There is a famous African proverb that a toad does not jump around in the daytime, unless something is after its life. This week, the MP for Fort-Portal Municipality, Mr Alex Ruhunda, released a can of worms in Parliament. Complaining on behalf of ‘heartless colleagues’, Mr Ruhunda recounted how the once-respected gentlemen and ladies in the August House have lost respect in the eyes of their voters. He took issues with the media and begged Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to do something before it’s too late. He alleged that there is a plan to mudsling the “honourable” Members of Parliament.
Well, I doubt whether there is such political blueprint. But whatever the case may be, claims from Mr Ruhunda tell a story of a jumpy toad. The more I listened to Mr Ruhunda’s ludicrous complaint, the more I kept thinking about the efficacy of a piece I wrote in this column sometime back, advising our “honourables” to look into a clean mirror before judging others. This was a clear indication that there is a serious problem in our Parliament.
From Mr Ruhunda’s demeanor, it became apparent that he had forgotten that respect is earned and not demanded. He also forgot that respect is two-way. If you want others to respect you, you have to respect them first. Rather than harp on how people are not respectful to grasping legislators in the House, our politicians need to work on being respectful to those people they are treating shabbily. This will help our leaders reach new heights in a relationship with the electorates.
In all fairness, in every field of work, the most highly regarded people are those who are the best at what they do. Everyone loves competent people, especially those who present their best work all the time.
Likewise, Ugandans may be poor, but they respect leaders who respect themselves; the kind of leaders who don’t dance on graves; The breed of leaders who cannot accept “carrots” when the rest of Ugandans are suffering. More so, it’s a pity that there are Ugandans who venerate those who have amassed wealth at the expense of the wanachi but the majority, respect honest MPs and abhor the “chameleons” and “hypocrites” in the House.
Surely, if you are a leader and you pocket Shs5 million to lift the presidential term limits, then you pocket the Shs20 million under the guise of monitoring Naads and again you pocket another Shs5 million for consulting on the relevance of Marriage and Divorce Bill, at a time when majority of Ugandans are stuck in abject poverty, what do you expect? A round of applause for a rapacious legislator or mere contempt?
The indication in this column that some MPs in the House dance on graves is a befitting metaphor that seeks to allude to the fact that whoever is in a position of responsibility but chooses to look on as mothers and children die from preventable diseases, dances on their graves. Likewise those who pocket billions of shillings meant for our people with impunity have no difference with those who steal from the taxpayers and such people don’t deserve our pity, not even respect but derision.
The story of a jumpy toad, in our politics today, precisely defines the funny story of “desirous” and “unconcerned” politicians in suits— the new breed of African policymakers masquerading as pro-people yet they don’t give a damn to our suffering. This is the story of Shs5 million given to well-paid politicians but “voracious” in some ways to consult the people on the relevance of the infamous Marriage and Divorce Bill, 2009.
By feasting on funds meant for the suffering mothers and children, dying every day in our sick public health facilities, the poorly paid medical workers and gloomy teachers, teaching bare-feet children on muddy floors - let us make no mistake about the fact that the institution of Parliament will be remembered as a “rapacious”— a conclave of egotistic lawmakers preoccupied with politics of the stomach. When Nandala Mafabi raised the matter on the floor, Makindye East MP John Ssimba moved a nonsensical motion that the Leader of Opposition should be silenced.
Regrettably, majority of our “fat-cats” in Parliament, including those from the opposition are still unable to accept that they did anything wrong by pocketing Shs5 million. The reeking part of this funny anecdote is that those in opposition, who should have led by example, pocketed this “facilitation”, forgetting that they are part of a government in waiting. There are those who told me that because they don’t trust the government, they will donate the money to their voters. What a joke! Again, there are those who have vowed to take the money, come rain or shine.
The Shs2 billion shared by our MPs would have saved many lives especially in the countryside where expectant mothers are forced to trek long distances in search for medical care in “drugless” health facilities. For instance, statistics show that 16 Ugandan women die in childbirth daily, and 76 newborns in every 1,000 do not reach the age of one.
More worrying figures from the Ministry of Health show that malaria kills about 320 Ugandans daily yet 300,000 Ugandans in need of ARVs do not have access to the life-saving drugs because they are too poor to afford them. Even those on ARVs receive treatment largely as a result of American generosity. Much of Uganda’s HIV/Aids programmes are being funded through the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund.
By pocketing Shs5million at a time when Ugandans are suffering, the lawmakers have brought shame to our Parliament. The honourable members led by Muhammad Nsereko (NRM, Kampala Central), William Nzoghu (FDC, Busongora North) and others who resisted the temptation deserve our respect and round of applause.