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Bribery or service?

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Museveni cash handouts have sparked controversy  

On the night of Sept.13, Mandela National Stadium, Namboole in Kampala was a beehive of activity as the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) concluded elections for the party’s national leaders. The elections were chaotic and the results were late and often disputed. By 2am, the final results, which had been expected as early as 8 pm., were still not ready.

A bevy of party praise singers kept the restless crowds entertained. They were 32 individuals or groups in all. One of them was a solo act by Mark Bugembe aka Buchaman, who sang his popular hit Lwaki Temumatira, which is about being unappreciated.

The lyrics must have struck a resonance for President Yoweri Museveni who, as party chairman, endured the long wait for the election results perched on a stiff chair at the high table.

When the election results were about to be declared, Museveni made a surprise announcement.

‘I have given Shs 40 million to each of you,’ he told the entertainers.

He then called the leader coordinating the singing groups to receive the money on their behalf but, on second thoughts, asked the entertainers to assemble so that he could give them the money personally. It was a prudent decision but tedious to execute.

The excited singers stepped forward to shake hands with the President and receive their cash but after giving about five groups, the President asked the groups’ leader to give the money to the rest.

They moved out to share the money. Each group got Shs400,000.  The figure has raised many questions. Did Museveni give Shs 40 million to each of the groups or Shs 400,000?

It is a problem that President Museveni is constantly grappling with: How does he donate money, a car, a house or anything and ensure that it reaches the recipient?

But the Presidential donations and brown envelopes have become so ubiquitous that they have attracted other kind of public scrutiny.

In a July 17 speech to Ugandans in Los Angeles, USA, the President of the opposition Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party, Olara Otunnu, criticised Museveni’s ‘envelops culture’.

‘What I want to offer the youth of Uganda in particular, is not envelopes of money, which is what Museveni does. For every problem, and every complaint there’s an envelope with some money inside.

‘I have no money to offer Ugandan youth, and I should not offer them envelopes of money,’ he said.

‘I must tell you I’m shocked at the money culture which has been inculcated by the Museveni regime,’ he said, ‘I’ve never seen a situation in which money is on a pedestal and king, as in Uganda today; which is very ironic, because most people in Uganda have no money.’

Otunnu said because of this, ‘a tiny group on top, for whom money is no object’ is able to corrupt and control people.

‘The money culture has become so deep; everything is buyable. Everything. Money can open your way everywhere, can buy everything. We’ve got to find a way to address this,’ he said.

On August 26, the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) raised concern over the manner in which the president was dishing out donations to some members of the public.

PAC Chairman Nandala Mafabi says that the President’s donations and pledges are crippling service delivery. He says that the money would be better used if it is allocated to the areas that need it. ‘That way accounting and knowing what it did is easy,’ he says.

The MPs’ contention was that the envelopes were a style of campaigning employed by the President ahead of 2011 election.

Officials from State House who were appearing before the committee said the pledges had resulted in a liability of Shs 5 billion that needed to be cleared fast. But State House Comptroller Lucy Nakyobe Mbonye defended the President’s actions, saying the brown envelopes were part of the donation budget line, given out in good faith. ‘This is not bribery, these envelopes are always accounted for and they are given to those who dance for the President,’ Ms Nakyobe said. ‘As a President, he is a fountain of honour and is entitled to donate.’

Some MPs on the committee flatly rejected her explanation.

‘These donations are nothing but corruption,’ Peter Mutuluuza (NRM, Mawokota North) said. ‘This is bribery of the highest order. For instance, in my constituency, the President donated five pick-up trucks under unclear circumstances. This shows how public money is being abused to bribe voters.’

Proponents of the brown envelope politics say, despite their arbitrariness, Museveni dishes out these envelopes to the best performers of his pro-people policies in fields like agriculture to encourage them.

According to the chairperson of the Committee on Presidential Affairs Barnabas Tinkansimire, ‘the President Museveni way of handling things is the best’.

 

He says a President in country where the government machinery cannot deliver all the necessary services to its people is to give people hope.  Tinkansimire says presidential donations and pledges give people hope.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson, Linda Nabusayi Wamboka wrote in the Daily Monitor arguing that State House budget includes donations and parliament debates and passes this budget.

