Parliament new hires inflate its payroll

The entrance to Parliament of Uganda in Kampala. The current House payroll consists of 556 permanent employees and 113 short-term contractors. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Nearly 50 percent of the total House budget in the last eight years was spent on sustaining the expanded number of lawmakers, which currently stands at 557.

Parliament plans to hire 53 more staff in the next financial year, which will expand its bloated wage bill by another Shs4.73b and likely push the overall House budget past the Shs5 trillion mark across the past eight years.  

These hires are against the grain of the Executive’s recent decision to get rid of duplicity and profligacy by merging agencies. This as the government is saddled with more debt after going on a borrowing spree to plug the gaps in its deficit budget. It is estimated that if the bills on the merger are passed by the House, the government will reduce the public service workforce by more than 2,000 employees. It will also save Shs1 trillion in that event.

The current House payroll, which Monitor was able to access, consists of 556 permanent employees and 113 short-term contractors. Upon scrutiny, there is evidence of role duplicity among not only the old staff but also the proposed new staff hires. For instance, the office of the Speaker currently has 28 staff and plans to hire another 12 staff, including secretaries and policy wonks. Among the current staff in the Speaker’s office is the executive secretary, a principal policy analyst, three senior personal assistants, three assistant secretaries, two personal assistants, one senior assistant secretary, two assistant secretaries (commission), two assistant secretaries (commissioners) and 16 personal aides (in charge of PWD, Elderly).

Other unfulfilled positions in the office of the Speaker include two assistant directors, a principal press secretary, a principal personal assistant, a senior personal assistant, a press secretary, two assistant secretaries (commissioners) and four personal assistants (commissioners), bringing the number to 12. Some of these roles are further duplicated under the department of Communication and Public Affairs (CPA), which has 43 staff and requires another four staff to make it 47.

Amorphous structure
Among the current positions of this amorphous structure is the director of communication and public affairs, the assistant director of communication and public affairs, the assistant director of media relations, four principal information officers, the principal public affairs officer, the principal protocol officer, two senior information officers, two senior public affairs officers, two senior protocol officers (ticketing), two senior protocol officers, nine protocol officers, 11 public affairs officers and six information officers. 

The Leader of the Opposition in Parliament’s (LoP) office currently has 21 staff and plans to recruit another three officers. This office currently has nine policy analysts and one senior policy analyst. It plans to hire another principal policy analyst and two assistant secretaries.

The office of the Leader of Government Business has 25 staff at Parliament and requires an additional two staff in the next financial year. Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, the current occupant, currently has nine policy analysts and requires an additional two policy analysts.

According to the ministerial vote for the Office of the Prime Minister for the FY2022/2023, Ms Nabbanja has another two senior policy analysts, two principal policy analysts and two policy analysts who are sheltered at the President’s office. She also has nine personal secretaries, five principal assistant secretaries, four political assistants, two senior assistant secretaries, six assistant secretaries and two senior assistant secretaries (PA) and six senior assistant secretaries (admin) on the government payroll.
However, the office of the deputy Speaker of Parliament under Thomas Tayebwa, is comparably lean with eight staff and two vacant positions for a personal assistant and policy analyst to be filled.

In the next financial year, the Speaker’s office is seeking to raise its budget from Shs8.233b to Shs13.69b, per the 2023/2024 Finance ministry budget estimates. The office of the Deputy Speaker is seeking an increment from Shs7.132b to Shs10.729b.
The ex-gratia payment for political leaders, which currently stands at Shs1.441b this financial year, will soar to Shs5.695b in the next financial year.
But the budget for the office of the (LoP), which currently stands at Shs4.457b, will be slashed by Shs214m to Shs4.243b, per the Finance ministry budget estimates for FY2024/2025. 

“I am actually glad it has happened to the office of the LoP. Although they didn’t do it in good faith, I am glad it happened because they have reduced the budget,” LoP Joel Ssenyonyi said, adding, “Incidentally, as they are reducing the budget of the LoP, it is an entire department with staff and so on and that’s not money coming into my pocket. We can work minimally so that there is money for service delivery. As they are reducing mine, the Speaker’s budget is being increased by Shs5b. The Deputy Speaker’s budget is being increased by Shs4b,” LoP Ssenyonyi told Monitor.

Speaker Anita Among presides over plenary session recently. PHOTO/ FILE

Shs4.7 trillion jump
The vote for Parliament follows a pattern of galloping expenditure as a survey conducted by the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) indicates. The survey shows that the House budget has shot to Shs4.7 trillion in the last eight years.
“Remarkably, the parliamentary budget has surged by 223 percent within seven years, soaring from Shs371b in FY2015/2016 to Shs829b in FY2022/2023,” reads the CSBAG report.

