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Museveni’s cash worries MPs

By Haggai Matsiko

Shs90bn spent, more needed

Recently, as celebrations to mark 100 years of Christianity in Kinkiizi diocese neared, the main subject of speculation was not whether President Yoweri Museveni would donate but whether his donation would be bigger compared to that of his former prime minister turned-rival, Amama Mbabazi, who is a son-of-the soil.

Mbabazi, who is rumoured to be plotting to run against Museveni in the 2016 elections was selected the chairman organising committee of the function held at St. Mark Cathedral Nyakatare in Kanungu Town Council.

The function drew a lot of attention because it would be the first time President Museveni and Mbabazi would be meeting since December last year when Museveni ousted Mbabazi from the top job of secretary general of the ruling party, NRM.

Justus Tibesigwa, the Diocesan Secretary told The Independent that Kinkiizi Diocese has about 104,089 Christians. It is also an out-of-the-way diocese located in the extreme south west towards the border with DR Congo.

But being home to Mbabazi, who is seen as a potential contender against Museveni, it is seen by some as the heart of Kigezi region, which has become a power centre. Kigezi region has gained prominence in national politics because of the several power shots that originate there. These include current Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, Central Bank Governor Tumusiime Mutebile, former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) president, Kizza Besigye, and tycoon Garuga Musinguzi, among others.

“For me if he (Museveni) donates Shs one billion, it will not be much” Ndorwa East Legislator, Winfred Niwagaba told The Independent before the May 10 event, “because recently he was forced to donate Shs200 million towards the construction of All Saints Church in Kabale after a group of Mbabazi youth supporters donated Shs600,000 to the same church.”

Museveni’s donation came a week after youths dressed in t-shirts bearing Mbabazi’s portraits delivered their Shs600,000.

Benjamin Mayanja, the chairman of the church construction committee, announced President Museveni’s contribution a week after the youth’s contribution and said it had come through the efforts of Rt. Rev George Bagamuhunda and Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda.

Niwagaba expected that Museveni could donate generously in order to overshadow any contribution made by or on behalf of Mbabazi. He reasoned that Museveni would want to leave a mark at a function where Mbabazi was the chairman of the organising committee.  In the end, nothing came of the anticipated donation contest between Museveni and Mbabazi. Museveni donated Shs100 million to an area school; the Uganda Institute for Science and Technology Nyamwegabira. It is not clear how much Mbabazi spent on the event.

Recalling Namboole 2014

But the handshake between the two men as they stared stone-faced into each other eyes spoke volumes. It was a parallel-leveled handshake in which neither ceded the authority position although Museveni adopted the firmer outer grip into which Mbabazi sunk his palms.

It was a far cry from December 2014 when then-NRM party Secretary General, Amama Mbabazi, had just been kicked out of office by the National Conference in a well-calibrated and humiliating series of maneuvers by Museveni.

For months before the National Conference, news reports had daily been reporting how then-Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was poised to challenge Museveni for the leadership of the party, and later for the position of party flag-bearer in the 2016 presidential elections.

The dreaded confrontation sparked a frenzy of allegiance courting, bribery, and unprecedented promises galore. At his country home in Rwakitura and at State House Entebbe, and even at public functions, Museveni was meeting delegation after delegation from across the country and handing them envelopes of cash as part of the war to neutralize Mbabazi.

In one incident, on December 15, 2014, President Museveni entered a wing of Mandela National Stadium Namboole in Kampala. The wing had been sealed off because his NRM party was holding its National Conference and, for some unclear reason, it was doing health screening for some of the over 10,000 delegates.

Museveni, who was accompanied by his wife Janet, was shown around by three medical doctors; Chris Baryomunsi; the Kinkiizi West legislator, who was later appointed minister of state for Health, Mbarara Municipality legislator; Merdard Bitekyerezo, and Baterana Byarugaba; the Executive Director of Mulago National Referral Hospital.

Dr. Byarugaba had assembled several doctors from Mulago Hospital, whom Museveni moved around shaking hands with before going from bed to bed handing out envelops stashed with cash. There were about 30 people lying on beds and Museveni gave each a cash-stashed envelope. It was not clear why he did that. But receiving cash donations from Museveni had become so ubiquitous that none of the people lying on the beds at Namboole showed any surprise to receiving the cash.

It is difficult to establish how much money Museveni handed out over that period. Even estimates by people familiar with the budgets vary wildly from Shs50 billion to over Shs100 billion. Apart from what Museveni handed over personally, insiders say a lot of cash was distributed at President Museveni’s meetings with councilors, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), local government chairmen, youth leaders, among others. The other cash has been distributed through donations.

It is the growing appetite for these handouts, also termed as `donations’ that framed the anticipation around the Kinkizi function.

Enter Speaker Kadaga, Oulanyah

Although that function failed to produce the anticipated bonanza, the donation mania continues to grow.