‘The President is a fountain of honour who is entitled to donate to any cause, at anytime, anywhere,’ said Wamboka, ‘It is therefore superfluous for any Member of Parliament to question the President’s gesture of offering gifts to whoever he wants.’

She dismissed as a futile attempt to link the President’s donations to bribery. The President can donate as much money as his budget can allow,’ she wrote.

Wamboka said the President has donated cars, palaces and other things to churches, traditional institutions, and schools ‘There is hardly any part of society or institution that has not benefited from the Presidents’ generosity,’ said Nabusayi, ‘Can they claim he bribed them for votes?’

Sample Presidential expenditure

·        In the week ending Sept.20, the President spent over Shs 60 million on the supporters of his former Principle Private Secretary Amelia Kyambadde whom he met at State House. According to Peter Mutuluza, the MP Mawokota North who attended the meeting were at least 3000 delegates and Museveni gave each Shs 20,000 after the meeting. The President also paid for their transportation from Mawokota in 60 buses.

·        In the same week, Museveni met another group of supporters from sixteen districts of Uganda at the invitation of some members who lost in the NRM elections at Namboole. The over 500 delegates were housed at the expense of the president and he later gave them Shs 70,000 each, totaling to about Shs 35 million.

·        The president also went to Bushenyi and gave Kitabi Seminary Shs 60 million. This was in addition to another Shs 40 million he had given to the school to buy a school bus.

Official sources of Museveni’s money

·        Salary: Shs 3.6 million per month.

·        Mobilization:  Shs 10 billion.

·        Monitoring government economic activities: Shs 190 million.

·        Welfare and Entertainment: Shs 140 million.

·        Internal and external travel:  Shs 90 million.

She argued that the President actually needs a bigger budget.

But Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba, a consultant on poverty issues at Makerere University told The Independent that presidential pledges ‘are going through the roof’.

‘It might take the country a hundred years to meet those presidential pledges since they rival a full national budget,’ Nuwagaba says.

The pledges cause budgetary confusion.

‘He (Museveni) goes to a small church in the village and pledges Shs 800 million that should be given to big churches like Nakasero,’ Nuwagaba says.

According to the Auditor General’s report of 2008, ministries that did not have a budget provision where Presidential pledges could be covered were nevertheless instructed to fund them.

The Ministry of Education and Sports funded the pledges through diversion of funds from other budgeted programmes, like the Emergency Fund for Rehabilitation of Schools under emergency circumstances, the report said.

‘The practice may affect the achievement of the Ministry objectives,’ it concluded.

Even when delivered, such arbitrary Presidential donations sometimes cause acrimony among beneficiaries.

In the media fraternity, a Shs 150 million donation by the President to the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) to start ‘development projects’ has caused a split. Instead of ‘development projects’, the money was spent on an office building for the association in a remote suburb of the city that has been described as ‘no value for money’. The UJA leaders are accused of acquiring the building under dubious conditions.

In a recent interview, Museveni told a journalist that he was aware that people were stealing most of the money he donates. It has become so bad that the value of unfulfilled pledges by the President has risen to Shs 120 billion. People no longer trust the President to honour his pledges.

‘The president knows it,’ said a journalist who has spoken to the President about it, ‘That is why these days he hands out the cash himself to the beneficiaries. If he promises power to an area, he makes sure the poles are erected before he goes there.’

Unfortunately, as images of the President handing over a brown envelope to entertainers at Namboole, and a brand new luxury vehicle to a bishop or traditional ruler or hybrid heifer to a progressive farmer are flashed on television screens across the country, a new culture is emerging; the President has become an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) for those who have the right password. That is no exaggeration. The Presidential convoy now sometimes includes an armoured money-carrying truck. It may get worse as the 2011 presidential and parliamentary election race heats up.

Sometimes Museveni’s gifts are unexpected.

‘I did not expect to get paid for my performance because performing before the President was such a great honour and enough,’ says Buchaman. But some people expect a windfall whenever they meet Museveni or any politician.

Prof. Nuwagaba says MPs have learnt from the president and are pushing for more money for the Constituency Development Fund to be able to give more donations to the constituents.

