Dormancy of once vibrant parliament watchdog committee shines light on leadership and funding
Budadiri County MP Nandala Mafabi has not been on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament since 2011 but the chartered accountant and lawyer remains the most recognisable name to have led it. His adeptness with numbers, awareness of the facts, and cocky language are almost as legendary as his signature short-sleeved white shirts, dark ties and pants.
The committee is currently led by Soroti Woman MP Angeline Osegge, a social worker, who is deputised by Ntungamo Municipality MP Gerald Karuhanga, a lawyer. Karuhanga likes to put a brave face on things but the PAC of the moment is a shadow of its past. The only question worth asking is why the once mighty committee has become so inactive?
“But how do people determine inactiveness?” Karuhanga asks, “Is it because we are not making headlines?
“Ugandans want to first see you on the front page or on TV screens for them to know that you’re working,” he says. And he is right.
Nandala Mafabi was an adroit manager of the sound bite and cameras could simply not stop rolling as he grilled public official after public official. When one of Mafabi’s prey referred to PAC as a “torture chamber” very few disagreed.
Even Mafabi’s successor, then Terego County MP Kassiano Wadri hogged a few headlines with his sharp tongue and wide rolling eyes. The current leaders are, however, another story all together.
Recently, for example, the committee presented a report on the Health sector to Parliament-which among other things recommended that the powerful Permanent Secretary/Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi be held liable and investigated by the IGG for financial impropriety.
The committee also recommends the interdiction of other accounting officers notably those in the health ministry departments for misappropriation of funds and for reporting to have refunded in excess of Shs2 billion to Global Fund.
Despite its tough recommendations, the committee’s report went almost unnoticed.
To critical observers, this confirmed that the committee which was once influential and kept many government officials on their toes “is dead”.
Many say the death of PAC is unfortunate because it is the committee which, under the rules of parliament, is mandated to examine the audited accounts of government departments. In an era where corruption is ubiquitous, PAC is guaranteed to catch many thieves as it pores over the public expenditure of government.
The committee is by law, to be chaired and deputized by members designated by the official Opposition Party in Parliament which, in this case, is the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
The observers refer nostalgically to the glory days of the committee during the 8th Parliament where many top cabinet ministers were grilled and prosecuted over the misappropriation of government funds.
The committee’s probe on the funds allocated for the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala in 2007 and the earlier misappropriation of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) funds by the Ministry of Health top officials had restored confidence in the public that Parliament can keep the executive in check. Nandala Mafabi was in charge then, his intervention led to the prosecution of then-Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, and then-Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa, among others.
The committee also boasted of recovering about Shs3.5 trillion from the individuals that had embezzled it and were recovering about Shs700 billion per year. The committee was recognised both locally and internationally for its role in fighting corruption with the Inspectorate of Government openly praising it for simplifying its work of fighting graft.
Mafabi attributes this success to competent leadership.
“It was team work and I led,” he says, “but most importantly I was knowledgeable in the field of accountability.”
During the 9th Parliament when the Committee was led by Kassiano Wadri, its report on the loss of over Shs160 billion through the dubious compensation to city businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba led to the resignation of two cabinet ministers; former Finance Minister Syda Bbumba and former Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya.
But the influence of the committee has been dwindling and its work has become almost invisible.
The PAC decline started during the leadership of former Serere Woman MP Alice Alaso. After her appointment in 2013, many were skeptical that a historian could competently lead a committee that probes audit reports.
Observers say little has changed under Osegge and Karuhanga. While Osegge has previously chaired the Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) and Karuhanga has been a member of PAC since he joined Parliament in 2011, skepticism persists about their ability in PAC.