Unlocking the facts, myth, secrets after Supreme Court ruling
Kampala, Uganda | JULIAN SABIITI | If for once Uganda were considered a corporation where performance is measured on the basis of return on investment, the next meeting of shareholders would be the stormiest in this corporation’s history.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – President Yoweri Museveni – who is credited with saving the corporation from potential liquidation 33 years ago would be facing new questions about his ability to bring sustained dividends to the shareholders.
The current board of directors, the Members of Parliament, who are supposed to supervise the running of the company, would be facing tough questions about their performance.
At every board meeting, the board of directors have been allowed to increase their remuneration, with the consent of the CEO, because of their “hard work” and “sacrifice” in running the company. With this balance sheet, the shareholders would be outraged and a resolution demanding action against both the CEO and the board of directors, would be circulated in advance of the meeting.
That is a slightly edited version of an excerpt from a 2009 report of study by the NGO Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) titled `Ugandan Taxpayers’ Burden: The Financial and Governance Costs of a Bloated Legislature’.
The report recommended that “specific safeguards should be introduced to disincentive MPs from arbitrarily determining their remuneration.
“Based on the study, the proposal that an independent commission or body be constituted to handle remuneration issues for MPs is considered untenable,” the report said.
Then it added: “It is proposed that the constitution and appropriate legislation should be amended to prohibit MPs from benefiting from any legislation or decision that confers pecuniary benefits to the sitting Members of Parliament.”
Ten years after ACODE made the recommendation, the courts appear to have acted on it although questions remain about whether their ruling will stop the CEO, President Museveni and the MPs from continuing to increase their remuneration.
Museveni rewards MPs
On July 25 the Supreme Court ruled that MPs should not continue to base on Section 5 of the Parliamentary Act to unilaterally increase their pay and allowances. They can do so only with consent of the executive.
The case was raised in 2011 by Wilson Mwesigye, a concerned citizen from Mubende, who petitioned the Constitutional Court to challenge decisions of the Parliamentary Commission to increase MPs pay based solely on Section 5 of the Parliamentary Act and Article 85 of the Constitution.
In their ruling, the judges said MPs can no longer increase their remuneration without the involvement of the Executive (Government) as per Article 93 of the constitution.
Seven judges led by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe agreed and voted unanimously that Section 5 of the Parliamentary Act be declared unconstitutional and that Article 85 of the constitution must be read alongside Article 93 which restricts financial matters to the executive.
Although the three arms of government are supposed to do their work independently as different bodies, the constitution states that the Executive is the arm of government in charge of the country’s overall finances, including both revenues and expenditures.
“It is evident that if Section 5 of the Act is left on our statute books, it is bound to be used by Parliament to violate the Constitution,” the judges ruled.
Following the court ruling, many people opposed to MPs routinely raising their pay expressed relief. But some MPs and other commentators scoffed at the significance of the ruling. It changes nothing, they said, because MPs have never increased their pay without the knowledge and acquiescence of President Yoweri Museveni.
They say Museveni does not support the MPs’ raising their remuneration on paper only. In practice, it is the President who routinely “rewards” the MPs with money.
In the latest case, weeks before the Supreme Court ruling, Museveni had been speaking against the latest attempt by MPs to raise their pay.
“MPs should stop asking for salary increment. Let us work on our national priorities first,” he said on May 06 at a book launch event in Kasangati Town in Wakiso District.
Members of Parliament had just increased their allowances by 39% and those of parliamentary staff by 15%. The new allowances will cost taxpayers an additional Ush63.46 billion ($16,967) in the 2019/20 budget.
Despite public outcry, the MPs also demanded a salary increment of over 100% so that their individual pay would on average jump from Shs11 million to Shs24 million.
In Financial Year 2018/19, Shs459 billion was allocated to the Parliamentary Commission and Shs86.9 billion of that was allocated to salaries of MPs and other parliament staff.
Earlier, in Financial Year 2014/15, Shs19 billion had initially been allocated to parliamentary salaries but the Clerk to Parliament demanded more. The MPs then proceeded to ask for an additional Shs43 billion so as to be able to increase individual salaries by Shs11 million.
The Parliamentary Commission proposed a 40% increment in the MPs’ mileage allowance from Shs2,500 to Shs3,500 per kilometer for the financial year 2015/16. This would mean that the MPs monthly cheque would rise averagely from between Shs15 million and Shs20 million to between about Shs16 million and Shs21 million.
These salary increments at times happen alongside other income enhancing privileges, such as exemption from paying taxes. The latest is the Social Media Tax /Over the Top (OTT) tax which is levied on all Ugandans at Shs200 per day. Instead of paying the tax like all liable citizens, the MPs cut adeal with a telephony services company to provide each MP with 5GB of data valued at Shs30,000 every month and pay their OTT tax at Shs6,000 per month and bill it on parliament.
As government criticism grew, the President’s comments had little effect because he has been making the same noises for almost a decade.
In July 2011, he described the MPs as “indisciplined” in an angry sounding address to teachers at the launch of the Uganda Teachers Cooperative savings and Credit Union (UTCSCU) at Main Street primary school in Jinja. The teachers, who are among the least paid government workers in Uganda, earn about 4% of what the MPs earn and were threatening to strike unless their salary was doubled.
The President who was out to woo the teachers told them he was “ready to discuss and debate” their demand but “the issue must be handled cautiously”. End of story for the teachers.
But the MPs who had just been sworn-in two months earlier got their pay raise despite sharp protests, including from some of the MPs. Whereas the previous MPs were each earning between Shs10 and 12 million per month, the new MPs managed to get an increase of between 50 to 80% which pushed the monthly pay salary of each MP to between Shs15 million and Shs20 million.