Our parliamentary poverty of imagination

Author: Moses Khisa. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • It is not just that we have a mass of MPs that we do not need, it is also that we have a mess whereby they allocate themselves hefty pay cheques and benefits in a manner totally indifferent to the nation’s priorities.

The matter of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that caused so much uproar and attention around the world is now in court. It is apt not to comment on it. A matter for another day. Last week, I ended arguing that if there is one standout problem of Uganda, it is the sheer poverty of imagination, the lack of basic common sense in our national psyche and utter failure to see the obvious.  Nowhere is this so pronounced than in our national parliament. It is an institution of absurdity. Big on numbers and poor on substance, so much brouhaha and very little wisdom. Many busy bodies jumping to non-issues, few thoughtful minds focussed on real-issues.

The leadership at the helm of Parliament is perhaps the most appalling aspect of the close to 40 years the current rulers have ruled us. In Speaker Anita Among, Mr Museveni handed Uganda one of the most underwhelming leadership of any public institution let alone the second branch of government!  The absurdity of Uganda’s Parliament today lies squarely in its indefensible and irrational bloated numbers. At 557 MPs for about 45 million people, we have one MP for every 80,000 Ugandans.

Our immediate neighbours Kenya, with a more functional democratic system of government, have 350 MPs for about 55 million citizens, that is, one MP for close to 160,000 people. Better, Kenya’s stock of national wealth, by way of its economy, is three times bigger than Uganda’s!

Our former colonial rulers, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island, have 650 MPs for about 67 million people, meaning one MP represents more than 100,000 people, and the UK’s economy is more than 70 times bigger than Uganda’s. South Africa with a population of about 60 million has 400 MPs, that is, one MP for more than 150,000 people. I could go on. Like many other maddening things attendant to NRM rulership, it is puzzling making heads or tails why and how we got to a situation of a ridiculously huge parliament in country so poor, where so much needs to be done that does not require even 100 MPs!  It is not just that we have a mass of MPs that we do not need, it is also that we have a mess whereby they allocate themselves hefty pay cheques and benefits in a manner totally indifferent to the nation’s priorities.  Last week, we learnt that in addition to a large salary and allowances, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament are allocated budget lines for all sorts of things including clothing, bedding and footwear! Yes, the taxpayer picks the bill for how the people heading the legislature dress and sleep. Utterly bizarre. One would have thought that a crop of relatively young folks in charge of Parliament, and who have their own personal material fortunes and access to state largesse to roll with, would at a minimum find it embarrassing and morally unacceptable to have an official budget that includes clothing and footwear. 

The financial immorality of Museveni’s rulership is simply out of this world. It has become such an integral part of the system, a core pillar of regime survival such that there are no qualms running a bloated Parliament and Cabinet with a staggering payroll and outrageous consumption budget lines for those running the show. The proliferation of parliamentary constituencies, along with districts and sub-counties, is one of the most irresponsible features of Museveni’s rule especially over the last two decades.

Consider that by end of the 1990s, just over 20 years ago, my home district of Mbale had 10 MPs. Since then, what was one district of Mbale got chopped into six and a contraption called a city. The recently created Mbale ‘city’ lacks very basic services, credentials and the minimum infrastructure of any city worth that name.  Worse, while we had 10 MPs from the district of Mbale, the current six districts plus Mbale ‘city’ now send a total contingent of 23 MPs to Parliament. There’s scarcely any tangible justification for the more than doubled number of MPs for this area in a relatively short period.  My home county, what used to be Bubulo County, had two MPs. Today, it is two districts with six MPs including the woman in the eye of the storm over the Karamoja iron sheets scandal – Dr Maria Gorreti Kitutu.

Meanwhile, Bubulo Girls High School, right across the street from my home, once one of the best girls’ secondary schools in the country, has practically collapsed and there is no equivalent that has emerged from among the many private (money-oriented) schools.  There is not much to point to from the many MPs we have in bettering the constituencies they ostensibly represent, yet we are told MPs go to Parliament to deliver services and development to their people. It is a lie, part of Museveni’s politics of deception and our poverty of imagination. Truth is, creating constituencies and districts serves Museveni’s power interests than anything else.