Saturday, April 13, 2024

The temptations are always present especially when the mighty dangle favours on your way into the wild world from the comfort zones. The knee-jerk decision by parliament to belatedly realign the retirement benefits including granting person-to-holder 500m ‘service award’ to outgoing Auditor General John Muwanga who still has two years of service sets a bad precedent although its architects may sneer. It points to absence of a coherent system, decisions based on personal whims, susceptible to abuse and stinks. Many Ugandans are grieving under the weight of taxes, corruption and poor service delivery yet parliament has so much discretionary money to splash on those already at the apex. The John Muwanga sweetener comes on the backdrop of a tease circular by Secretary to the Treasury Ramadhan Ggoobi slashing the 2024/25 budget ceiling to tighten the belts.  

Many will recall that in 2006 Muwanga resigned as AG citing poor renumeration but returned when the appointment of Ben Okello Luwum hit a snag and President Museveni granted Muwanga’s wish for a higher pay and better terms of service making him among the highest paid public servants today. His retirement benefits are in the contract he signed on assumption of duty he served 22 solid years.

It has been an atrocious two months for parliament and especially Speaker Anita Among portrayed as a spendthrift, and former LoP Mathias Mpuuga over 500m backhand ‘service award’ paid in 2022 even before he served one year which they contemptuously brushed off. Mpuuga is still struggling to crawl from the sewers where his party NUP has put him.

In 2016 Ugandans including MPs were angry that a coterie of 42 government officials led by then URA Commissioner General Doris Akol asked and got a 6bn ‘handshake’ for salvaging 1.1tn in the Heritage Oil and Gas tax dispute arbitration. Akol later fell on another sword. Parliament even instituted an ‘investigation’ that went mute, so what goes round comes round. The fact that no one has recently surrendered backhand payments even when there is public anger is proof that every person has a price point, and Muwanga need not have sleepless nights over this triviality. The frequent presidential calls for frugality and prioritization to wean Uganda off the begging bowls especially to the ‘meddling’ western ‘donors’ is falling on deaf ears. 

And as a reminder, throughout Muwanga’s tenure, the audited accounts of parliament have never been publicly discussed, no wonder it recently took social media activists #UgandaParlaiment Exhibition to scratch the toppers who rubbished the revelations without giving a damn. The absurdity is that there are no other ways available to verify the Auditor General’s report on parliament as an institution made worse when its financials have over the years been treated as classified.

Worryingly, many in NRM top leadership don’t seem to control the direction and speed of the pendulum or even bothered by the rising public disaffection with show of opulence, wastage, impunity and open disregard for basic accountability as many have calculatedly chosen to lie low. By allowing unrestrained conduct of its leaders to fester and splash grievances on citizens NRM could be inadvertently goading the public into discontent and mass political rebellion. After Buganda and Busoga hitherto, electoral cradles bolted to a misguided People Power outfit, turned National Unity Platform (NUP) now falling on its own, NRM needs to conduct introspection.  

Unchecked, NRM will increasingly find it difficult to shelter merely under the number of anti-corruption agencies or legislation it has created as credible reasoning to assuage public dissatisfaction in this matter. Ugandans may need a good supply of depressants, if tainted cash isn’t banished from our national politics.