Beware of ‘Iscariots’ in Parliament

Sunday September 30 2012

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Wasted Effort: Health sector remains under-funded, mainly relying on out-of-pocket spending. Under the Maputo protocol of 2003, African governments agreed to commit 15 per cent of their annual national budgets to the health sector. However, Uganda’s health budget share is less than 8 per cent even as Parliament is busy making U-turns.

He is known for his devious kiss and betrayal of Jesus to the hands of the chief Sanhedrin priests in exchange for a few pieces of silver, after which he hanged himself out of remorse and guilt. This is Judas Iscariot.

As this story goes, even though Judas showed penitence later, his name became a symbol of traitors and turncoats throughout history. His motive seemed to be greed, but some scholars speculate political desires lurked beneath his treachery.

To most Christians, Judas is seen as a traitor— the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver. From my limited understanding of the Bible, there are several explanations as to why Judas betrayed Jesus. But the obvious explanation is that one of Judas’ main weaknesses, as the case with our Parliament these days, seemed to be money.

For the record, to assist you understand the kind of people you sent to Parliament, don’t get offended when I label some of your MPs, particularly those who sit on the Budget Committee, the true disciples of Judas Iscariot. It is unthinkable that the Budget Committee allowed, Tim Lwanga to come to Parliament without a report on Shs260 billion for the health sector.

When those who refused to let down Ugandans asked for the Budget Committee report, the chairperson insouciantly said: “We met the minister and agreed with the government position”. The government had accepted to give Shs6.5b to the health sector yet lawmakers were pushing for Shs39.2b. Even with such glaring inconsistencies, the Budget Committee shamelessly told the House that there was no report on a matter touching the lives of Ugandans.

Though Speaker Rebecca Kadaga disregarded this Budget Committee recklessness, ludicrous as it appears, this kind of behaviour bears the hallmarks of dishonesty and a Legislature posturing in the middle of a crisis. The rules of procedure are very clear; there must be signed reports to form the basis of debates. This was ignored in order to block the tabling of a pro-people minority report on health budget. This was purely politics at play.

These MPs forgot the excruciating reality of our time and the suffering of our mothers who wantonly die in labour. Today, maternal death is still a challenge in Uganda, every day at least 16 mothers die while giving birth. Uganda’s maternal mortality rate is at 435 per 100,000 live births which translates to 6,000 deaths every year; child mortality remains unbearable with 137 deaths per 1,000 live births.

There are currently about 500,000 HIV patients, who need treatment, but only 200,000 are getting it, but each year, an additional 110,000 are infected. And more than 25,000 babies are born with HIV every year because our mothers have no access to Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV/Aids services.

Though it seemed undreamed-of for a Parliament that had won hearts and minds in the fight against corruption to make a U-turn on matters of health, on Tuesday NRM MPs looked ludicrous and pathetic at their best. Like Judas Iscariot who made a conscience choice to betray Jesus, these MPs proved to us that they are turncoats. Even with such disturbing statistics, they jammed any practical attempts to fix a “bizarre” health sector. If the health of Ugandans can’t unite MPs, then, we have a problem — a scandalous Parliament, full of inconsistent leaders pretending to be pro-people.

Why did they give us false hope? If you analysed where we went wrong, you could be excused to think that these MPs engineered a budget deadlock that had held the passing of this year’s Shs11.4 trillion budget. We thought these MPs were serious about their campaign to fix a “sick” health sector but we were wrong. After President Museveni talked to them “nicely” they ate their words in an apparent change of heart that effectively blocked the Shs260 billion for health sector.

Even people like Dr Kenneth Omona (Kaberamaido), Dr Sam Lyomoki (Health Committee chair) and Dr Medard Bitekyerezo (Mbabara Municipality) who should have defended efforts to fix our health sector, kept quiet as their colleagues; Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) and Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) were being booed by NRM back-benchers they accused of pocketing bribes and behaving like a hired mob.

The about-turn on health budget came at a time when Ugandans expected a woman-led Parliament to stand up and be counted on matters of health to save the dying mothers. I have heard some MPs attempting to hoodwink the public that because of their fight, the government promised to recruit 6,172 health workers at health centre IIIs and health centre IVs and increased salaries for doctors at health centre IIIs from Shs1.2m to Shs2.5m. It should be clearly understood that the Shs49.5 billion, the government used to delude Parliament doesn’t in any way address the fundamental challenges the health sector is facing today.

In any case, these MPs knew very well that the Shs6.5 billion (seed money) which is part of the Shs49.5 billion is far less than Shs260b Ministry of Health wanted.
Regrettably, they don’t give a damn.