On March 31, 2020, the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development tabled a supplementary budget request to support Government response to the effects of COVID-19.
While Parliament approved the request on 7th April 2020, an amount worth Shs 10bn within this supplementary budget was approved for each Member of Parliament to receive Shs 20m.
This was meant for drivers of ambulances MPs had seconded to the Ministry of Health as well as support their advocacy work.
This was according to the Speaker of Parliament on 15th April 2020, while addressing the public.
However, the move has attracted a huge public uproar with observers saying the Parliament was gradually institutionalizing corruption.
Several MPs have also condemned the move and vowed to return the money.
ChimpReports broke news about the suspicious manner of MPs before the money was allocated to lawmakers without a debate on the supplementary budget.
Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) Executive Director Julius Mukunda spoke to us about the Shs allocated to MPs for COVID 19 response. Excerpts:
What is your comment on Shs 10Bn passed through the COVID-19 supplementary Budget?
On the global scene, Governments are resource constrained and are grappling with how to manage COVID-19.
It is saddening that Ugandan legislators chose to raid the consolidated fund for personal gains at a time when Government is scrambling to borrow funds to address the effects of COVID-19.
It should be recalled that the Minister for Finance, on 2nd April 2020 tabled a Shs 1.7 trillion loan request, to mitigate the negative effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the economy.
Further to this, in response to the President’s Call, many are donating to Government to support its COVID-19 response, a boda-boda rider for example, contributed Shs 10,000, Masiko Gad, a tutor at Bishop Stuart Primary Teachers College in Mbarara contributed his March salary of Shs 850,000, Aisha a student walked from Nateete to offer Shs 15000 out of her pocket money.
We think there are more essential items our legislators should be pursuing than personal gains in the circumstances.
But Parliament is authorized to appropriate funds, why then are you agitated?
No one is protesting the role of Parliament to appropriate funds but rather the manner and timing in which this Shs 10bn was appropriated.
Article 156 of the Uganda Constitution, 1995 gives Parliament the power to appropriate funds presented to it in an Appropriation or Supplementary Appropriation Bills which are prepared by the Executive branch.
This is operationalized by Sections 14 and 25 of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), 2015 and we thank Parliament for using this mandate to speedily approve the Supplementary Request for COVID-19.
However, Article 93 of the Constitution provides that Parliament shall not impose any charge on the consolidated funds unless the motion is brought by the Executive. The Constitutional Court affirmed and buttressed this position in the case of Mwesigye v the AG & Another Constitutional Petition No 31 of 2011 (decided in 2015).
Parliament’s action contradict, Section 15 PFMA which enjoins the Parliament to ensure that public resources are held and utilized in a transparent, accountable, efficient, effective, and sustainable manner.
The same Constitution you quote gives Parliament the oversight role. Don’t you think this is still critical?
You are right! Parliament must continue playing its oversight role over Government COVID-19 response and as stated before, the law requires Parliament to ensure that public resources are utilized in a transparent, accountable, efficient, effective, and sustainable manner.
However, from what the Speaker explained, this money partly is to pay drivers of the ambulances that MPs seconded to MoH , as well community sensitization.
These are in no way oversight roles but rather a duplication of the work of the National Task Force, and what other Government agencies are already doing as defined by the Uganda’s National Policy for Disaster Preparedness and Management (2011). Parliament of Uganda must restrict itself to its legislative role and leave COVID-19 response activities to the National task force appointed by the President.
Further to this, we still believe these funds should have been reallocated from the already existing Parliament Commission budget of FY 2019/200 without raiding the consolidated fund. There are planed Parliamentary activities that are redundant now where the Shs10Bn should have been secured.
How effectively would this Shs.10Bn been utilized?
Government is faced with many pressing expenditure requirements to which the Shs 10bn should have been allocated. In the health sector, the Uganda Virus Institute (UVRI) still requires sufficient COVID-19 testing kits, Uganda’s Border points are still challenged by inadequate personnel to man testing, the Personal Protective Equipment for medical workers are still inadequate.
The Education sector is ignored yet it has many pressing needs where class sessions for some pupils and students have been shifted to internet, radio and TV for candidate classes. This strategy is a disadvantage to those children who cannot afford laptops, internet or even a shared radio/TV since in some homes, these are a preserve of the head of the household.
Gender Based Violence is on the rise since the lockdown and addressing it requires adequate financial and human resources which is already a challenge to Government, even other sectors have their detailed needs where resources should be directed.
For us attending to these expenditure pressures is more critical at this stage than paying MPs the Shs 10bn.
For MPs to share Shs 10bn is it because Government has excess money?
Uganda might have money, however, our problem has always been prioritizing. Surely this is not the right time for MPs to share Shs 10bn.
If you recall, URA revenue performance report for the first Half Year of this financial year revealed a shortfall of Shs 697.38bn.
This meant that funds to implement certain planned activities for this financial year are not readily available.
As if that’s not bad enough, COVID-19 emerged rapidly and this requires poor economies like Uganda to exercise prudence in the way they spend every shilling. Legislators need to be seen pushing for spending on areas aimed at rebuilding the economy and protecting the population than vice versa.
Any suggestions to address the matter?
At CSBAG, we propose the following:
Reverse the allocation: If the monies have not been disbursed yet, Parliament should reverse this action. In case it has been disbursed to Accounts of MPs, it should be recalled.
Parliament should discuss with MoFPED if they need facilitation for COVID-19 response. This facilitation should be justifiable and discussed in parliament as required and resolved.
Members of Parliament are representatives of the people and should always ensure their actions represent the views of the people. The public reaction shows that they did not approve of this allocation.
Parliament should guard jealously the safeguards in the PFMA against financial abuse by the Executives. To achieve this, they should refrain from actions which portrays abuse of the very safeguards whom they are the vanguards.