Caption for the landscape image:

Powers of Parliament: Are Ugandans up against a monster they created?

Scroll down to read the article

Parliament was recently in the spotlight over alleged illegal recruitment of staff, profligacy and abuse of public funds. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

Last week, the Ms Beti Kamya, the Inspector General of Government, revealed that she had opened investigations into claims that the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Anita Among, owned several properties in the United Kingdom (UK).

“I have received the President’s letter and have started compiling the information that the President asked of me,” Ms Kamya told Saturday Monitor.

Ms Kamya’s comments around the possibility of an investigation into matters Parliament and Ms Among would, however, have you running dizzy. 

One minute she says she is investigating, before going back on her word in the next minute. 

Early in March, she announced that her office was set to open an unprecedented investigation into several issues around Parliament, including alleged widespread abuse of office and unethical conduct.

Parliament had at the time been in the spotlight amid several revelations of alleged illegal recruitment of staff, profligacy and abuse of public funds that were laid bare through the #UgandaParliamentExhibition on X, formerly Twitter.

“The issues have obviously generated significant media and public interest. No one can ignore them,” Ms Kamya told journalists in her offices.

Addressing journalists, Ms Kamya said her office had as a result of the exhibition received “a number of whistle-blower accounts of inner workings of Parliament”, adding that the petitions had urged her office to “get involved”. 

“Even our own mandate would move us to get involved,” she added.

The Inspector General of Government, Ms Beti Kamya. PHOTO | DAVID LUBOWA

However, within less than a month of making those comments, the ombudsman backtracked ostensibly because the Auditor General had commenced a forensic audit of Parliament.

“I am also told that the Auditor General is also investigating Parliament. Normally in our working methods we do not crowd. Once somebody (another investigative arm) has been there before you then you wait for their report. If arising out of their report and consider. I will talk to the AG and see if they have gone far because from our collaboration, if somebody is handling an investigation you don’t crowd it. You do not duplicate work and resources,” Ms Kamya told our sister station NTV.

But Ms Munira Ali, the spokesperson of the Inspectorate, says the IGG had not backtracked.

“We work together under a forum known as inter agency forum. We communicate. Where one of the agencies is already conducting an investigation, another does not open up an investigation because it is bound to delay the other agency’s work. Besides there have also been complaints that multiple agencies are investigating one institution at the same time, yet we often times require the same sets of documents and information,” she explains.

Ms Munira says the Auditor General had indicated they would be done with their forensic audit within a period of two months. 

That period elapses at the end of the month. And now that the IGG says she is investigating on the orders of President Museveni, we wait to see what will come of it.

However, Ms Kamya just might have a point if the IGG opts to back out of investigating Parliament and the person of the Speaker. 

The budget of the IGG’s office had in the four years preceding the current financial year stagnated at Shs53 billion per year, which is just slightly above 50 percent of what it would require to function properly. 

That has meant that it is short on human and financial resources required to drive an investigation into a behemoth like Parliament. 

It was not possible to establish whether the Auditor General is conducting any investigation into matters Parliament.

It should, however, be remembered that whereas what was up for discussion when Ms Kamya first declared that she would investigate the goings on at Parliament was profligacy and alleged abuse of the Speaker’s corporate social responsibility kitty, what is up for discussion is very different.

The publication by The Observer newspaper on April 24 of the story, ‘MPs bribed to save government agencies’, which claimed that legislators had taken bribes in order to save some of the agencies that had been lined up for mainstreaming back to their parent ministries under the planned rationalisation of government agencies and departments, suggests that there are issues around ethics and integrity of Parliament that need to be addressed.

But an investigation into matters of ethics and integrity cannot be investigated by the Auditor General whose constitutional mandate is to audit and report on all public accounts of Uganda and conduct financial and value for money audits in respect of any project involving public funds.

The IGG is, on the other hand, charged with “the responsibility of eliminating corruption, abuse of authority and of public office”.

It has powers to, among other things, “investigate or cause investigation”.

Why then is it shying away when reports that some legislators took bribes to block the mainstreaming of, among others, the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), National Information and Technology Authority (NITA), Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and Cotton Development Organisation, emerge?

Mr Marlon Agaba of the Anti-corruption Coalition of Uganda argues that it is about the amount of power that Parliament yields.

Neither police, nor the IGG or any other agency with the capacity to investigate alleged corruption or impropriety can launch an investigation against an institution on which it depends in order to operate, he says.

“We have a Parliament that wields a lot of power. It not only appropriates its own budget, but also has powers of oversight and accountability. All the other agencies of government will definitely come kneeling before it. The Auditor General and the IGG report to Parliament. In a way they are officers of Parliament. Their budgets are appropriated by Parliament. They account to Parliament. It is Parliament that directs the Auditor to audit. The IGG declares his assets and liabilities to the Speaker of Parliament,” Mr Agaba says.

