Political greed is killing Uganda

The approval of 65 more constituencies in Uganda by parliament only serves to highlight how low this country has sunk in determining its national priorities.  It also indicates how greedy and unethical the institution of parliament has become.

It is clear that Ugandans are no longer getting value for money from this institution and there is a need for its complete overhaul.

The very idea that the institution of parliament has now become part of a well-oiled “oppressing machinery” representing the interest of its members and not that of Ugandans appears to find much support in the conduct of its members. Never mine that the Constitution expects them to provide selfless service based solely on the public interest.

Only in July gone,  parliament paid out close to Shs 40bn to its members as accrued fuel allowances and also to assist fund their campaigns in the coming elections. Each MP reportedly received Shs100 million as arrears accrued in fuel allowances since the 9th parliament commenced business, translating to Shs 37.5bn for the 375 MPs.

In its justification for the payments, the Parliamentary Commission said that due to the rising pump prices of fuel, it is imperative that the legislators are paid the difference in price changes between 2011 and now.

As if such blatant taxpayer exploitation wasn’t enough, the “lawmakers” in approving the creation of 65 new constituencies, recommended that the Electoral Commission (EC) immediately confirm them as constituencies and conduct elections for the position of Members of Parliament in the new counties in the 2016 elections.  It will bring the total number of MPs to 440.

It was true when Karl Marx once said that, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” Clearly, political selfishness is killing this country.

If going by the notion that more constituencies means good service delivery, Uganda would be a star performer today, given that it ranks number one in Africa and third in the world among countries with the largest number of highest-level sub-national administrative units and the smallest population per unit.

But the opposite is true, Uganda has one of the world’s poorest indicators of social services delivery. Our infrastructures are mostly broken down; the majority of our people live in poverty, our schools are shadows of what they used to be and our hospitals have become death factories, with maternal death being the highest in the region.

So the very idea of an extravagant 2016 parliament is quite offensive, to say the least. There can be no doubt that its effect on the quality of prioritising national interests will be very obvious when one looks at how incompetent and ineffective the 9th parliament has been. In protecting their own interests our MPs know that the more numbers they have in Parliament, the less easy it is for ordinary Ugandans to hold them to account, as such the implementation of national interests or priorities are likely to disappear all together.

The resources and efforts that our MPs are putting into getting re-elected are becoming so great that one can see how their very existence depends on them. Clearly, incumbents want to eliminate competition and government wants to reduce any threat to its grip on parliament.

Gone are the days when being an MP was being a “servant” of voters and ensuring that a child who starts education in rural Kitgum, has an equal chance of becoming a professor or doctor as one who goes to school in Kampala. They bought their own cars using their own money, and were paid salaries that reflected public service.

Today, a Member of Parliament in Uganda earns over shs 25 million shillings per month. They are also given more than 100 million shillings to purchase new cars at the beginning of each term of parliament.

They sometimes also get financial bailout like the 2014 scenario where the President ordered that each MP be paid about shs130 million shillings from the taxpayer’s money to sort out their private financial problems or debts.

Imagine an additional shs90 billion to the administrative cost of running parliament come 2016. How many babies and expectant mothers could be given the chance to life during delivery if that money was used to improve hospital and health centre services.

Although Article 63 (1) of the 1995 constitution gives parliament the discretion to create as many constituencies for the purpose of electing Members of Parliament as parliament may prescribe, the current trend, at the detriment of public interest and service delivery, is simply ridiculous, unethical and a despicable misadventure by the very people who are supposed to ensure that there is accountability and that services reaches all ordinary citizens in all parts of Uganda.

Mr Olara is editor of Acholi Times.