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In defense of Shs 10 billion for MPs

Why Kadaga is right and Museveni is wrong about the role of MPs in the Coronavirus fight

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Uganda’s elites are very angry that their legislators allocated themselves Shs10 billion to aid the fight against the coronavirus. Many see the act as a form of corruption, arguing that the MPs are taking this money for themselves. President Yoweri Museveni, in characteristic opportunistic style, has joined Uganda’s chattering elites in condemning parliament, and so have the courts of law. In the ensuing cacophony of shrill alarms reason has been thrown to the wind. One has to be dangerously ignorant, or a fool or a demagogue to condemn MPs for what they did.

MPs passed a supplementary budget of Shs 900 billion, from which they allocated themselves only 1% of the funds. One needs to be far removed from political reality of Uganda, and any poor country for that matter, to make the arguments many pundits are making. Our country is in a crisis. Many people, especially in urban areas who depend on money income for their survival are in dire straits. For many Ugandans, their most reliable source of social insurance is members of their immediate family, relatives, friends, well-off neighbors and other benefactors.

Thus when in difficulty, these are the people Ugandans turn to – when they need fees for their children, money to meet funeral expenses, funds to pay for medical expenses, food to feed their families etc. As electoral politics has consolidated, and political contestation has heated, the MP has become the most important benefactor in every community, rural or urban. All elected officials in Uganda are under pressure from voters to provide assistance of one form or another. But the Ugandan MP is the most inundated with these requests.

In the case of the coronavirus crisis, Ugandan legislators (like legislators in every poor country) must be under intense pressure to do something directly. They must be seen to be generous, kind and understanding. They must have cash to give assistance to those of their constituents who approach them. To fail to do so not only delegitimises them as individual leaders but it would actually erode faith in parliament – as our people understand and see it.

The Ugandan elite lives in a bifurcated sphere. Intellectually his/her view of parliament is drawn from a theory in a textbook itself based on the experience of Europe: the role of the MP is to legislate i.e. make laws, pass budgets, and hold the executive to account. This is the argument they carry to radio, television and newspapers. Yet intuitively the educated Ugandan sees the role of the MP as primarily one of taking “development” to their community: MPs will be held accountable for the absence of roads, clinics and schools in the community.

For the mass of ordinary Ugandans who do not have a theory of European parliamentary rules and roles, this bifurcation is not there. The MP is both intellectually and intuitively a vehicle for development and charity. When voting, it is not how many pieces of legislation the MP initiated or how many times they talked in parliament that matters but how many development projects they took to their constituency. So deeply entrenched is this role of the MP in the Ugandan mind that people actually look less at the local governments and more to their MPs.

One can pontificate that Ugandans MPs as leaders should lead by example and hold onto the role of parliament as stipulated in our constitution. But the same constitution says the people are sovereign; MPs are elected to serve them. Leaders have to lead but to be successful their strategies of leadership must be understood and appreciated by the people. The more contested political office is the more leaders will be inclined to follow the feelings of their electorate.

13 comments

  1. Fair enough Andrew. The only beef I have is the following:
    1. They should have been transparent in the allocation.
    2. The money is not that much and is not worth the tarnished image they are getting. (I bet some of them have spent it already)
    3. Lastly When will Blacks start to have values. Is there anything a Black man will never do? Muslims never eat pork. The problem is that when looked at from the outside, the black man is a laughing stock and we are all bundled together as one.
    I get your point that the Black man is still medieval but he has to start getting values. Start somewhere. Start today with one thing you will never do! One red line!
    I am also afraid that with an Economic crisis looming globally and with less money available to loot. Blacks are going to be allover the place, on each others throats!

  2. Bwana Andrew,
    well thought article, I know you could be belated by the self-righteous. I shared similar views when declined to sign the petition against the Parliament 10 bn that was circulating on-line platforms. Frankly I wrote to them that in my neighborhood I am not a leader BUT I am catering for vulnerable families (7 homes, Wakiso District- Kireka area) as food has never and even today these people have not accessed Covid-19 National Task Force relief food despite the billions and billions released in addition to private sector free food donations !!!.
    further last evening received a call from home village that the LC 1 Cman needs urgent medical attention, had to hire a private car to take him to Kamuli hospital this morning, while in hospital they said he needs blood which is out of stock, he was referred to Jinja hospital, the ambulance available but No Fuel as I speak now his in the ambulance enroute to jinja hospital.
    N.B; those who need tp cross-check facts can reach me.

