Uganda is witnessing the biggest scandal since gaining independence almost six decades ago- the 400 members of parliament have awarded themselves a total of Shs10billion saying they are using it to fight #COVID-19 pandemic.
Before #COVID-19 had entered Uganda, East Africa’s third largest economy, Shs10b was not part of the Shs284billion supplementary budget presented to Parliament by the Finance Ministry.
The Treasury had already released Shs20 billion to Ministry of Health to make the total supplementary budget of Shs304billion to deal with the pandemic.
This means the parliament had to meet again and make amendments to include an extra amount for a new budget adjusted to Shs304billion.
However, when this money was released, members of parliament came up with tricks to ensure they take a portion of this money.
A hurried session was organized on April 7 by the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, and mostly members of the ruling party (300 members) were present. The deal sailed through and voted that parliament would access Shs10billion from the total budget.
Parliament had also established a team to disguise as indeed working so hard to tame the #COVID-19 pandemic.
Parliaments Deputy Director in charge of Corporate and Public Affairs Hellen Kaweesa said, “A five-man team was set up to carry out an oversight function, monitor the National Taskforce on #COVID-19.”
With Shs10billion awarded to Parliament, every legislator would pocket Shs20 million ($5,275).
This has sparked outrage from Ugandans although most are indoors observing the lockdown measures against #COVID-19, otherwise they would have taken to streets to protest.
“When we reached the floor of parliament, the chairman of the budget committee sought to amend some of the figures that he had presented in his report. And that’s where the trouble started from,” Jonathan Odur an opposition, a legislator said.
This state of affairs prompted Gerald Karuhanga, a legislator to petition the High Court to overturn parliament’s decision and block the money being transferred into their accounts.
Later, the Uganda High Court ordered lawmakers to pay back the money they had awarded themselves in the name of to combating #COVID-19.
It said the money must be repaid or transferred to the national or district #COVID-19 task-forces.
However, the money had already reached the accounts of some members of parliament and consumed.
In essence, the President’s office also received part of this money as it is also allegedly involved in efforts against the pandemic, meaning they should return all the money they received in relation to the High Court ruling.
Although the principle recipient of the Shs304 billion [approx.$106million] is the Ministry of Health, the institution said it only received a third of the total amount (Shs104 billion).
The rest found its way into the accounts of office of the President.
“I think that it is for the good of the country that the population and the public keep a keen eye on what happens in parliament to pressure it to act in a different way,” Odur said.
Legislator Gerald Karuhanga, representing Ntungamo Municipality and member of budget committee in parliament, openly rejected the money bonanza move; opposing hundreds of colleagues that hurriedly wanted to pounce on the money.
“I had a minority report. According to procedure, the chairman of budget committee is supposed to present the main report then invites a member that has a minority report to present it,” Honourable Karuhanga said.
“Before he [chairman budget committee] presented the majority report, he started by amending the very report that was signed by the majority members. He said I have new information and therefore I would like to move, to amend the report of the committee,” Karuhanga narrated.
According to Karuhanga, at this point, Legislator Odur raised a point arguing this could be challenged in court- that it appears this shs10 billion which the chairman was trying to amend before the floor of parliament. He was reducing the Ministry of Health budget from Shs104 billion to Shs94 billion and taking the Shs10 billion to parliamentary commission.
“It is clear that it had not been subjected to scrutiny by the budget committee. This is the issue that was never addressed and downplayed. I was not allowed to present a minority report. The budget was passed when parliament was in total chaos without any debate,” Karuhanga said.
Justice Elubu of Kampala High Court, in his ruling on an application filed by the Ntungamo Municipality Member of Parliament, ordered that the money is returned to the Parliamentary Commission, District or COVID-19 National Task Force.
Speaker Kadaga Says Parliament is Under Attack
The Members of parliament argue that the money is their facilitation during this #COVID-19 pandemic while the Judiciary says the process of self-awarding taxpayers money is illegal.
Rebecca Kadaga has asked the members of parliament to disregard court decision and the directives from the Executive on the #COVID-19 money.
The speaker argues that the Judiciary and Executive have no constitutional powers to ask Parliament to account.
“How can a court judge receive parliament’s accountability? Shall we go to the registrar of High Court to account there? No. They should follow the guidelines of parliament because the channels of communication and accountability are in parliament.”
“Appropriation of money is the business of Parliament not the Judiciary. The constitution says appropriation is for parliament. A court Judge cannot say he is appropriating – this is an attack on parliament by the executive and the Judiciary,” she said.
Kadaga for example, attacked the Executive (Prime Minister’s office) for buying expired milk and beans of reject-quality and feeding them to Ugandans under #COVID-19 lockdown measures.
Dr. Miria Matembe, a former legislator privy with working dynamics of the government and Parliament said, “Uganda Parliament is a transactional parliament which negotiates with the President.”
However, Matembe reasons that when President Museveni notices that a scheme or situation is about to backfire and taint his public image, he immediately denounces it even though he has been part of it from the start.
President Museveni on his part argued that the MPs had entered a trap and the only way to get out of it was not to spend the money.
“It is morally reprehensible for MPs to give themselves money for personal use when the country is in such a crisis; totally unacceptable to me and the NRM. They have entered themselves into a trap and the best way out is to donate the money to the districts where they come from,” Museveni said.