In a Ministerial Statement for the Office of the President, the donations cost the taxpayer Shs90 billion in 2014/2015 Financial Year. The same statement presented to parliament by Minister for the Presidency Frank Tumwebaze, President Museveni plans to spend another Shs90 billion in the 2015/16 FY.

The ministry of finance in the current Budget Framework Paper (BFP) noted that the increase in demands for donations from State House by citizens has created a funding gap of Shs84 billion.

Critics say the trend of donations smirks of financial indiscipline and partly the reason State House keeps overspending its budget. In the FY 2013/14 for example, State House was allocated Shs203 billion but ended up with outstanding commitments of over Shs500 billion, according to the latest Auditor General’s report.

But of equal concern is how Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah are slowly following in the footsteps of President Museveni.  It has now become a point of contention among MPs.

The Independent reveals that while Kadaga offered donations to 50 local organisations and individuals in 2014, Oulanyah donated to about 30 organisations and individuals. In total the speakership made 80 donations, according the policy statement by the Parliamentary Commission tabled in parliament late in April.

The statement also reveals that the Speaker’s budget has increased to Shs 2.3 billion from 1.8 billion the previous year and that of her deputy to Shs1.7 billion from 1.4 billion. The total budget for parliament is Shs301.6 billion.

Part of the increment is meant to cater for an increment in the mileage rates that legislators want raised from Shs. 2,500 per Km to Shs. 3,500 per Km. The proposed increment has been castigated as creeping greed that is hiking the cost of public administration but some legislators insist it is in order.

Ndorwa East legislator, Winfred Niwagaba, however, told The Independent that focusing on the speaker’s office is missing the point. “The problem comes from State House,” he said.

According to Niwagaba, because President Museveni has made handing out cash to citizens a culture, people now expect that politicians must dish out public resources. Members of parliament and other public officials are now expected to give handouts to sick people, schools, religious organisations, women and youth groups, and individual with personal financial requests for school fees, wedding, and funerals.

Niwagaba says the trend of donations reflects badly on public social-economic institutions because when you look at what politicians contribute towards, you find items that are supposed to be catered for under public services.

Deputy Speaker Oulanyah, for example, contributed to health centres, bridges, roads, and schools.

But one of the items Oulanyah donated to has raised eyebrows. It is the December 2014 wedding of Tony Rwamirama, the son of Bright Rwamirama, the State Minister for Animal Husbandry.

“That is an abuse,” a disapproving legislator told The Independent on conditions of anonymity.

The Independent could not establish how muchOulanyah contributed but at the same function, Museveni contributed three cows.

Institutions suffer

Niwagaba added that what complicates donations by public officials is that there are no regulations of Standard Operating Procedures either at State House or at Parliament. When a famous former TV presenter was recently diagnosed with cancer and a drive launched to support her, President Yoweri Museveni donated Shs5 million. A few days later, when the leader of a religious group died, Museveni donated millions to assist with funeral expenses, and when a powerful traditional ruler was celebrating his birthday, Museveni gifted him with a top of the range four-wheel drive estimated to cost over Shs300 million.

Mathias Mpuuga, the Masaka Municipality legislator, who sits on the parliamentary committee for Presidential Affairs says since 2011, his team has been writing requesting the presidency to furnish them with the accountability of who gets what but nothing has ever come.

“The problem is that we have not insulated the political leadership from patronage,” he told The Independent, “as a result the top political leadership finds it easy to use the budgets they control to patronise voters/societies.”

That is why, the legislator added, the Speaker is also falling in the same trap.

“It is bad politics,” Mpuuga added.

Like Mpuuga, Godber Tumushabe, a political activist, says that it all boils down to the fact that President Museveni’s is a patronage system.

“You see,” Tumushabe explains, “world over dictatorships survive on patronage.”

Tumushabe says the first victim of this patronage network is institutions.

“Institutions have become part of this patronage network,” Tumushabe says, “that is why parliament is no longer capable of overseeing the executive. For instance, I would be surprised if parliament was not doing the same (increasing its mileage).”

He said, unfortunately, that is the reason why the donations can only increase.

But Mpuuga said voters are visiting the bad practice unto themselves by expecting to be patronized instead of demanding public services.

For instance, he said, while the mileage rates of legislators have been below market prices, it is unjustifiable to increase them because you have a population that is sinking deeper below the poverty line. He said, however, one can even easily justify a hundred percent increment by arguing that it all goes back to the voters.

“Legislators have to pay for school fees, medical bills, and all sorts of things to keep the voters happy,” he says, “where do they [voters] expect that money to come from?”

Mpuuga says some of his colleagues even say that they would be committing `political suicide’ if they stopped giving handouts.

“It is bad but it is the reality,” Mpuuga said, “That is the culture President Museveni has entrenched in our society.”

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