Honourables or tricksters?

Sunday February 24 2013

A parliamentary session being attended by a handful of MPs on Tuesday.

A parliamentary session being attended by a handful of MPs on Tuesday. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Widespread Ghosts on House list. Absenteeism in public institutions is an indicator of irresponsibility, immaturity, indiscipline and unaccountability. This malpractice undermines the philosophy that underpins good governance.

If you are a taxpayer and you are wondering why the ‘honourables’ in Parliament who are paid handsomely to think for the nation would sign for sitting allowances and dodge the proceedings, the obvious thing to do is ask them. You will hear all sorts of excuses that stretch your imagination in ways you never thought possible, but the baffling part in this funny story is where they blame the devil.

There is a famous saying in Buganda that it’s only when it rains that you can identify a leaking hut. In the dry season; you may think that all the huts are well thatched. Literally, this proverb means time reveals the truth. Indeed, every day is for the thief and one day is for the owner-- this prophecy came to pass on Tuesday when Speaker Rebecca Kadaga made an impromptu roll call.

We were told that some 247 MPs out of the total of 378 had signed the attendance register but less than 30 were in the parliamentary chamber in the Tuesday afternoon session. Strange but true! From the Speaker’s findings, it’s apparent that for some time now, our honourable ladies and gentlemen in the House have been pocketing millions in sitting allowances they have not worked for. I am told some have forged signatures in the attendance register yet others sometimes “send ghosts” to sign on their behalf.

The embarrassment of empty seats, noticeable from both sides of the House, at a time when Parliament was considering a crucial piece of legislation on oil, The Petroleum (Refining, Gas Processing and Conversion, Transportation and Storage), Bill 2012, compelled Ms Kadaga to establish the quorum by a roll call. Reminiscent of a kindergarten, struggling with chronic absenteeism, each member would stand up and shout: “I am present Madam” and for the tricksters, the silence would mean absence although their names were found in the attendance book.

It turned out that the same members, including ministers had signed, sneaked to town while others were enjoying drinks at the parliamentary canteen and chatting with friends yet some were watching the proceedings from their offices. There was another category of crooks: Those who never showed up at Parliament at all but had their names in the attendance book.

In all this, it’s obvious that the absurdity of our Parliament and the fraudulence of our “honourable” members in the House, has reached alarming levels. For instance, it never occurred to me that an MP, elected by the people to represent their views in the House, could sign for sitting allowances, dodge the proceedings and then blame the devil.

People always want to blame the devil for everything. They don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. Surely, how could a member who signed the attendance book and went away without even stepping in the chamber begin to blame Satan? I rejected this ludicrous excuse with contempt and told the cheats in the House that it’s sacrilege for people who are paid using taxpayers money to pocket cash they have not worked for.

This is theft. In this column, it’s important that we scan the horizon for any clue to how this evil in Parliament can be dealt with. We watch events around us continue to churn seemingly out of control, but we do not see serious efforts from Parliament to address the challenges the country is facing today. The obvious challenge is corruption. The way things are at the moment, it appears asking a bunch of erratic legislators to clench feasts harder in the fight against corruption, will be asking too much.

Could the people we send to Parliament show cause why they draw fat salaries and sitting allowances from our hard-earned incomes? How can Parliament fail to conduct business because of lack of quorum?

This absurdity must stop. As a country, we cannot afford to waste time in tittle-tattle discussing absenteeism in Parliament at a time when we should be focusing on the crucial policies needed to transform Uganda from a peasantry economy into a middle income country.

Today, for every single job in the formal sector, there are more than 50 jobless Ugandans struggling for it. Several roads are impassable, millions are still stuck in abject poverty, the education standards are sinking yet the health care system in the country is seriously sick. Even with all these difficulties, our population continues to explode at a worrying rate and in overcoming these challenges; the country cannot afford to have a grasping legislature.

If our members cannot control their appetite, how on earth are they going to control the gluttony of the corrupt civil servants?
The complexity of the proposed petroleum laws and the politics surrounding this subject cannot be an excuse for members to sign and vanish. This is blasphemy. I salute the Government Chief Whip, Ms Kasule Lumumba, who came out strongly to condemn the fraudulence of our members — the “imps” in Parliament and the “tricksters” in Cabinet masquerading as ministers in suits.

Absenteeism in whatever form, whether in Parliament, Judiciary or Executive is bad and we must deal with this cancer. The proposed amendment to the rules should also introduce performance appraisal so that the salary for each member is tagged on his or her performance in the House. This will compel members to stay in the House and at the same time ensure value for money. The attendance of the MPs should be made a matter of public record. This would enable the voters to demand accountability .from their representative.