Two weeks ago, MPs while considering a 304Bn Supplementary budget, managed to slap their back hand with 10Bn ostensibly to help them fight COVID-19 in their respective constituencies enlisting a public backlash from which many can now only speak in hushed voices. There is a countrywide lockdown and individual MPs can’t do much on their own. Facing the heat, parliament leadership climbed a pedestal telling MPs not to bother explaining the unfolding embarrassment to the public.
In a sense, MPs acted akin to the Biblical teaching of leaving undone, what they are supposed to do, and doing what they are not supposed to do; and therefore, there’s no truth in them, which could make them perish in the end. For MPs, that end is nearing with the pending elections were voters should banish them for shameless greed, arrogance and callousness. We now know that the supplementary budget was passed without debate, perhaps demonstrating unanimity or lack of understanding the implications of their decisions.
The constitutional functions of MPs are representation of the people, legislation, and oversight, but they have instead become quasi implementors, and providers of tuition, weeding, burial expenses and other mundane social needs which they demand through underhand methods. Some MPs falsely believe that doing these things, especially towards elections, may endear them to the electorate not knowing they are putting nooses around their neck. But by week’s end, MPs began ceding ground and willing to join district COVID-19 taskforces through which to spend the 20m pocket money.
And as you read this article, the COVID-19 bonanza which translates to twenty million for each MP would have already reached their bank accounts in spite the public uproar, and a Court ruling seeking to halt it. Some MPs had asked a far higher figure. By today many MPs have spent their pocket money on building sites, and social acquittances. A few might spend on food parcels in their constituencies, hoping to have political mileage. At the most, twenty million shillings can purchase 8,000 kilograms of posho which cannot go round any constituency in Uganda.
The court ruling, instigated by MPs Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and Jonathan Odur (Erute North), could only have been intended for mischievous purposes, and hoodwink the unsuspecting public that they are still mindful of hostile opinions. Karuhanga, Odur and their lawyers, were clever enough, not to include the Parliamentary Commission, MPs, Bank of Uganda and commercial banks as party to the suit yet they were handling the payments. They arrogantly believed BoU and respective commercial Banks where MPs have their personal accounts won’t comply with directives to which they are not party.
The 10Bn coming when President Museveni is calling for private contributions towards food, money, vehicles and other logistics to rump up COVID-19 fight, yet MPs are lining their pockets with public soft cash, in many ways undermine that effort. This behaviour, is so inconsistent with the so-called best practices of the Commonwealth, MPs claim to derive their standards.
If indeed supporting distressed people countrywide was their main concern, MPs should have pressed government harder to increase spending on health and food relief items to be given to households by local authorities who know them better. But it appears that when government turned down their original demand to be given food parcels for distribution which would give them mileage in their constituencies, MPs opted for a slush fund from the supplementary budget, which they don’t have to account for.
It should be stated that it has become a norm, absurd as it is, for MPs, to take advantage and line their pockets with soft cash each time government has something urgent to handle. The most recent being the constitutional amendment, where they demanded and received 29m/= for purported public consultations, which courts found weren’t conducted. And when on Wednesday, the speaker instructed the Attorney General to ‘advice’ parliament on how the court order halting payment of money already disbursed to individual MPs could be implemented, many read double standards.
It is strange, but not entirely unexpected in a diabolical world, that today, the speaker, perhaps, tongue-in-cheek, is asking the Attorney General to guide parliament over the 10Bn yet in the 9th parliament, during the controversial oil for cash investigations brought by Gerald Karuhanga, against then prime minister Amama Mbabazi, ministers Sam Kutesa and Hillary Onek, she said the AG couldn’t represent parliament. At the time, the ministers, had challenged in court, a parliamentary resolution forcing them to ‘step aside’ based on concocted documents Karuhanga claimed he obtained from Malta and Virgin Islands. It is what many people may describe as speaking from both ends of the mouth. As a result, parliament established a fully-fledged legal department that should be advising it.
In similar ways, MPs, particularly from the opposition who initially opposed the 10Bn and said they wouldn’t take it, were merely dancing to the unsophisticated public gallery. We now wait to see how many of them will effect the refund because some didn’t return the ‘age limit’ consultation money, although claimed so.
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