By Charity Kalebbo Ahimbisibwe
For the last one week, Ugandans have been debating the theft of sh10bn by the Members of Parliament led by the Rt. Honourable Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga. What has come to be known from some sources like Prossy Nambatya is that the Parliament passed a sh1trillion supplementary budget not the sh304bn that was initially reported by some media houses. The minority report from Parliament indicated that sh104bn was given to the ministry of health; 10bn to the MPS and this amounts to sh114bn. The question on table has been where did the sh200bn go and who is demanding its accountability. Ugandans have gone ahead and calculated that we have 452 members of parliament if each took sh20m, it would amount to sh9,040,000,000 the balance of sh960,000,000 no one knows its whereabouts.
Well, we have heard several arguments from MPs as enumerated below:
The first argument was that the whole supplementary budget to tackle COVID-19 could not be spent following the court order that ordered Parliament not to spend its’ sh10bn. The Speaker used her legal brains to convince the President that if he took action against parliament for the sh10bn it would mean the whole supplementary budget was to be faulted because the share of Parliament only accounted for 3% of the total supplementary budget.
The second argument advanced by the MPs, is that sharing the sh10bn amongst themselves is not the problem, the real problem is the lack of systems like a good health care system and lack of a good disaster preparedness system that have forced them to be the conduit to help their constituents access medical care and food.
The third argument advanced by the MPs is the failure (oba by who?) to check the executive to the extent that the country does not have reserves to fall back onto… in-other-words, the money Uganda makes is what it consumes ( Zekolawo zelaywo.). The executive , judiciary and legislature according to political science are the three major arms of Government and these arms are supposed to check each other in a functional democracy. In this case the MPs have a cardinal role in checking the powers of the executive, so for the MPS to say the problem is failure to check the executive it is their problem to handle together with the judiciary.
The MPs went bare knuckle as to compare their loot to the petty coins journalists pick up from a story. Freelance journalists are paid between sh3,000 to sh5,000 shillings per story they file and at times these stories are not published. This means that if they don’t get transport refund from wherever they go they can barely survive for day in Kampala.
The fourth argument advanced by MPS is that we are failing to put up policies that would cushion citizens in times of crisis. When you reflect carefully, ( who is failing? ) it is the MPs themselves failing to use their positions to come up with policies that can cushion citizens in times of crisis.
A section of the MPS who supported the theft of tax payer’s money vehemently argued that people look at them like moving ATMS and people assume they can never be broke at any one time. Well, it is the MPS who have created this perception in the minds of the voters. Each time they are campaigning they give out money, salt, soap and food to their poor electorate , so they cannot turn around now and blame the electorate for looking at them as very rich and never running broke.
Back to what the sh10billion loot could do for Uganda in the COVID-19 crisis. There is already wide-spread community transmission of Covid-19 in East Africa. The numbers in Uganda might be low and some people have said they might be inaccurate; be as it maybe; when the lockdown is lifted the numbers will most likely spiral.
The reason for not knowing the accurate country picture is the lack of testing kits which the president said were expensive. He quoted the health workers saying each kit costs about $65 (sh240,500). If we got the sh10billion that the MPS have allocated themselves and converted it into buying testing kits Uganda would have close to 50,000 testing kits. If we are to successfully have the COVID-19 situation under control we have to quickly pick a leaf from Iceland and South Korea by buying sufficient test kits to give us an accurate country picture. An accurate country picture would then determine the way the lockdown is lifted and how Ugandans can go by their daily lives in the face of COVID-19.
It is also important to note the number of Ugandan truck drivers that are tested within the East African Region and tally how many turned out positive and if they have been treated and recovered.
More Mobile Laboratories that the scientists were pitching for when they appeared on TV recently, would have been a more worthwhile investment of the sh10bn loot by the MPS. If Uganda had spent sh10bn on procuring more mobile laboratories we would have secured five well equipped mobile laboratories that would have eased the question of testing truck drivers.
So far almost all COVID-19 cases in Uganda have been imported. Today April, 24, 2020 according to the Ministry of Health; Uganda recorded 11 new cases. 6 Tanzanian truck drivers who arrived via Mutukula border post. Five Kenyan truck drivers; 3 arrived via Malaba and 2 arrived via Busia. Uganda’s cases are now 74, but the recoveries are 46.
Ugandans in Rubirizi, in western Uganda, intercepted a truck driver who had gone into a lodge with a woman because they had heard about truck drivers spreading COVID-19. Actually it’s the locals who helped the Police trace for the truck driver because the Police in the areas had just been alerted that the said truck driver had tested positive for COVID-19. But the Rubirizi incident, is not isolated another truck driver who had crossed through Uganda to Rwanda tested positive and was only intercepted on his return in Kisoro. This truck driver was in contact with so many people along his route.
As Uganda wallows in the tide of asymptomatic cases and truck drivers , the least the Policy makers would have done was to commit the sh10bn to helping resolve the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy makers should have not been interesting themselves with petty squabbles for money when there are key policy issues to handle at this time. The MPs should have remained contented with their salaries and paid attention to the bigger question of the kind of Economic stimuli Uganda will need post COVID-19.
According to a recent IMF conference on the effect of COVID-19 on world economies, African nations like Uganda should be positioning themselves to export products that are of high quality so that they can capture the ready market as the world re-organises itself.
MPs if they were really concerned about the plight of their people should be rallying Ugandan exporters to build trust. To plan to deliver products on time and of high quality.
The MPS should be looking at how they will help small scale traders who have heavy loans on how to retrace their steps after COVID-19 lockdown. Restaurants, arcades, retailers car companies and others. This is what a responsible Member of Parliament would be engaged with not vehement defence of theft from the already burdened tax payers. According to the IMF conference that was held yesterday 23rd/ April /2020 capital will look for countries that are less battered by COVID-19. Western economies are badly battered while many African countries, Uganda inclusive are not so badly battered.
Before the lockdown, the Ugandan economy was in poor shape and the Government was making large loses in taxes and this partly explains the appointment of a new URA boss. With such a state of affairs, the Government should largely concentrate on grabbing more capital from outside and quickly effect financial reforms to enable them tap into the existing capital abroad.
The IMF also pointed to the fact that African nations like Uganda should focus more on becoming contract manufacturers of the world just like China has been. In the recent past, the President has been talking of manufacturing sanitizers and Chloroquine for the world. The President and MPs should be busy identifying small and medium factories and partners to help them on this big assignment. Not agreeing to settle scores on who takes sh10billion from the poor tax payers.
It is a painful path the Parliament has chosen to take, but in the end it will lead to destruction.
Charity. Kalebo. Ahimbisibwe is the Acting Coordinator,
The Citizens’ Coalition For Electoral Democracy in Uganda
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