Monday, October 5, 2009



It pays to be a Ugandan legislator

Doors to the parliamentary chambers closed last week as our “hardworking” Members of Parliament took a brief respite from the daily rigours of national duty. For the next few weeks, until this month’s Independence Day celebrations, dust will be settling on the seats of the Press Gallery as MPs enjoy the benefits of arranged holiday (read: recess).

It was a week of remarkable developments, when Kabaka Ronald Mutebi and President Museveni pulled off a great public relations stunt and smiled to the cameras, when opportunism got the better of opposition Buganda MPs and when we discovered that our handsomely paid MPs had gone behind our backs and hiked their allowances.

The Museveni-Kabaka meet offered the highlight of the week, presenting a much sought lull to the icy Buganda-Central Government relations. We have Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a Salim Saleh to thank for his cameo role in fixing this meeting. For four years, Mr Museveni and the Kabaka had not met face to face.

By his own admission, Mr Museveni said in a televised statement during last month’s riots that he had spoken to the Kabaka for the first time in two years, despite several attempts, as he moved to try and resolve the standoff between his government and Buganda.

One can only imagine what went wrong to the point of these two esteemed leaders not speaking for TWO whole years. But finally, they spoke and finally, they met. Beneath the camera smiles, however, you could tell that this is not over; not just yet. There is certainly a hard and long journey ahead to destination peace Kabaka-Museveni.

A day before the groundbreaking meet, Buganda opposition lawmakers were strutting up and down the Parliament corridors with such gusto.

The urgency with which they summoned parliamentary press corps for a news conference spoke of matters grave. We ate the news bait and swamped the South Committee Room. From the outset, it appeared the MPs were moving to offer solution to the Buganda-Central government question but in effect, for the opportunists that they are, the MPs were seeking a piece of the news pie and praying that their whining would overshadow the planned Museven-Mutebi meeting.

They handed out a 21-day ultimatum, or inspire street riots, for the release of all suspects in police and prisons custody detained for their alleged roles in the bloody three days of riots that left 27 innocents dead, and the re-opening of radio stations shut down for supposedly aiding revulsion against the NRM regime.

While it was perfectly okay for the MPs to throw tantrums over flaws pointed out in the government’s handling of the aftermath of the September uprising, the threat of organising another demonstration, an obvious recipe for violence, bespeaks of ill will.

It betrays the fact that the Ugandan opposition is narrowly focused on the question of exercising power with kicking the NRM regime out of office, whatever the cost, as its singular-most agenda. They know a civil uprising would aid such an agenda and yet as an alternative, inherent weakness within their ranks tell us that they would be a worse regime, if at all better.

But just when we thought there was nothing more to outrage us as the week closed, another ugly incident presented itself. It emerged that our good-old MPs had secretly increased their take-home allowances by 60 per cent to cater for rising costs of living.

The move, sanctioned and effected by the Parliamentary Commission, the body charged with administering Parliament, has taken MPs constituency fund allowances from Shs1.22 million per month, to Shs3.22 million.

For the 332 lawmakers we have in the House, the Ugandan taxpayer will now pick up a monthly bill of close to Shs700 million. And let it not skip your mind that every MP bags a minimum of Shs7 million per month in wages while the cost of maintaining the institution of Parliament is currently in excess of Shs60 billion per annum. On top of that add the billions we spend to maintain our bloated public service, the office of the President, State House, the police and army.

The move to increase constituency allowances, which comes only months after MPs increased their allowances on fuel, will only serve to cause astonishment. Such extravagance will outrage hard-pressed families who are feeling the pinch of the high costs of living in Uganda especially on food and fuel.

What I find most riling is the excuse given that compared to other countries in the region (read: Kenya), our MPs are at pales in terms of remuneration. True, the Kenyans are paid obscene amounts--an estimated $200,000 or Shs400,000 million annually, I really don’t know what for, but that is no justification to increase the wage burden for Ugandan taxpayers.

In retrospect, if Ugandans honestly felt that their MPs were putting service for country above self especially by checking the excesses of the government, there would be no problem spiking MPs allowances.

But the truth is we are collectively not getting value for money. What we have seen is a bunch of characters that have played to the tune of the Executive piper. Of course there are the selfless MPs who have put national interest at heart and followed their conscience to promote the good for all Ugandans. We are proud of them but sadly, they are simply countable. The rest have negated on the trust and responsibility we bestowed upon them and that is a sad commentary about the quality of our leadership.


MPs secretly increased their constituency allowances by over 60 per cent, claiming it was a response to the rise in the cost of living. But with other civil servants getting an only 5 per cent salary rise, how honest is this legislators’ claim? Send your opinion to