MPs get Shs40m each in fresh budget deal

 NUP legislators with party president Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine (4th right), during a function at their headquarters in Kampala in 2021. The party June 14 resolved to return the Shs40m.   PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

What you need to know:

  • The revelation overshadowed the presentation of the Shs48 trillion budget at the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala.

Members of Parliament have reportedly each been paid Shs40m in a deal that involved approval of a supplementary request, including Shs77b for State House, even before the budget for the 2022/23 Financial year was read yesterday.

Finance Minister Matia Kasaija presented the Shs48 trillion budget at the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala, but the occasion was overshadowed by revelations that lawmakers from last Saturday night have been filing to receive the impugned cash.

The recipients, our investigations over the past three days show, are all sides of the political aisle.
A number of the legislators confirmed the pay-out, which resurrects memories of the 2005 doling out of cash to their predecessors of the time at Mosa Courts in Kampala in what internal dissenters disclosed was inducement to lift presidential term limits.  

In the current case, three members of the NRM Parliamentary Caucus, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said they endorsed a proposal for Shs618b supplementary budget after their leadership informed members during a Caucus sitting on April 26 that there would be a provision for them.

“It was announced during the Caucus meeting that there would be something for us. So, members approved the supplementary. Even if we don’t take the money, other people will take it. So, being good in the end doesn’t pay,” one of the members who attended the Caucus meeting said.

On May 19, Parliament approved a Shs618b supplementary budget. Details show that Shs77b was allocated to State House for classified expenditure while the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) got Shs152b through the Ministry of Defence and Veteran Affairs.

A total of Shs64.4b was earmarked for bankrolling Operation Shuja, the ongoing joint UPDF-Congolese army mission to counter Allied Defense Forces (ADF) rebel group based in eastern DRC, while Shs87.5b was set aside to facilitate security operations in Karamoja sub-region. 

Our investigations show that members of Parliament’s Budget Committee rejected the State House supplementary request when it was first presented, arguing that the intended allocation did not have a vote and its purpose, dubbed as “classified”, unexplained.  

Budget Committee chairman, Mr Patrick Opolot, was unavailable to shed more light on the matter when we tried to reach him by telephone.

Days later, sources within the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) said the Shs77b State House supplementary request was tabled afresh during the April 26 party parliamentary Caucus.

This time, there was a sweetener, another member said: an offer of money if the party members marshalled their numerical strength to push through the supplementary request.

Massing, they did. And with money for the supplementary approved, news filtered in from last weekend that the MPs, in what some critics have called a “bribe”, had got allocations for them for unspecified purpose.

Mr Chris Obore, Parliament’s communications director, told Daily Monitor yesterday by telephone that lawmakers who consider any pay-out as a “bribe” should formally petition the Inspectorate of Government, the government’s anti-graft tzar, to cause investigations.

“There is a law against receiving bribes, MPs know that and if they think it is a bribe, let them report to the IGG,” he said, referring to the Ombudsman who heads the Inspectorate.

An MP subscribing to the ruling NRM, in comments on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly, said “political corruption in Uganda is institutionalised, and will not end, unless voters stop demanding (money) from elected leaders”.

How it happened

Another source said the promise of the “something” materialised when they were called in last Saturday night to receive Shs40m each that, according to the source, was handed out in the President’s Office on Parliament Building.

“We were told the money was from our chairman,” one MP said, without naming the office holder or institution, adding that the purpose of the money was not mentioned.

“I can tell you most of us have finished using the money,” the individual added.

In one of the WhatsApp groups for legislators, a member on Saturday posted a message, which this publication saw, alerting colleagues that “the cash that we have been waiting for is finally here and the MPs are receiving Shs40m each”.

Multiple other sources across the political aisle corroborated accounts that cash had been doled out to them and some said they received the money on separate days at offices, and in some cases, at the residences of some Parliament officials.

No member signed for the cash because, as one put it, “we did not have to leave a trail of evidence”.
Separately, Mr Herbert Kinobere, the vice chairperson of the NRM Caucus, who earlier refuted claims of the payment, later told our sister NTV station: “The MPs received that money as their arrears, salaries and allowances to help them in their constituencies and their voters. The problem is that some people keep following up whichever money we get and take it to social media.”

