Parliament’s service award sticks out like a sore thumb

Author: Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

In other words most citizens work to enrich a few people who have been propped up by the government. Such people are not the legendary mother goose that fends for its young ones.

So, we have another recipient of a generous ‘service award’, magnanimously provided by the venerable 11th Parliament.

This time the august House under the able stewardship of the Speaker Anita Annet Among and deputised by Mr Thomas Bangirana Tayebwa, has the soon-to-retire Auditor General; John Muwanga as the lucky winner.

Interestingly the honourable gentleman is still in service. What happens if the ship capsizes or fails to dock, yet you have already paid him for ‘a job well done’? He is human after all and is not immune to err.

Of course people who work should be appreciated. The trouble is that the criteria of earning this award is not in black and white.

Secondly it seems to only come alive when the recipients are in the higher echelons of power. These people live and work all their lives with hefty allowances and all manner of facilitation borne by the taxpayer. They are also entitled to considerable retirement benefits. Yet they only compliment other workers and don’t exactly do anything extra special. At the risk of being accused of whataboutism, we must ask about the overworked and underpaid health workers who save lives of our people and the teachers who groom our children on a daily basis. Then there are soldiers and police officers who ensure security and enforce law and order respectively. There is no equity or justification in rewarding one category -the fat cats- who already enjoy privileges and ignoring the others, citing a ‘meagre resource envelope’ whenever they cry out for consideration.

That aside, we are living in very tough economic times where many businesses are closing and cutting back on expenditure is the only means of economic survival for most. Almost 70 percent of Ugandans live by borrowing, from money to things as mundane as foodstuffs just to keep their skins together. Some have sunk into depression and currently it is estimated that about 14 million people have some form of mental illness. Experts say a lot of these cases are attributed to financial stress.

One has to be armed with insuperable chutzpah to justify such licentiousness. But this is Uganda where the vile nature of mischief is rationalised by its beneficiaries who simply clothe it in the law, which they frame and interpret themselves. They must have been good students of what vindicated Apartheid and racism in South Africa and the USA.

The person-to-holder service award became an issue when social media platform, X under the #UgandaParliamentExhibition, highlighted it. Shs1.7 billion was shared among three back bench parliamentary commissioners of the NRM and the former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Mathias Mpuuga Nsamba, of NUP. The former; all affiliated to the NRM party; Solomon Silwany, Prossy Akampurira Mbabazi and Esther Afyochan got Shs400 million each. Mpuuga walked off with Shs500 million. But this habit has been around for quite some time.

A few weeks ago, a Minister of Finance came to Parliament with a list of big name companies and institutions seeking tax exemptions. This is at a time when small traders were being made to pay their dues for the sake of compliance and revenue collection.  Yet they also suffered the effects of Covid-19.

The former speakers received brand-new four-wheel drive vehicles recently which will be maintained by the government. These are men and women in the evenings of their lives and are not exactly indigent.

Yet we have over 80 percent of our population under the age of 45; the most productive times of their lives, languishing without jobs. Many are fleeing the country to work at odd jobs or as blue-collar workers in the Middle East and Europe. Many of those at home have descended into crime or disguised unemployment. A country can’t claim to secure its future if it does not lay special and deliberate emphasis on the youth.

When the Mpuuga award was highlighted, the argument then was that there was an attempt to compromise the opposition into being ‘friendly’ to the NRM. Now that has been scuttled by Muwanga’s award for he is not a politician. This has helped us to understand the service award better especially in hard economic times.

It is more about creating power relations whereby economic control is in the hands of a few people while denying the majority. It keeps the latter on the wall; working their lives away for little pay from the small clique of the haphazardly formed, awarded middle class.  

The recipients of government privileges may not be very productive but are vital in helping the cause of government to perpetuate itself in power. Money is thrown at them to co-opt them. In street terms it is the same way a person fleeing after a heist, drops part of the loot to distract those chasing them to procure their sympathy and blessing.

When as many prominent people as possible are soiled, you attract less ear ache for your shenanigans, for it becomes the classic case of the pot shying away from calling the kettle black.

All these things fall in place very well in the neoliberal framework, which purports to ensure efficiency and prosper people through private participation in the economy.

Here the government supposedly, simply formulates policy and regulates where necessary. So, it barely funds social services like schools and hospitals yet it taxes the people. The services are provided by those who the government showers with privileges and easy money. It is to these people that the citizens pay to enjoy social services. They are left to price the services. The education sector in Uganda tells you that story.

In other words most citizens work to enrich a few people who have been propped up by the government.

Such people are not the legendary mother goose that fends for its young ones. They are cold blooded business people supported by the government and stick out like sore thumbs due to their callousness.

For instance, when you fall sick, you create an opportunity for them to make money. It therefore is a disadvantage for them if you remain healthy. That is why corner cutting is usually part of their trade and because the government has created them, one rarely has a place to run to if they feel hard done by them.

Twitter: @nsengoba