KAMPALA – The air is now clear. The head of the legislature, Speaker Kadaga, put up a spirited but unconvincing defense of the 10bn/- the MPs allocated themselves. “We have ambulances commandeered by the Ministry of Health. The drivers have to be paid and ambulances serviced. MPs are also busy on advocacy. Committees are following up on what is happening in hospitals and they are reporting to the country”, she tweeted via her official Tweeter account.
This admission comes at a time when public officials should be tightening their belts and leading by example in this season of living in reduced circumstances. MPs have watered the seedbed of corruption before but to wield the budgetary carving knife and get themselves a “cut” of 10bn/- is a scandal. The 10bn/- allocation to themselves now adds insult to injury. It is not only an outrage but flies in the face of the Ministry of Health’s lamentation about lack of protective gear for health workers at the frontline of combatting COVID-19.
This shameless abuse of power was first shrouded in secrecy with most of the mainstream media shying away from reporting it. This is no surprise. Parliament is a big source of advertising revenue and no media house would want to be on the wrong side of the all powerful House Speaker. It was the daring online publications that blew the whistle. They were the first to report the stench emanating from parliament over the waylaying of funds intended to fight COVID-19. All round condemnation then followed. An outraged public took to social media to condemn this despicable act. I’m sure if it were not for the lockdown, a few pigs, appropriately named after the members of the Parliamentary Commission the Speaker chairs, would have been released on Parliamentary Avenue!
Anyone who defends this abuse of power should let the public know what kind of work plan the MPs would adopt to spend the 10bn/-. The Speaker only gave a vague and generalized task list to justify the allocation. MPs are among the most well facilitated public officials. The extra facilitation at a time when those at the frontline of the anti-COVID-19 fight are cash strapped is abominable and repugnant. At best the money was a kind of kickback based on a conspiracy between the MPs and those who intend to embezzle chunks of the money once it leaves the treasury. We acknowledge of course the vigilance of the MPs, with public support, to remove ridiculous items like outdoor advertising through billboards!
Let’s look at what this money can do. 10bn/- can put up 100 basic Intensive Care Units (ICUs) with each costing 100m/-. It can procure 52 brand new 4 Wheel Drive Toyota Double Cabin Pick Ups. Build and equip 30 Health Centre IIIs, each costing about 300m/-. Build and furnish 70 basic Primary Schools each costing about 150m/-.
In terms of feeding vulnerable households during the 21 day lockdown, 10bn/- can feed 48,000 households or 192,000 people for the duration of the 21 day lockdown.
Put another way, during the 21 day lockdown each MP will be eating 952,380/- a day. That comes to 317,460/- per meal. Yet the ordinary vulnerable Ugandan (‘omuntu wa wansi’ in Luganda or the ‘walala hoi’ in Swahili), if lucky, will eat an average of 10,000/- a day per household of 4. That makes 2,500/- per person per day. That means 833/- per meal. In short, for each meal the deprived average Ugandan eats during the 21 day lockdown, each MP will eat 381 meals. There is the score. Wanainchi 1. MPs 381!
If ever there will be a Wall of Shame after the Coronavirus pandemic has receded, the MPs have earned themselves a prime place on it. The right thing for parliament to do is to redeem the image of the institution by giving the money back to the Ministry of Health as overtime allowances for doctors and nurses. At the very least we expect individual MPs with a sense of honour to donate the money to Uganda Red Cross!
Norbert Mao is a Ugandan politician and the president of the Democratic Party