The next Parliament that will take effect in May 2021 will be the biggest ever in the history of Ugandan Parliament after the seats of directly elected Members of Parliament (MPs) increased by 82 from 445 to 527.
The increment came with the creation of 47 new constituencies, 10 cities and the expected vote on the election of five legislators representing the older persons of Uganda.
By comparison to the previous increments, this is the second highest ever after 2011 when the number increased by 87 from 375 to 426.
With the increased number, comes increased cost of administration. The legislators receive allowances, free health care and retirement benefits, salaries and other perks.
The salary and total emoluments for the MPs is set by the parliamentary commission run by the legislators.
Averagely, the monthly payment for MPs is estimated to be Shs25m because they are paid differently depending on the mileage they cover from Kampala to their constituencies.
MPs near Kampala receive less emoluments than those from far away and those that have a nationwide constituency such as the army and workers’ representatives.
Taking the average of Shs25m as the monthly pay for each MP, the 445 elected MPs have been earning a monthly salary of Shs11.1b.
In case the next Parliament does not increase the salaries for its members, the 527 MPs would take Shs13.1bb monthly hence an additional Shs2b burden on the taxpayer.
The chairperson of the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South) told Daily Monitor yesterday that much as there is a likely increase in the cost of administration, the MPs need a good welfare because of high expectations of performance from their voters.
He, however, said the same constituents that are expected to foot the bill for the welfare and salaries of the MPs have been the ones that demand for more constituencies, districts and cities which in turn come with the increase in the size of the House.
“It has a financial implication indeed but I believe each constituency that is created is as a result of the demand from the population which wants to be represented effectively. There is no MP who has asked to have a constituency split but these originate from district councils,” said Mr Oboth, who has opted to seek election in the new West Budama Central.
The budget of Parliament has been increasing over the years as the number of MPs and their demands for welfare keep rising.
The first legislative council that was elected in October 1958 had only 10 members voted by 626,046 compared to the 527 MPs expected to be voted by more than 17 million people that have been enrolled on the National Register by the Electoral Commission.
The Executive Director of Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, Mr Julius Mukunda, said the population of Uganda is getting over represented even when the efficiency of Parliament in terms of what the MPs deliver on their mandate is not felt. He said the currently sitting arrangement due to Covid-19 shows that few MPs can do productive work.
As a way of complying with the social distancing of at least two metres from one person to another, Parliament first shifted from the congested chambers to the Conference Hall before a tent was erected in the parking lot, where only 80 MPs are listed by the party whips to attend per sitting.
“Ten years ago, the budget of Parliament was less than Shs300b but today it is Shs637b due to the increasing number of MPs. This year alone, we are going to borrow €600m (about Shs2.5 trillion) for budget support including things like these ones” Mr Mukunda said.
Performance of MPs
The African Leadership Institute’s Parliamentary Scorecard of 2020 revealed that half of the MPs could not debate on the floor of Parliament because some of them are not well informed and also the Speaker cannot pick each one to contribute.
Some MPs, who are shy of openly opposing the increase in the size of Parliament, suggest that the population quarter of about 100,000 people to be represented by one MP needs to be reviewed. These MPs speaking on condition of anonymity said there are expenses the House incurs without getting tangible results like the money spent for buying brand new cars.
“Parliament is currently attractive not for representation but because of the financial packages it comes with. But there are benefits we get and end up duping the public.
Some of the MPs got the money for cars but drive cheap cars. It is a shame that an MP gets an accident in a car of Shs15m,” the MP said.
Ms Sarah Birete, from the Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG), said the current government is plunging the country into debts for the purposes of expensive leadership.
“The argument that creating several administrative units amounts to taking services nearer to the people is fraudulent. This is not leadership but thuggery by the privileged political elite and should be condemned by all well intentioned Ugandans,” she said.
Value for money
To ensure that there is value for money in the bloated Parliament, Mr Crispin Kaheru, an election expert, has warned the electorate should vote for someone who is capable of doing the legislative work but not favouring their political parties and financial muscle.
He said the citizenry should be more vigilant while selecting their MPs based on what they are able to accomplish in their constitutional mandate.
“Parliament debates lately reflect the interests of the MPs and not those of the electorate and it is difficult to convince anyone that the expansion of Parliament is in the interest of the citizens,” Mr Kaheru said.
Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa told Daily Monitor shortly after the approval of new constituencies that the government is overpowered on capping the payments for MPs because they are constitutionally mandated to set their salaries.
She suggested that such can only be done through a referendum where the same MPs would be on the forefront of the campaigns.
Currently, the Shs206b new Parliamentary chamber that will also house offices for MPs is under construction and expected to be completed in July next year.