About 40 Uganda MPs are so indebted that they have no money in their accounts at the end of the month despite earning a take-home package of at least $6,500 (USh15 million), parliamentary sources have revealed.
About 50 other MPs are left with less than $440 after paying off their debts, according to sources in the Parliamentary Commission, undermining their ability to turn down financial favours from the Executive and other power brokers.
Sources within the Parliamentary Commission, a body in charge of members’ welfare, told the Daily Monitor that most of the first-term MPs were struggling to pay off loans taken to fund their election campaigns while others borrowed to fund lavish lifestyles.
Many of the affected MPs were forced to spend their time attending workshops and field trips to collect per diems, the sources said.
The matter was brought to the fore during the recent opposition MPs’ retreat in Jinja where one of the parliamentary commissioners, Mr Elijah Okupa (Kasilo, FDC), reportedly told his colleagues that about 70 MPs were getting zero pay at the of the month.
Other sources in the commission that the Daily Monitor spoke to independently put the figure at 40 with another 50 receiving less than $440.
Mr Okupa, who is privy to MPs’ finances by virtue of his seat on the commission, said most of the members lacked financial discipline as they ended up spending their money on big cars, palatial houses and luxuries, as well as supporting poor constituents.
“In Uganda, an MP is seen as a mini-bank to which the entire community rests its hopes and future,” Mr Okupa said.
“With the 83 per cent youths being unemployed, desperation and a distorted job market, people look on to MPs for a livelihood.”
Although talk of MPs living beyond their means and falling prey to loan sharks has been around for a while, this was the first time the extent of problem had been made public, putting a spotlight on financial literacy among MPs as well as the commercialisation of elective politics in the country.
The details also follow a public uproar after the Daily Monitor revealed that MPs were to receive a grant of $44,700 (USh103 million) each to buy a car.
Ms Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, said: “No wonder they are compromised when it comes to money."