Let broke MPs carry their own cross

Sunday July 28 2013

Museveni greets a ‘kadogo’ shortly after the

Museveni greets a ‘kadogo’ shortly after the NRA guerrillas captured Kampala over three decades ago.  

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Last week, Parliament began scrutinising the 2013/14 Budget allocations to various sectors of the economy in fulfillment of its constitutional mandate. But the irony is that the legitimacy of this year’s budget is in the hands of reportedly broke legislators.

These days it is not peculiar for some of the well-paid legislators to go home with zero pay yet they have monthly bills to settle. Others have been dragged to court over multiple debts. The uncanny part of this infamy is that some of our legislators have even sold off their possessions while others have decided to mortgage their assets in banks as the gloomy financial times bite them.

There are people who have felt sorry for the broke MPs and even encouraged the President to help them. President Museveni reportedly promised to look into these matters after the ruling party members cried out for help.

Without fear of any contradiction, I can say that it will be wrong for people who are struggling to earn a living to begin empathising with people who earn more than Shs20 million every month but find themselves broke because they refused to listen.

The MPs hide behind constituency demands, but who told them to promise the people roads and bridges during campaigns? This is their problem. It is ridiculous that financially-struggling MPs want the President to use taxpayers’ money to bail them out when the country has several pressing needs.

Unemployment
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 healthcare system in the country is in shambles.

How about Ugandans who need ARVs but don’t have access to these life-saving drugs? 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 broke legislature.

I am told as our legislators beg the President for financial assistance, in some clinics and hospitals, all new HIV/Aids patients go on the waiting list. A slot opens when a patient dies, highlighting an emerging crisis. Uganda is among the first countries where clinics and hospitals sometimes turn patients away.

There are currently about 500,000 patients, who need treatment, but only 200,000 are getting it, but each year, an additional 110,000 are infected. Surely, with such statistics, how can members who are paid handsomely begin asking for support?

This country belongs to all of us and the MPs should know that they don’t own this country. If they have failed to live within their means, let them step down. It’s going to be difficult for us to transform Uganda from a peasant nation to a first world country when we still have well-paid but debt-ridden politicians concerned about their bellies and masquerading as legislators as the rest of Ugandans starve?

The MPs need to tame their appetite and the only way to do this is for them to learn the hard way. For that reason, the President should not waste taxpayers’ money bailing out excited politicians when there are no drugs in hospitals.

In any case, there are many Ugandans who have borrowed money, but how come they don’t seek help from the President? What these MPs are trying to do is actually abuse of office.

I want to believe that members were not drunk when they signed these loan agreements. They knew that the money lenders they are now disparaging as “loan sharks” will demand their money. Let these members carry their own cross.

On their criticism
These are the same people who criticised President Museveni when he bailed out city tycoon Hassan Basajjabalaba and others when they had financially difficulties. It is unfortunate that they are the same people now arm-twisting the President to help them.

The demeanor of our lawmakers disgraces the institution of Parliament. For instance, if this is not fraudulence, then, how are they going to hold the Executive accountable? How are they going to ensure that the 2013/14 Budget reflects the challenges Ugandans face today when they are busy looking for money lenders?

Now that the budget is in the hands of penniless legislators, Ugandans should not get surprised when the MPs endorse the punitive taxes in the 2013/14 budget. What the Executive needs to do is to throw some coins at these members and the rest will be history.

The funny part of this embarrassment is that the institution of Parliament has lost respect because of politicians who borrow money for weddings, expensive cars and stylish suits. There is no problem with borrowing, however; when they fail to service the loans, it becomes another issue.

I remember Speaker Rebecca Kadaga warned MPs last year, but they refused to heed and now they are crying out loud. They have exhibited the highest level of financial indiscipline and for that matter, they do not deserve our pity. If they decide to increase their salaries, the same way they blocked the Salaries Commission, history will judge them harshly.

In Kenya, hurting from commercialised campaigns, MPs were left broke, and their push for higher pay did not surprise Kenyans who sent them pigs in protest.

The desire to fulfill the promises made during campaigns caused the clamour for higher pay which has now been prioritised by the so-called honourable members.

For that matter, since, Kenyan politicians are not so different from those from Uganda, I will not be surprised if our legislators begin pushing the Parliamentary Commission to double their allowances.

MPs salary

Each MP earns a basic salary of about Shs3 million, which is taxed to a net pay of about Shs2 million. On top of that comes a subsistence allowance of Shs4.5 million, a mileage allowance of Shs3.8 million, the constituency allowance of Shs3.5 million, gratuity of Shs950,000, which is also taxed, and a town run allowance of about Shs1 million.

From this opulence, it’s very clear that by lawmakers asking the President to bail them out using taxpayers’ money, they are insulting poor Ugandans who are struggling to feed their families, the jobless and those who are sick but can’t afford medical bills.

My message to broke MPs is that let them take responsibility. They should not bother the President to bail them out but rather be financially disciplined. Ugandans are tired of pampering politicians whose actions don’t reflect value for money.