    NOW THE QUESTION IS IF ME WHO IS NOT A LEADER EXPECTED TO INTERVENE IN COMMUNITY WELFARE WHAT ABOUT AN ELECTED MP???
    FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY
    DR. Michael MUGABIRA

  3. It is sad that Ugandans are not used to a government system where the government actually does its job.
    In all fairness, The Ministry of Health has done perhaps the best job in the world in handling covid.
    Sadly they are being let down by the rest of the team.
    Let this crisis pass, but do plan for the next one that Uganda will handle it without begging for Aid.
    Given the high costs It should be the job of the government (or government run local organisations ) to provide Ambulances, food, relief to its citizens.
    I am not mentioning foreign NGO’S. They should all be closed and this mentality of help coming from abroad should end. It will be the start of putting a spring back in the step of the Black African.

  4. Andrew

    Ugandans (I mean the public) that are contributing to the COVID fight are doing so from their pockets not from the treasury.

    The religious leaders that have contributed have not asked for money first from their flock before contributing to the COVID.

    The police officer that contributed 300k that was her monthly salary didn’t first ask for the money from govt to do so.
    What would be wrong with the MPs picking some money from their own sources? I mean however little.

    Why did they pick public funds in such a manner to assign themselves a duty we never gave them in the first instance?

    The behaviour of the MPs is discouraging the would be contributors to the COVID fight. No wonder their numbers are dwindling.

  5. From the look of everything and from the utterances from the speaker of paliament and from the reactions of majority of MP’s including from opposition, Paliament being a body that approves the appropriation of government funds, exergerations in the demands by various ministries is clearly visible. It is no excuse for MP’s to appropriate for themselves that volume of money in an attempt to have a financial or relief contributions to people affected by COVID19 pandemic. Every individuals that hope to have contributions is getting to their savings and donating to the national task force to give to Ugandans in appealing need. Paliament has a mandate to check government expenditures and ensuring that tax payers money is used to the benefit of the target beneficiaries. Parliament can never be forgiven for thinking that they need to have a share in money that government is using in a corrupt manner. We shall always admire good governance from Western world, as Ugandan we need fix our things right for us and generations to come

  6. It is interesting seeing Andrew referring to “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall; A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics” even in contexts that don’t necessarily apply. I read the series and much as some of the bribing was going on, the counter and opposition to what was happening was critical to overcoming such abuses, was it not? Anyway, if we allow such bad practices to carry on unchecked, at what point shall we overcome? Yes, we are a poor country, but change does not happen overnight. Some right minded people have to start opposing the bad practices until a point when we shall overcome. So we need to support such efforts rather than criticize them or justify them as Andrew M9.

    • Andrew Naamanya

      But u and ugandans have never been interested in what they allocate, the 300billion statehouse allocation, the classiffied allocation in trillions now is ok but 10 billion is not. A more sound argument would hv been that your now interested in how they allocate resources.

  7. But u and ugandans have never been interested in what they allocate, the 300billion statehouse allocation, the classiffied allocation in trillions now is ok but 10 billion is not. A more sound argument would hv been that your now interested in how they allocate resources.

    • Wrong is wrong the is no justification whatsoever why MPs had to allocate themselves that money. The argument that MPs are doing a lot in charity for the communities where they belong does not hold here. Parliament in its essence has to take the laws of Uganda with the highest regard, knowing their role and mandate they shouldn’t turn around and use their position to meet desires contradictory to the constitutional role of Parliamentarians. It doesn’t matter how many have erred, the frequency of its occurrence and the number of the beneficiaries wrong is wrong. If we are to be governed by that utilitarian mentality this country is doomed.

