To the MP, joy riding is benchmarking

Tuesday May 04 2021
By Nicholas Sengoba

For every dark cloud they say, there is a silver lining. The Covid-19 pandemic, was a terrible, disruptive curse in more ways than one. 

Loved ones died, jobs were lost, businesses folded, economies retrogressed, children lost school time. The list is endless.

But there were opportunities as well. Those selling medicaments and other personal, protective equipment made a killing. So did courier companies and those doing business online. 

But perhaps the most revolutionary and eye opening aspects that came with the Covid-19 pandemic was the understanding of work and the workplace.

Because of the need for social distancing, working off site became the new normal. Zoom, webinars, MS teams, skype, etc became the meeting place.  The computer and other devices became an integral part of worklife.

Billions of dollars worldwide were saved meeting online by eliminating travel, accommodation and expenses on refreshments. So was time. The main lesson is that you don’t need to meet in flesh and blood. The virtual experience in many instances proved to be as equally if not surpassed the benefit of the ‘real’ meeting. 


The purpose of this foreplay is to lead us to a rather bizarre intercourse which involves an egocentric bunch of individuals. This unpatriotic and selfish lot has decided to bury their heads in the sand; completely aloof from the happenings around them.

In the era in which the adverse effects of Covid-19 have forced frugality and thriftiness on countries, businesses and individuals, you have the Parliament of Uganda increasing its budget for foreign travel by almost a quarter. 

They have the glaikit effrontery to assert that the Shs420 billion they will spend flying across the globe at the expense of the already overburdened taxpayer, is an absolute necessity.

That they must benchmark and learn from other countries how to do things better.  

For all the years MPs have been travelling abroad to benchmark and learn best practices, we need to show tangible results. These we shall not wait for because they do not exist anyway, because they are into joy riding and piggy backing at the expense of the taxpayer.

For some MPs, Parliament is the house of firsts. First time in Kampala, first ill-fitting suit and pair of shoes, first time to own a car, first time to sit at a formal dinner table and use cutlery. But most importantly, first time to fly a  plane and go outside the borders of Uganda.  The last bit is the sweetest of them all. It comes with per diem and allowances. A night of travel sets the taxpayer back by almost  $700 per night. Ten days away and one has Shs25,000,000 just like that.

The Auditor General has said in several reports that in many cases, there is no proof that those who pick the money to travel actually leave the country. They will not show boarding passes or receipts from the hotels in which they slept. 

One unlucky lot was robbed in a village lodge in South Africa where they had opted to reside cheaply below the official rate in order to save some money.

In other cases, those who leave do not prove that they actually travelled to the intended destination to carry out the purpose for which they drew the money. They don’t produce reports as prudence would dictate.

But all that aside from March 2020, due to travel restrictions occasioned by Covid-19, there has been a cap on foreign travel by most government officials. We have to look back and asess what we missed out as a country besides what we saved. 

This includes the other cancer of medical tourism where government officials have a misguided sense of entitlement that they must be funded for treatment in a foreign medical facility by the taxpayer. The moneys in millions of dollars could set up the very facilities right here.

How did we get here?  The politician from the biggest head in the land goes all out to misuse the taxpayers money and resources like land, jobs etc. relentlessly, for the sake of patronage.  

The monkeys on the back of mother monkey then learn the trick. Get in there and grab as much as possible deprive the people then enrich yourself and also have some to spread around so that you puff up your significance. 

The justification here is that as MP you are the main provider of school, burial and hospital fees because the government does not fund them adequately.

It creates a power relation. Those who hold public office are the saviours of those who elect them. The office holder then steals to provide for the voter with the condition that the voter remains loyal and subservient to them.

The reason the formal channel is discouraged where by the money is collected centrally and equitably distributed through institutions of State is because the individual MP will lose the opportunity of being personally relevant as the generous giver; the hunter who brings home the prey and gives it out.

That is how the culture of corruption has entrenched itself. Parliament ceases to be a house of oversight. MPs then opportunistically position themselves to grab as much as they can which in most cases means they must compromise on their principles to remain on the gravy train.

It is the reason why there is vivacious activity around who will be Speaker of the next Parliament. 

You have the Speaker’s eye, you travel and make more money. Don’t tell us about benchmarking. 

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues

Twitter: @nsengoba