He did not clarify how the arrears accumulated and why, in the case of salary, the MPs would require to use their entitled earning to help voters and constituents.

The question of demands on MPs by voters --- including contributions to fund-raising initiatives, burial expenses, tuition and even food --- was spotlighted by another lawmaker who, while asking not to be named, said they lack resources to undertake a two-week mobilisation of the masses for the government’s new flagship poverty alleviation scheme, the Parish Development Model (PDM), as Speaker Anita Among proclaimed.

It emerged yesterday that the consultations and mobilisation for PDM is expected soon after the legislators complete a three-day induction, starting today, on how to conduct parliamentary business, more than a year after assuming office. They are currently on recess and, except for Committee works, the House resumes on July 5.

Some of them, who acknowledged receiving the Shs40m, which mirrors a 2005 cash bonanza involving MPs to supporting lifting of the presidential term limits, yesterday said the government should bankroll the sensitisation and mobilisation of voters for PDM, which the government says will lift 3.5 million peasant households into the money economy.

By yesterday, some lawmakers, among them Namisindwa Woman representative Sarah Kayagi Netalisire, said they had not received the money.

 “Now that you have [telephoned] me [to inquire about it], let me go and ask where I can find my money. This is our money and if others have taken theirs, why shouldn’t I get my share?” she said last evening.
If all the 529 MPs in the 11th Parliament received equal amounts, it would mean the cash bonanza cost tax payers Shs21b.   

The cash hand-out, which the new  executive director of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Mr Marlon Agaba, christened as “suspicious,” has divided public opinion, as much as it has drawn a wedge and headache for particularly Opposition lawmakers.

Leaders of the National Unity Platform (NUP), the party with the biggest number of Opposition members in Parliament, held a crisis meeting at the Kamwokya offices on Monday night, which party leader Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, reportedly attended. The meetings, sources that attended, intimated resolved that recipients return the money. The party confirmed this position in a statement released last night.

Among those who reportedly admitted receiving the money included Mr Charles Tebandeke (Baale), Mr Twaha Kagabo (Bukoto South), Mr Steven Sserubula (Lugazi Municipality), and Ms Janepher Egunyu Nantume (Buvuma Woman).
In an interview, Mr Sserubula told this newspaper that “a friend received this money on my behalf and the party (NUP) position is that we should take it back. So, I will for sure take this money back because that is what we were asked to do in Kamwokya”.

On his part, Mr Kagabo said: “There is something I am waiting to confirm from the party before I take back the money, but I received it and I have it with me. That is all I can say about that.”
Based on the decision taken by the Monday night NUP meeting, Opposition Chief Whip John Baptist Nambeshe spent substantial part of yesterday in his office, waiting for MPs from the NUP family who received the cash to return it, but only one unnamed individual had done so by the time Mr Nambeshe left to attend the budget reading in the early afternoon.

Mr Ssemujju Nganda, the Opposition Forum Democratic Change party chief whip in Parliament, said:  “I have not seen this money, but it would be good to ask them (recipients) what they got this money for, and where they got it from.”

ACCU’s Agaba said he was rattled by the “suspicious” process and reported pay-out.  
“The biggest problem is the power given to MPs [in the Constitution] to increase their emoluments at will. This has been abused occasionally,” he said, “We need an independent salaries and remunerations commission to determine salaries of all public servants. Otherwise, this is a selfish move...”

WHAT THEY SAY
Herbert Kinobere, vice chairperson of the NRM Caucus: “The MPs received that money as their arrears, salaries and allowances to help them in their constituencies and their voters. The problem is that some people keep following up whichever money we get and take it to social media.”

Steven Sserubula, Lugazi Municipality MP: “A friend received this money on my behalf and the party (NUP) position is that we should take it back. So, I will for sure take this money back because that is what we were asked to do in Kamwokya”.

Twaha Kagabo, Bukoto South MP: “There is something I am waiting to confirm from the party before I take back the money, but I received it and I have it with me. That is all I can say about that.”

Ssemujju Nganda: FDC chief whip:  “I have not seen this money, but it would be good to ask them (recipients) what they got this money for, and where they got it from.”

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