Indeed Ms Kamya while appearing before Parliament in October 2023 appealed for the budget of her office to be increased from Shs79 billion to Shs100 billion, arguing that the Inspectorate was understaffed and underfunded, which was affecting its capacity to fulfil its mandate.

Addressing journalists at her office during the same month, she indicated that she had been engaging the President and the Speaker of Parliament over the possibility of increasing funding to her docket.

Speaker of Parliament Anita Among. PHOTO/ FILE

“One of the big issues that we want to bring to the attention of Cabinet and Parliament is our budget… Only 10 percent of the budget would be spent on asset recovery, investigating cases and prosecuting corruption officials and our fleet of vehicles are very old. I have been discussing this issue with the Speaker, Ms Anita Among, and the Ministry of Finance and they have been positive,” she told the media.

It should also be noted that it is to the same Parliament that she submits her annual reports for evaluation.

Against such a background, would her office be in a position to conduct or cause any meaningful investigation in acts of impropriety at Parliament?

Constitutional lawyer Dan Wandera Ogalo, who in the 6th Parliament presented the private motion that led to the passing of the Administration of Parliament Act of 1997, which in turn led to the creation of the Parliamentary Commission, is quick to defend the Inspectorate on grounds that whereas on paper it has the right to investigate any institution of government, those powers are limited when it comes to dealing with Parliament.

“The parliamentary system is unique. It is for people are who elected and go home when their term of office ends. Their accountability is to the voters. They have really no relationship with the institutions which ordinarily would deal with crime. They have little relationship when they are acting as an institution or even when they are not acting as an institution. And it is not just the Ugandan Parliament, most parliaments are like that,” Mr Ogalo said.

If police and the Inspectorate cannot investigate claims such as the latest one that suggested that MPs are taking bribes to save government agencies and departments, who can?

Mr Ogalo says it is up to Parliament to investigate any allegations of wrongdoing on the part of its members.

“The rules recognise the uniqueness of the institution and membership of Parliament. It is because of this that the law allows them to self-police themselves. That is why you find the rules all over the world allow parliaments to self-police without bringing in outsiders,” Mr Ogalo says.

He says once claims such as the ones that have come up in recent times arise, it is incumbent upon the Speaker to cause an investigation.

“There are procedures on how to investigate corruption among Members of Parliament. If there are allegations of corruption against a Member of Parliament, we would expect the Speaker to name a select committee to investigate the matter. The committee would be open to receive evidence not from only within Parliament, but also outside Parliament,” he says.

Mr Ogalo points out that that was the procedure followed during the 6th Parliament when former Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa, accused Bukanga North MP Nathan Byanyima, who was chair of the committee that we now know as the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) of taking bribes from head of some of the agencies that were being investigated by the committee.

It was also the same procedure that was followed when Mr Nobert Mao, who was at the time the MP representing Gulu Municipality, accused Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi of corruption.

“It is out of that self-policing that facts will come out and those are the facts now upon which an outside institution like the IGG, the Auditor General, the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] can then move in and act,” Mr Ogalo says.

However, if the way things have panned out at Parliament in recent times is anything to go by, it would appear that it is not automatic that a committee is formed to probe MPs whenever accusations of corruption and impropriety come up.

When allegations of bribery came up, Ms Among did not constitute a committee to probe them. She instead leapt to the defence of Parliament and seemed to suggest that the media house that had brought up the allegations was out to besmirch Parliament, which Ogalo thinks was wrong.

“What I see in the present Parliament is defensiveness, but you see the danger with that is that you appear as if you are covering up and yet it maybe that there is really no corruption,” he argues.

Nowhere to run
It would appear that the public is left in a state of hopelessness. Parliament, it seems, will not self-police. The police, DPP and IGG will not investigate. An aggrieved public seems to have nowhere to run to.

One school of thought argues that the Administration of Parliament Act led to the creation of one huge untouchable monster that the taxpayer does not know how to deal with. So is this a bad law that should be revisited if only it will help to bring disempower the monster.

If it is a bad law, Mr Ogalo would have to own up to having come up with a terrible law, which he refuses to do saying it has been in place for close to 30 years now and has been used under five different Speakers and their deputies.

“You never had any of these issues... They were using that same law. How come that speakers have used this law for 30 years and these issues have not been there? The law has no problem,” he concludes.

So is the problem the people who are implementing the law now? That he will not say.

Mr Agaba, however, blames the situation on what he describes as a wider governance issue affecting the country.

“I think that law has given a lot of power to Parliament. But if the three arms of government are working quite well then the other arms would come in and check that kind of excessive power that Parliament assumes to have which by design and by our Constitution it should not be having,” Mr Agaba says.

Whether it is the law, or the governance issues that gave birth to this powerful beast just might not matter. What does is finding what might help to check its powers.