Of this amount, 40 percent was doled out as allowances amounting to Shs1.89 trillion— part of the hefty perks for lawmakers and Parliament staff who usually travel abroad on superfluous trips such as bench-marking best practices from other countries. 

Travel abroad, a vice, which cuts across other government departments, gobbled Shs170b in eight years.
An institution which is predatory in its expenditure, the jury is out on whether there is an intrinsic value of Parliament in regard to the wellbeing of Ugandan society. Its constrained ability to play its oversight duty on the Executive has also come up.
“In fact, over the last eight years, they were only spending seven percent of their Shs4.7 trillion on development. The rest [of the Shs4.7 trillion] was spent on wage and non-wage [items],” argues Julius Mukunda, the executive director of CSBAG. 

Nearly 50 percent of the total House vote in the last eight years was spent on sustaining the expanded number of lawmakers, which currently stands at 557.

“The biggest challenge we are facing is that the Auditor General (AG) does not audit Parliament because the AG reports to Parliament. So there should be another firm that audits Parliament. In this case, the power of Parliament is unlimited. That is why they sit and decide their own emoluments. They sit and decide how to spend the money the way they want, they are not following the rules. Nobody is there to check their excessive power,” Mukunda posits. “If Parliament today said we want every Member of Parliament to be paid 100 million per month, nobody is going to stop them because we don’t have a single mechanism to do that. It’s not there.”

The 2019/2020 Uganda Bureau of Services (Ubos) national household survey indicated that the median or average monthly wage for a public servant, which was on a higher side, was Shs526,000. A private employee earned a median wage of Shs150,000 while the highest paid employees were the managers, earning a median monthly income of Shs580,000. The least paid were elementary workers, earning an average of Shs100,000, which starkly contrasts the huge lawmakers’ salaries and perks.  

The Administration of Parliament Act offers no recourse to halt what many citizens view as a blot on the moral conscience of the country’s leaders.  Section 6 read together with Section 19 of the Act empowers Parliament, through the Commission, to determine MP allowances, salaries and emoluments.
Specifically, Section 19 (1) reads that in each financial year, the Commission shall prepare and submit to the President estimates for that year of the expenses of departments of Parliament and any other expenses incurred for the service of the House.

Section 19 (2) reads further: “The President shall cause the estimates to be laid before Parliament without revision but with any recommendations that government may have on them.”
This also comes at the time public trust continues to decline in the House, with poor approval ratings and whose lowbrow debates are usually peppered with bluster in the place of substance.

Under the spotlight  
The recent Parliament exhibition on the microblogging platform X turned the spotlight on the August House after displaying allegations of wasteful expenditure and the dubious withdrawal of funds from bank accounts meant to ostensibly be spent on community outreach programmes.

The debate on the social media site has elicited public consternation and drew the attention of the Inspectorate of Government, which announced that it would probe these allegations. Some lawmakers and the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) party officials have asked government to sanction a forensic probe in light of these allegations.

Mr Chris Obore, the director of communication at Parliament, has previously accused the exhibitors, including journalist Agather Atuhaire and a university lecturer and cartoonist, Jimmy Spire Ssentongo, as well as lawyer Godwin Toko, of authoring falsehoods meant to malign the Speaker, Ms Anita Among and the image of the House. The exhibition also fingered the immediate past LoP, Mathias Mpuuga, who accepted receiving a Shs500m ‘service award’.
Mr Bernard Oundo, the Uganda Law Society president, described the award as an illegal fund out of the Consolidated Fund, reasoning that “there was no Bill or motion presented on behalf of the Executive in relation to the impugned service award emoluments.”
LoP Ssenyonyi has been outspoken about the recent allegations of graft, calling for an urgent and impartial probe. But Speaker Among on Friday shot down Ssenyonyi’s impassioned pleas.

“The Parliamentary Commission was hijacked by one person, the Speaker who usurped all the powers of the Commission. I am a member of the Commission now. There has been no Commission meeting. I wrote to her saying ‘can we convene a Commission meeting’,” LoP Ssenyonyi said, adding, “Because the Commission is the top organ of this institution which determines all the financial expenditures and so on. I said we need to discuss these issues as a Commission. The Commission last sat in August last year. She wrote back to me saying she is busy with the budget framework paper and so on so the Commission will meet in July going forward. That will have been a year without the Commission sitting.”