By URN/ The Observer
Members of parliament have each been given Shs 40 million for unknown reasons, at a time when the country is riling from the ever-increasing commodity prices.
MPs, the majority of whom asked for anonymity to speak freely on the issue, said that the money was dished out over the weekend. NRM MPs received their share at parliament on Saturday and some on Sunday night while the opposition MPs picked their share from the speaker’s residence, an MP said.
Last week, the director of Uganda Media Centre, Ofwono Opondo tweeted that he had information that MPs had received the money.
“I understand each collected Shs 40 million last Thursday night and in case you experienced a jam at the parliament at night,” Opondo said on June 5, while retweeting a story by New Vision newspaper which said MPs had allocated themselves Shs 193 billion for their allowances.
“But by that time, they had not yet paid the money…Probably it was leaked to gauge public opinion and when not much was said about it, they decided to give out the money,” one MP said in an interview with URN.
Another MP said that they called him to pick his share but declined on suspicion that the money was not clean. Kassanda South MP Frank Kabuye equally said he was called to pick the money but declined after sensing that it wasn’t clean on the basis of the way it was being paid. He added that it would be hypocritical for anybody who claims to belong to the opposition to bash government’s lavish spending but also accept money outside his salary.
“There is no way you can say that commodity prices have increased, that State House is being allocated a lot of money yet at the same time you are accepting money whose source is not known. We are still young people, we have a duty to this country. I know the situation is very harsh for everybody including MPs but some of us we shall not accept blood money,” Kabuye said.
When this information landed in the ears of National Unity Platform (NUP) leadership, the biggest opposition party in parliament, its president Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu held a crisis meeting at the party headquarters in which he demanded that MPs who subscribe to the party should return the money in question.
“He was very furious with us, saying we have betrayed the people who trusted us. He then asked that those who received the money to return it within two days,” an MP who attended the meeting said. The meeting that was attended by about 25 MPs also included the party secretary-general Lewis Rubongoya.
“Some MPs confessed that indeed they had taken the money. However, they reasoned that they were misled into thinking that it was legitimate money from parliament, and as a way of not shaming those who have agreed to return it, Kyagulanyi said it should be taken to the Leader of Opposition Mathias Mpuuga to be returned collectively.
However, Bbaale County MP Charles Tebandeke outrightly rejected the idea of returning the money. Although one of the MPs who attended the meeting said Tebandeke had indicated that he had already used it for activities in his constituency, this morning he denied receiving the money. But he said if it comes, he will take it and will have no apologies for it.
“I haven’t yet got that money but when it comes, I don’t know why I should refuse it because it is budgeted for. So, you can’t return it for the actual purpose it was supposed to serve. Parliament as an institution bears the right to run its own budget like a head teacher in a school can allocate resources where needed including Christmas packages, and end-of-year tokens as a rewarding tool. So, if parliament decided to reward its own MPs on the money that it didn’t just swindle from the national treasury, then it is not an issue to blame anyone for having taken it,” Tebandeke said.
Joel Ssenyonyi the spokesperson of NUP who is also the MP for Nakawa West confirmed that indeed they had a crisis meeting in which three MPs of those present admitted to taking the money.
“…We got to learn that indeed MPs got money and we called our members for a meeting. We were extremely furious with them. We gave them chance to explain and some say that they were hoodwinked. But we told them there is everything wrong with this money. MPs receive their salary through their bank accounts. For you to be called to go to Anita Among’s home in the middle of the night to pick money, there is everything wrong with it,” Ssenyonyi said.
He added that they know that MPs are under a lot of pressure from constituents but this is no excuse for corruption.
“ MPs are doing a lot of things because of the absence of the government but nothing justifies stealing even if it is for a good reason. We gave everyone who picked up that money 48 hours to return that money. Those who have used it, must find it and return it because it is wrong,” Ssenyonyi said.
Kira municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, who also doubles as the Forum for Democratic Change whip in parliament said he has heard stories of some MPs receiving money but none of them has confirmed to him personally as to having picked his/her share. Ssemujju said he has not been contacted by anybody to receive the said money.
“Parliament paying MPs is through the bank even money for travel upcountry for oversight work sometimes as little as Shs 200,000 is electronically paid. FDC doesn’t expect any of its members to receive any money from anyone apart from parliament which employs them,” Ssemujju said.
He explained that since he joined parliament, he has received questionable payments on two occasions. The first was a payment of Shs 29 million which was meant to facilitate consultations on the proposal to waive the age limit from the presidential term of office and an additional Shs 5 million which was to facilitate consultation for the Marriage Bill. On both occasions, Semujju returned the money.
Asked whether they will follow the NUP example and ask their MPs to return the money, Ssemujju said it would be very difficult to pronounce themselves on the matter because it is still hearsay.
“It’s hard to have any evidence when the money is not paid through the bank,” Ssemujju said.
Parliament denies payment
Chris Obore, parliament’s director for communication denied that MPs were given any money. He said sometimes, MPs drum up such stories when they have disagreed politically on something and want to tarnish the name of the speaker.
“I can tell you, there is no way parliament can pay MPs in cash; never. Under which law? Which bank can you withdraw that money from? If they have been given money then it is not from the parliamentary commission account,” Obore said.
He explained that the only money that parliament allocated itself to cater for unfunded priorities like the buying of the speaker and deputy speaker’s cars, was the Shs 193 billion which was highlighted in recent weeks.
He explained that the ministry of Finance submitted a budget and when MPs exercised their appropriation responsibility, they discovered that the ministry had allocated lots of money to sectors that would not help the economy. This included Shs 1.8 trillion which was taken from the treasury operations and reallocated to the ministry of Education, Immigration, ISO, ESO, and ministry of Works among others.
“Out of that money, parliament also reallocated Shs 193 billion to the parliamentary commission to cater for unfunded priorities. It is people who wanted that money for treasury operations who went on to say MPs had reallocated money for their allowances which is not true. All that you are hearing is the politics of the budget,” Obore said.
Reminded about how in the past MPs have received money that came to be described as a bribe, Obore said he cannot speak for MPs who get money outside parliament. On his part, Joseph Sabiti who speaks for speaker Anita Among denied that her home was used as a distribution center.
“The speaker doesn’t handle MPs payments; they are handled by the finance office. She also doesn’t give out money at her residence what they are saying is not true,” Sabiti said.