Every election time, voters expect the contestants, be it at LCV or MP or presidential level, to give them something mostly money, a bar of soap, alcohol, sugar, salt and sometimes meat to vote them into office. It is not the innovative ideas that a candidate presents to the electorate that form the basis for a decision to vote them but how much the voter received from the candidate.

Other observers say the practice is dangerous for democracy. Leaders who win elections through dishing out goodies to voters often concentrate on recovering their money invested in the campaigns instead of lobbying for services that benefit all citizens.

Issuing brown envelopes probably became vivid in the intense lobbying for the removal of presidential term limits when MPs in 2005 were given Shs 5 million each to amend the Constitution to  allow President Museveni  contest for that office for as many times as he desires. Since then dishing out brown envelopes has come to characterise Ugandan politics.

As we move into an election year, more of these handshakes and generous presidential donations will increase and anyone singing praises will make easy fortunes out of them.

During his tours, the President does not only donate through the brown envelopes, he has donated pick-up trucks to support farmers transport their goods to the markets, he has donated to dancers who entertain him, he has offered medical support to sick people he meets in homes and communities he visits, he has donated improved animal breeds to farmers to boost their production, he has donated animal manure from his farm in Kisozi to farmers who were previously made to buy it, and paid school fees for the needy.

But every election also brings more politically-driven pledges. Some of these are public goods and services that citizens are entitled to get from the government but which, during elections, are couched as rewards for ‘voting wisely’; they could be a water source, school, health centre, road, electricity, district, or palace for the local chief.

Most of these are not in the budget. As a result, unimplemented Presidential pledges resulting from the 2006 election manifesto for the NRM stand at Shs 4 trillion.

When the Fast-track Committee on Presidential Pledges, which is headed by Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi, was formed to study the implementation of the pledges, it made an obvious recommendation: Let line ministries be used to implement these pledges.

According to a report by this committee, most outstanding pledges are in the Lands and Housing Ministry, which amount to Shs 2.1 trillion. Out of this, Sh1.76 trillion is needed to establish the Land Fund.
A total of Shs 1.27 trillion is required to implement pledges in the roads sector. Of this, Shs 124 billion has been committed by government and development partners, leaving a funding gap of Shs 1.146 trillion. The works pledged include upgrading national roads, designing roads for tarmacking, construction of bridges, upgrading of 5,000km of district roads to national road status and introduction of more ferry services to improve water transport.
The health ministry needs Shs 157 billion to construct new health centres and renovate existing ones. The ministry of water and environment has pledges amounting to Shs 156 billion. The report explained that only Shs 33 billion has been provided in the budget. Yet in the agricultural sector, a total of 38 pledges worth more than Shs 20 billion remain unfulfilled. The Nsibambi committee recommends that line ministries meet these pledges immediately before the 2011 elections.

Some presidential pledges date as far back as during the 1981-1985 NRA bush war that brought Museveni to power.

Former Luweero district LCV chairman, Hajji Abdul Nadduli in February this year, appealed to President Museveni to fulfill all the pledges he made during his 2006 presidential campaigns. Nadduli said among these pledges was a promise to supply power throughout the Luweero Triangle, the epi-theatre of the NRA war, which has not been fulfilled yet his term of office is coming to an end. Such demands abound.

Museveni has a novel way of looking at the pledges.

In his State of the Nation address in parliament in June, the President used the ministry of agriculture, animal industry and fisheries to illustrate his view. ‘By March 2010, I had made 166 presidential pledges through that ministry,’ he told Parliament, ‘Out of these, 95 pledges had been fulfilled at a cost of Ug. Shs. 1.6 bn; work had started on 38 pledges at a cost of Ug. Shs. 666.5 m while funds were being mobilised to handle the remaining 33 pledges.’

He went on: ‘I would like to state clearly that the Principal Agreement between the Movement and the people of Uganda is the 2006 Election Manifesto upon which the people gave the Movement the mandate to run the affairs of this country.

‘On assumption of power, the commitments in the Election Manifesto became policy which we have been implementing systematically since then.  Consequently, the pledges I may make during my tours do not in any way substitute the commitments in the manifesto.  On the contrary, they are simply a supplement to the fundamental commitments in the manifesto and their implementation may be immediate or gradual depending on what is required and what is available.’ Now you have it.

Additional reporting by Dicta Asiimwe

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