As allocation of UGX 20 million to each MP distracts the public, Museveni pulls a Mother of all scams
By Edith Wandera
The session of the Ugandan Parliament that passed a Ushs 304 billion supplementary budget on April 8, has all the hallmarks of the typical conspiracy between the executive and the legislature.
After a mock fight that saw the some reallocations that swelled the health sector’s share from 80 billion to 104 billion, the supplementary was passed in a hushed session attended by just 80 of Uganda’s 460-member parliament. Earlier, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga had thinned the sessions claiming “social distancing guidelines”, supposedly to minimize communal spread of the Coronavirus.
Kadaga decreed that attendance of sessions would be rotated in batches of 80 legislators “so that every member will have a chance to contribute.” What many did not realize was that this gave her the power to decide on who attended what session. And so as the heat gathered over a Ushs 10 billion allocation in the supplementary budget to MP’s, which incidentally had been culled from other sectors, Kadaga was in total control.
She decreed that the supplementary budget be passed without debate. Also, nobody apart from her was allowed to explain the Ushs 10 billion re-allocation that would see each MP walk off with Ushs 20 million, supposedly “to facilitate their own anti-Covid-19 activities.”
As they celebrated their windfall however, little did the legislators realize that they would soon become the target of public ire, as many questioned the allocation and condemned their greed.
Museveni the grand master of scams had pulled a fast one on the MPs, and on the public!
In the fog of anger nobody bothered to follow the money, or to question the executive’s calls on the treasury that in the space of just one month was in excess of Ushs 1.7 trillion. A good portion of these requests, many of which actually have an element of double allocation, go to sectors where Museveni has direct access.
Besides some 90 billion shillings that had been handed him on one of the supplementary allocations, the president has access to a sluice fund hidden under other sectors. Although COVID-19 is primarily a health crisis, the security sector has taken 29 percent of the budget for the “emergency response fund.”
Other government agencies such as the Kampala Capital City Authority, for long a notorious sluice gate for illegal transfers to Museveni, also received 30 billion. A Ushs 36 billion allocation to the Local Government Ministry will, oddly, be managed by Museveni’s State House.
It was not surprising to many therefore that soon after the COVID-19 supplementary of 304 billion shillings had been passed, for the first time in the 34 years that NRM has presided over the crude extraction of public resources, it made a surprise donation of 380 million shillings to the relief effort, on Sunday.
Also, not surprisingly in Museveni’s Uganda the scramble to contain the Coronavirus outbreak has revolved around money and material benefits. Health workers outside the isolation centres continue to work without protective wear. Despite the acute lack of ICU capacity, which stands at just 55 beds in a country of 46 million, no money has been allocated to emergency procurement of additional beds, ventilators, or ambulances.
On paper, Uganda has 484 ambulances of which 411 are functional. But the true scandal lies in the fact only 181 of these are government-owned. Also, even if the entire stock of ambulances were to be deployed, that still translates into just 3.5 ambulances per district.
Citizens have mounted a surprising response to the pandemic with donations. But, wary of the corrupt ways of their government, many have chosen to make material rather than monetary contributions. Only Ushs 4.7 billion has been donated in cash while food worth several times that value has been delivered by different donors to the Prime Minister’s office.
Museveni is apparently not happy with this. During his eleventh address to the nation in 29 days, he told donors to bring cash instead of food and other material items. Also, he desperately wants vehicles but not ambulances, reflecting his indifference to the need for an ambulance service.
Observers are certain that Museveni is exploiting the crisis to mobilise a fleet of vehicles for his campaign effort later in the year. After all the vehicles that are being donated come with private registration plates. That will make it difficult to trace them once they are painted yellow.
In the meantime Museveni and Kadaga’s ruse appears to have worked perfectly.
The attention of Ugandans is glued on what they see as the insatiable greed of their parliament, as well as the dazzling spectacle of donations from figures as contrasting as cult leaders and heads of diplomatic missions. To many ordinary folk the only money that appears to matter is the Ushs 20 million each MP is going to take home.
The grandmaster has completely hoodwinked them so that little is mentioned of the hundreds of billions that have disappeared under the smokescreen of the COVID-19 emergency.