Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Members of Parliament have each been given 40 million Shillings for unknown reasons at a time when the country is grappling with ever-increasing commodity prices.
Speaking to Uganda Radio Network, a dozen of MPs majority of whom asked for anonymity to speak freely on the issue, said that the money was dished out over the weekend. NRM MPs received their share at parliament on Saturday and some on Sunday night, while the opposition MPs picked their share from the speaker’s residence,” an MP said.
Last week, the Director of the Uganda Media Centre Ofwono Opondo tweeted that he had information that MPs had received the money. “I understand each collected 40 million Shillings last Thursday night and in case you experienced a jam at the parliament at night,” Opondo said on June 5, while retweeting a story by New Vision newspaper which said MPs had allocated themselves 193 billion Shillings for their allowances.
But by that time, they had not yet paid the money. …Probably it was leaked to gauge public opinion and when not much was said about it, they decided to give out the money,” one MP said in an interview with URN. Another MP said that they called him to pick his share but declined in suspicion that the money was not clean.
Kassanda South MP Frank Kabuye equally said he was called to pick the money but declined after sensing that it wasn’t clean on the basis of the way it was being paid. He added that it would be hypocritical for anybody who claims to belong to the opposition to bash governments’ lavish spending but also accept money outside his salary.
“There is no way you can say that commodity prices have increased, that State House is being allocated a lot of money yet at the same time you are accepting money whose source is not known. We are still young people we have a duty to this country. I know the situation is very harsh for everybody including MPs but some of us we shall not accept blood money,” Kabuye said.
When this information landed in the ears of the National Unity Platform-NUP, the biggest opposition party in parliament, its president Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu held a crisis meeting at the party headquarters in which he demanded that MPs who subscribe to the party should return the money in question.
“He was very furious with us saying we have betrayed the people who trusted us. He then asked that those who received the money should return it within two days,” an MP who attended the meeting told URN. The meeting that was attended by about 25 MPs also included the party Secretary General Lewis Rubongoya.
“Some MPs confessed that indeed they had taken the money. However, they reasoned that they were misled into thinking that it was legitimate money from parliament and as a way of not shaming those who have agreed to return it, Kyagulanyi said it should be taken to the Leader of Opposition Mathias Mpuuga to be returned collectively.
However, Bbaale County MP Charles Tebandeke outrightly rejected the idea of returning the money. Although one of the MPs who attended the meeting said Tebandeke had indicated that he had already used it for activities in his constituency, this morning he denied receiving the money. But he said if it comes, he will take it and will have no apologies for it.
“I haven’t yet got that money but when it comes, I don’t know why I should deny it because it is budgeted for. So, you can’t return it for the actual purpose it was supposed to serve.
“Parliament as an institution bears the right to run its own budget like a head teacher in a school can allocate resources where needed including Christmas packages, and end-of-year tokens as a rewarding tool. So, if parliament decided to reward its own MPs on the money that it didn’t just swindle from the National Treasury, then it is not an issue to blame anyone for having taken it,” Tebandeke said.
Joel Ssenyonyi, the spokesperson of NUP who is also the MP for Nakawa West confirmed that indeed they had a crisis meeting in which three MPs of those present admitted to taking the money.
“…We got to learn that indeed MPs got money and we called our members for a meeting. We were extremely furious with them. We gave them chance to explain and some say that they were hoodwinked. But we told them there is everything wrong with this money. MPs receive their salary through their bank accounts. For you to be called to go to Anita Among’s home in the middle of the night to pick money, there is everything wrong with it,” Ssenyonyi said.
He added that they know that MPs are under a lot of pressure from constituents but this is no excuse for corruption.“ MPs are doing a lot of things because of the absence of the government but nothing justifies stealing even if it is for a good reason. We gave everyone who picked up that money 48 hours to return that money. Those who have used it they must find it and return it because it is wrong,” Ssenyonyi said.
Kira municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, who also doubles as the Forum for Democratic Change whip in parliament said he has heard stories of some MPs receiving money but none of them has confirmed to him personally as having picked his/her share. Ssemujju said he has not been contacted by anybody to receive the said money.
“Parliament paying MPs is through the bank even money for travel upcountry for oversight work sometimes as little as 200,000 Shillings is electronically paid. FDC doesn’t expect any of its members to receive any money from anyone apart from parliament which employs them,” Ssemujju said.
He explained that since he joined Parliament, he has received questionable payments on two occasions. The first was a payment of 29 million Shillings which was meant to facilitate consultations on the proposal to waive the age limit from the presidential term of office and an additional five million Shillings which was to facilitate consultation for the Marriage Bill. On both occasions, Semujju returned the money.
Asked whether they will follow the NUP example and ask their MPs to return the money, Ssemujju said it would be very difficult to pronounce themselves on the matter because it is still hearsay. “It’s hard to have any evidence when the money is not paid through the bank,” Ssemujju said.
Parliament Denies Payment
Chris Obore, the Director for Communication at the Parliament of Uganda denied that MPs were given any money. He said sometimes MPs drum up such stories when they have disagreed politically on something and want to tarnish the name of the speaker.
“I can tell you, there is no way parliament can pay MPs in cash, never. Under which law? Which bank can you withdraw that money from? If they have been given money then it is not from the Parliamentary Commission account,” Obore said.
He explained that the only money that parliament allocated itself to cater for unfunded priorities like the buying of the speaker and deputy speaker’s cars, was the 193 billion Shillings which was highlighted in recent weeks.
He explained that the Ministry of Finance submitted a budget and when MPs exercised their appropriation responsibility, they discovered that the ministry had allocated lots of money to sectors which would not help the economy. This included 1.8 trillion Shillings which was taken from the treasury operations and reallocated to the Ministry of Education, Immigration, ISO, ESO and Ministry of Works among others.
“Out of that money, parliament also reallocated 193 billion Shillings to the Parliamentary Commission to cater for unfunded priorities. It is people who wanted that money for Treasury operations who went on to say MPs had reallocated money for their allowances which is not true. All that you are hearing is the politics of the Budget,” Obore said.
Reminded about how in the past MPs have received money that came to be described as a bribe, Obore said he cannot speak for MPs who get money outside parliament.
For his part, Joseph Sabiti who speaks for Speaker Anita Among denied that her home was used as a distribution centre. “The speaker doesn’t handle MPs payments, they are handled by the Finance office. She also doesn’t give out money at her residence, what they are saying is not true,” Sabiti said.