  8. What is at trial is the mentality of transactional politics. The MPs were duty bound (unconditionally) to approve/disapprove the passing of the 900 billions based on facts as presented by cabinet. For them to condition the passing of the supplementary budget based on rather “unparliamentary” procedures was “morally reprehensible.” But this goes back as to why political offices are contested for here in Uganda. To most, view them as vehicles of privilege rather than one of responsibility. And this is the public outlook that most MPs cut. So, if the cap fits then they should wear it. But this should not come at the cost of robbing Ugandans because someone in the executive is also “did” it!

  9. Edward Ronald Sekyewa

    I disagree with you. We cannot let legislators get away with an illegality. It is not in their docket to supply food to their constituents. If they seriously feel that they want that to be part of their job, let them amend the constitution to include it; I doubt that they can fail to do that if they want it. By allocating themselves money to allegedly buy food for their constituents without any accountability on how to spend it and on what exactly, MP’s were just taking looting the country for doing their work for which they are paid. What makes MP’s think that they have a right to have a cut from passing a supplementary budget?

  10. Dr JohnL Lubega

    Andrew Mwenda. 1: Your argument as with most stirs up several issues which you don’t handle exhaustively .
    2: you attack the intellectuals and elite (btw of whom you are undoubtedly one) portraying them as individuals divorced from reality and you insinuate that issues of legality and morality don’t matter in this covid time. Well, I beg to differ on both counts.
    MPs are NOT mandated to provide logistical support to the electorate beyond the scope of the now-defunct constituency development fund. They are merely victims of their own craft. They give false impressions during campaigns; promising to build roads, secure bursaries, feed orphans… And they create this updraught of expectations…for which they are handsomely rewarded with a seat in Parliament. Now the fruit has come to bear and they are legislating to allocate to themselves our money to feed the beast they delivered! Andrew, When i pledge to contribute to someone’s wedding, or to feed a beggar on the street, I shouldn’t be expected to fulfil that pledge by pestering or robbing you!! That provision is rooted in selfish political ambition to white wash themselves in front of the voters in a bid to secure their seats from the other aspiring persons who have been frequenting their constituencies. This is a private matter which shd not be handled at the expense of the us the taxpayers. During the debate in parliament, the MPs flocked one by one to the podium making this sentiment very brazenly clear, and attacking the Attorney General for advising them to return the money.the speaker attacked him for the qualified opinion that he had given, which they could have ignored with no hullabaloo, without going to the uncalled for extent of calling the judges order ‘stupid’. This was the most bare-backed expo moment for the institution which now and again CLAIMS TO REPRESENT THE PEOPLE. The moral issue is that they are unashamedly trying to hedge their political interests at a time when we are all in emotional and financial distress. The President going to kick them around like a football over this matter. TECHNICAL considerations: how did the MPS determine which kind of assistance the electorate needs?(and please discard that petty answer you are raising .. Claiming that they receive distress phone calls and text messages!!! Is that sample representative enough to reflect the general and realistic needs of the entire constituency you want to procure relief items for!?! We need to see a methodical approach used in arriving at the decisions they made eg buying masks, posho, sending mobile money, paying hospital dues etc. The same accountability we demand from the task forces, we demand from each of the MPS who took the money. Because it is TAXPAYERS’ money! Its not enough to just show that they gave out the money, they each need to show that they followed due process in these expedited micro procurements. That the bidding processes were followed as stipulated under the PPDA act, that the suppliers prices were the most competitive , that there was no nepotism or favouratism in spending this taxpayers money. The MPSare just not equipped or disciplined enough to uphold the rigorous standards required under public procurement. This is why the constituency development fund collapsed. They thus have no business soliciting funds to ‘help’ the electorate because they simply have no technical capacity to deliver as required under the law . and ANDREW you are an intellectual.(even though you attempt to distance yourself from this fact ) Regarded by some as wise. If you really want to defend the indefensible, then you should have advised the mps to appeal this decision of the High Court in the same system whose laws they legislate. I really wanted a face off with you on this matter, but this covid lockdown ditates otherwise.

  11. In the same context, you justify that thieves should also increase their opportunity to survive. As the president Said, it is morally unacceptable. MPs earn and in this crisis, any theory of demagoguery suffice only the wrath deemed!

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