Uganda Doesn’t Need a Petty, Hungry and Angry Parliament

Saturday, May 9, 2020

For the last one month, parliament has been rumbling hungrily and angrily firstly, against an apparent lackluster relief food distribution to the vulnerable city dwellers within the Kampala metropolitan area, which has sadly walked a snail’s pace partly because of logistical challenges, slow food supply, and organizational inefficiency, incompetence and corruption. Having been exposed over 10Bn backslap, MPs are now seeking refugee in anger.

A section of MPs had without credible data, claimed that there was countrywide food vulnerability and demanded that government distributes relief throughout the country. In the ensuing tag of war, parliament passed a resolution halting food distribution in Kampala which the executive declined to honour saying the situation in Kampala was dire. For fear of exacerbating the spread of coronavirus, government also barred individuals from distributing food.

This week a small section of MPs tried to reach their crescendo, after the absurd outburst from Speaker Rebecca Kadaga alleging that parliament was under an unwarranted attack by the executive and judiciary to frustrate its functions and independence. There is no attack or intention to undermine parliament, however there is legitimate disagreement with a section of parliament over the direction Uganda should be taking with respect to COVID-19 and funding. It is irritating that MPs, and their leaders falsely believe in, and publicly proclaim the constitutional and political infallibility of parliament. 

Had the framers of the constitution wanted parliament to be the supreme body including in interpretation of laws, they should have said so. Unfortunately, that is the preserve of courts, and everyone, including Speaker Kadaga must live with that inconvenient truth. Just a reminder, this is not the first time, and won’t be the last for parliament to be found at fault or grossly wanting. 

While we seek principled peace and harmony among the different branches of government, it is wrong and unfair for Kadaga to use this single case to accuse the executive and judiciary of being against parliament. In any case, the Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe and DCJ, Alfonso Owiny Dollo, were seasoned legislators before joining the bench. Katureebe was MP for fifteen years, ten of which as Attorney General who advised four different Parliament Speakers. President Museveni get the most criticisms but never gets this low, and we think that many public officials should emulate.

Kadaga has threatened to ‘spill’ the beans over financial dealings and expenditures by the executive. Unfortunately for Kadaga, she has been the one presiding over appropriations, and cannot reasonably claim she didn’t know what the monies, including classified expenditures were meant for. Her threat to ‘expose’ stinks, and we must call it a bluff.

Our criticism of parliament is not only genuine and legitimate, but because we love Uganda, more than we love our MPs who we elect regularly by a popular vote. Uganda’s constitution requires that all public authorities are brought under check, and as for parliament, the public can do so effectively. We are glad that in this particular instance, MPs are conceding grounds, although doing so hesitantly and begrudgingly.

Kadaga and some MPs are angry that the spotlight is on the 10Bn personal money of MPs instead of the whole 304Bn COVID-19 Supplementary budget that was appropriated to the other government MDAs. But surely, as legislators, they ought to know that in public discourses, everyone is at liberty to pick areas of their uttermost interest and take a stand. MPs cannot force their critics to stop pursuing them, and take flight to a different direction.

Some MPs are particularly miffed that they have been put under the spotlight for trying to diddle away 10Bn, and being forced to surrender it to their respective district COVID-19 task forces where it could meaningfully be spent on items most desired. We still demand to know, who retained the balance of 836M/= from the 10Bn. And 20m isn’t small money, otherwise, they wouldn’t be fighting so viciously as if their lives depend on it.

The constitutional roles of MPs are legislation, representation and oversight, and they shouldn’t be allowed to divert public attention, and public resources to other mundane and benign issues like funding burials for which they now appear most suited. MPs ought to ensure that government functions effectively.   

A few MPs are not impressed that President Yoweri Museveni publicly castigated how the 10Bn was handled, which he correctly described as a political ’trap’ cautioning that it could bring them into unnecessary disrepute with the public including voters in their respective constituencies. From Busoga region, MPs hitherto unheard of, convened to find voice hauling insults at President Museveni, falsely believing they are safer playing the tribal card on matters of national importance. To these misguided MPs, their major concern, was that a ‘Musoga speaker’ was ‘under attack’, but good enough, they were only six out thirty-seven. Clearly, many of these will soon simply blend into the crowds unnoticed.

We, the public, shouldn’t be overly afraid that MPs or Speaker Kadaga are angry with the stand we have taken to pushback against their collective arrogance, insensitivity and evident callousness even when brought to their attention.