Voters have become hosts; politicians super-parasites

Author: Musaazi Namiti. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The money for the politicians’ cars pays salaries of 6,000 nurses earning Shs400,000 each.

In a symbiotic relationship, it is a win-win situation all around. You take something from me; I take something from you. This does not necessarily mean that everything is hunky-dory, but a symbiotic relationship does not give one side a raw deal. 

That is why the best-known symbiotic relationships — wife-husband and employer-employee — somehow go on for decades even when they are plagued by problems.

The voter-politician relationship is supposed to be symbiotic: I vote for you, you get a decent job and decent pay — and you fix my problems as a voter. Sadly, in Uganda, the voter-politician relationship is outrageously parasitic and predatory. It has been for decades and is showing no sign of changing. 

The current situation would force it to change, but we are seeing the opposite. Since Covid-19 struck and changed the way we live and work, Ugandans, like other people, have gone through difficult times. They lost sources of income. They lost breadwinners and loved ones. 

This has been compounded by sky rocketing commodity prices. A teacher’s or a police officer’s pay (even that of columnists, especially those without decent alternative sources of income) cannot even buy groceries in a good supermarket.

Ugandans literally live from hand to mouth. To see this, you begin with what they earn per annum on average: less than $1,000 (Shs3.7m). Then you look at figures from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics suggesting the highest paid Ugandans (politicians are excluded) take home Shs580,000 (less than $200) a month. And the Bank of Uganda says 1 per cent of working Ugandans earn upwards of Shs1m.

This provides a nice segue into one disturbing question: Why do politicians who are paid by people who have almost nothing want to be paid more and more while those who pay are starving? 

This week, it emerged that the Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, and her deputy, Thomas Tayebwa, had secured brand new swanky cars costing Shs2.4b, according to this newspaper. They already had cars which could be used until the end of their current term. What is more, MPs will take an extra Shs193b for their allowances.

The money for the politicians’ cars pays salaries of 6,000 nurses earning Shs400,000 each. Ironically, the government imposed a freeze on hiring healthcare workers because, according to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Diana Atwine, it is broke. Yet a broke government finds money to buy flashy cars for politicians who already have cars.

How this profligate spending, a burden to the struggling taxpayer, should be stopped is a hard question. Expecting politicians to change laws and reduce their pay is a bit like asking monkeys whether a part of the forest where they live should be cut down to construct a football stadium. 

As things stand, we have become hosts and the politicians are now super-parasites. Of course, we would not mind if politicians were the smartest people doing great things for Uganda. 

But the truth remains that of the 555 MPs we have, few would find something out of politics — a job, for example — that pays them Shs20m because they do not have real skills to sell. 

For many, jumping from one radio/TV current affairs show to another to discuss politics is their stock-in-trade. A diplomat like Natalie E. Brown, the US ambassador to Uganda, has a much busier schedule, supervising her country’s projects in Uganda, than many politicians.

If you took talking out of politics, many of our politicians would have a hard time justifying their generous pay.

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected]    @kazbuk