Accounting officers need more training – Trade Committee chair

Mr Mwine Mpaka, the Mbarara City South MP, also the chairperson of the House Committee on Trade, Tourism and Industry. PHOTO/ DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Since the commencement of the 11th Parliament, Mbarara City South MP Mwine Mpaka has chaired the House Committee on Trade, Tourism and Industry that has, among others, handled sensitive probes such as the investigations into the Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).
  • However, there were fears that some ‘big fish’ were hurt in the course of these probes, something that almost compelled him to cease serving as the chairperson of the committee. Arthur Arnold Wadero caught up with him.

What has been the journey so far?
Since I became chairperson of the House Trade Committee, I have got a lot of support from the leadership of the institution, from the members of the committee, from the Government Chief Whip, together with the Leader of Government Business – the Prime Minister – and the President, and CEC [Central Executive Committee].

So I think several stakeholders have appreciated what we have done as a committee. At times you present a report and they try to make it look like it is you individually who has done the work [in the committee report], but in actual sense all this has been commitment from a team of Members of Parliament and staff who have collectively supported me in my position as a chairperson.

What challenges have you encountered so far?
The first years of this term [11th Parliament], we didn’t have resources. So you would be investigating an issue, you don’t have resources to go the field and see these issues. For example, we were investigating rice [incident] and it was a problem for the entire committee to travel to the (Mutukula) border to see the challenges.

So in the first years of our session we had challenges with funds. But I want to thank the leadership and government who have provided enough funds now. We can effectively do our job. 

But remember a committee is allocated, for example, about Shs47 million for in-land travels and you do a work plan based on the money they have allocated you. But on the floor [of Parliament] something will come up. For example, we had not planned for the Vinci coffee [probe and yet it had to be expeditiously handled]. So something will always come up and now that you have already spent your resources, or had already planned to spend them on something, the challenge comes in looking for resources from somewhere else to effectively carry out these activities. But we have so far received enough support from the leadership of Parliament.

What other challenges do you encounter beyond Parliament itself?
The main challenge we have faced as a committee is blackmail. Everyone comes to the committee and thinks you are biased. Even when you present a credible report, they will always think you are biased. 

They will always think the committee is probably looking at one angle and not the other angles. But we have met this in the past. And every report we present is backed by evidence, documents and that is why we have now resorted to recording all our committee probes. 

We keep those recordings in case someone decides to take Parliament to court based on our reports. Like [in the case of the] NSSF [probe], I am told one of the executives wanted to take Parliament to court. But we had all the necessary evidence and we had the recordings. One of the board members also came to Parliament requesting for our documents [about the NSSF report] and we gave them to him but none of them had ever gone to court because we always make sure we double check and we have enough information and evidence.

From your experience and observation about government entities you have interfaced with, how bad is the situation for us a country?

We are now investigating the Ministry of Trade and how they are flouting the procurement procedures of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA Act) but I am thinking all the ministries have issues. When you look at the many issues, we have discovered the Ministry of Trade, for instance, has the issue of fuel. It is very possible that these issues are happening in all the other ministries.

On countless times, Parliament is said to be a toothless dog because a number of reports have recommended steps to be taken but it appears there is a slow-paced response or no action taken by the Executive…

Well, Parliament is advisory, you cannot see a Member of Parliament holding handcuffs arresting someone. It is not our job. We do our job on behalf of the people, which is oversight, legislation, representation and budget allocation. 

So even the reports we present, most of the times [and] it is now becoming a common practice, government does not implement. There are procedures we can use to have government [react]. For example, we can ask for action-taken reports from the Leader of Government Business and we can even block some of the budget allocations. 

But we believe we have done our job and we believe the public is happy. It is now entirely up to the government to either listen or implement [the recommendations].

But so far, yes it is demoralising for you to take your time [and work on these report and nothing happens] because we are generating several enemies. Every report you present you accumulate more enemies. And these are not the small enemies we are talking about. These are the big enemies. But we keep motivated and doing our job regardless, because we know we are doing this with integrity and this is probably why we have no scandal as the Trade committee.

How has committee work and nature of probes affected your life?
Well, at times, you are demoralised. You meet the same people you have implicated and they are laughing at you. They say, “Your committee is just wasting time! You did this and nothing has happened to us.” 

But when you go out there in the public people appreciate and this is what gives us encouragement. The other day I was in a supermarket and a lady actually paid my bill because she was happy with what we did with the NSSF [probe]. So these are things that keep us moving.

There was a rumour that you had opted out and did not want to serve as chairperson again. What were the reasons for this?

All I can say is being a leader at times takes a toll on you, especially a chairperson who is handling investigative issues. At times you are demoralised. At times you don’t think people appreciate you. At times you think people appreciate and yet it is not what is actually happening.

But as a young person or leader, if you are given an opportunity, you must never turn it down. I have served, I will serve and I will be of service. The late [Speaker of Parliament] Jacob Oulanyah once told us [that], “The day you assume a leadership position is the day you prepare to leave it.” So I am always prepared for anything. But as a young leader, it is very hard to turn down a leadership opportunity.

What do we need as a country to plough sanity back into our government entities?
All accounting officers need to be thoroughly trained. The political appointments we are seeing so far, from the experience we have had, they are not doing so much good. They need more training.

For example, I would personally recommend that if you are going to look for an accounting officer in a sector, he/she should have been there [or previously served in that sector]. You should have worked there or should have a certain experience. Because, having a political appointment, by the time he/she catches up [with the work], [she/he] would have made several mistakes. So I think they should prepare a proper training for accounting officers before giving them these responsibilities.