly seeking to divert Ugandans from the current war against coronavirus.
“I’m very thankful with Ugandans; they have responded but the Shs20 million by the MPs that caused confusion. It’s bad planning but secondly, there were also legal and constitutional issues involved. It would be morally irreprehensible to give themselves money for personal use when the country is in such a crisis and totally unacceptable to the NRM,” Mr Museveni said during the 12 televised address since the outbreak of the virus was reported in the country in March this year.
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.
Parliament- Parliament has faced a public backlash for appropriating to the House Shs10b out of the Shs304b supplementary budget for the fight against Covid-19.
Ugandans took to different social media platforms and accused the MPs of greed and selfishness after reports indicated that each of them will receive Shs20m to sensitise their constituents against Covid-19.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on Wednesday said the money is meant to support the committees follow-up on Covid-19 and also the MPs whose ambulances are already deployed for the fight against the pandamic.
Ms Hellen Kawesa, the acting spokesperson of Parliament, said: “The cash is not for individual MPs. It is for Parliament Covid-19 task force.”
Parliament is represented to the national taskforce by two commissioners and two other MPs.
There are other committees that have been formed; whereas the Committee on Health continues to traverse the country to assess the level of preparedness by the Ministry of Health in case the Covid-19 situation becomes worse for the country.
Among the many Ugandans criticising Parliament is four-time Presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye.
“Sincerely what is wrong with Uganda’s leaders? Everywhere in the world, leaders are donating their earnings to help the Covid-19 fight. Uganda’s leaders see an opportunity to increase their benefits. MPs getting more than $5000 each to help them fight covid-19. Stop this habit,” Dr Besigye tweeted yesterday.
Mr Kenneth Kabagambe, the Executive Director of the National Association of People Living with Hepatitis B, used a WhatsApp group to rally people to demand for their share.
“Your MP has received Shs20m to fight covid-19. Call your area MP for your share,” he posted.
Initially, the Shs10b was not part of the Shs284b supplementary budget presented to Parliament by the Finance Ministry. The Treasury had already released Shs20b to Ministry of Health to make the total supplementary budget of Shs304b.
“The MPs used their powers to appropriate to Parliament that money,” said a source close to the budget office in Finance Ministry.
Mr Jim Mugunga, the spokesperson of the Ministry, said Finance was never consulted by the Budget Committee of Parliament before deciding to appropriate the Shs10m.
“....What I know is that Parliament is responsible for appropriation of available resources. This decision if indeed undertaken may have been done under that mandate,” Mr Mugunga said.
The government Chief Whip , Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, was not available for comment. The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Ms Betty Aol Ocan, said her office was still consulting about the rumoured share of money among MPs.
Mr Michael Kabaziguruka (Nakawa Division, FDC) said he would return the money like he did with the age limit cash.
“Even if I was to use it to buy food, it would buy like 800kgs of posho which cannot feed the 500,000 people in my area. But, also what would that money be for?” He asked.
Ms Angelline Osegge, the Woman MP for Soroti, said there must be a “clear agenda for MPs to pick that money” . She said has already used her salary to support trading centres with drums for hand-washing.
Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko said via his social media page that he would take the money and spend it on healthcare workers in his area and the vulnerable.
Budadiri West MP Nandala Mafabi said he instead had been receiving food from his electorates and does not need the Shs20m because he has been using the little he has to help his neighbours.
“If some MPs received the money, then it must have been a selective process which the budget committee and Parliamentary Commission need to clarify. If it is true as alleged that each MP has been given Shs20m, then it is very unfortunate and I will add that Uganda is doomed with such,” he posted. A similar message was posted by Bududa District Woman MP Florence Namboozo.
Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba said he could not comment because he neither has an ambulance nor is he a member of any of the benefiting committees.
The president further revealed that he met the Speaker, Ms Rebecca Kadaga and told her that MPs had entered the trap and the best way to extract themselves from it is by not spending the money.
“I agreed with the Speaker that they donate the money to the district taskforce where they come from, it will limit the damage. I heard that some of the MPs went had bought things. That’s not good enough. We have a purchaser. I have been in the Statehouse for 34 years and I have never even bought a toilet paper. Many Ugandans are angry with this and this will be sorted out,” Museveni said.
He added that the only persons who are allowed to purchase for the government are the Permanent secretaries, the Chief Accounting Officer, Town Clerks, Sub-county chiefs and a few others.
“For the one who bought on their own, the question is who authorized you to buy for the state? The Auditor-General will come in and audit and say you bought badly so that we sort this. They can pay it back if they spent it wrongly,” Mr Museveni added.
For those who spent money on themselves, the president said, this is not only unacceptable but also criminal.
Mr Museveni again warned politicians against interfering in the distribution of food. He said all those caught doing so would be dealt with harshly for helping in the spread of the coronavirus.
“That’s why the other fellow called [Francis] Zaake had been arrested but how do you arrest Zaake and leave these ones of the NRM including ministers?” Museveni said referring to the MP Francis Zaake, who was arrested for distributing food.
When he appeared in court in Mityana, Zaake couldn’t open his eyes. He failed to take a plea and the magistrate ordered him to be taken to hospital to seek medical attention before he could stand trial.