MPs; Don’t be too Arrogant, Carry your own Cross!

Ofwono Opondo

Sept, 21, 16
When the framers of the Uganda constitution wrote in it the provisions on the independence of parliament as an institution, and privileges and immunity of Members of Parliament (MPS) including the right to determine their emoluments, it was in good faith to facilitate their work, and not intended for abuse and self aggrandizement.  
It is important for MPs to know and appreciate that most Ugandans want adequately facilitated MPs so that they can perform their responsibilities well. However, the facilitation to MPs and other public servants must be balanced against other national needs, and the principles of equity applied. No reasonable mind wants beggar MPs living squalid lives, although even with better remunerations there is no empirical evidence to show that most MPs have outgrown a beggar mentality.   
The self-aggrandising trend which began with the Eight Parliament (2006-11), when MPs unilaterally and through blackmail increased their salaries, and created multiple allowances which they put beyond the taxman’s reach, has been on the upward. In that parliament, MPs abandoned the more rational policy of obtaining government guaranteed loans to purchase personal cars in preference full government grants initially sixty million. In the 9th Parliament, that amount was increased to 103m/=, which has now been revised to 150m/=, and there is credible information, yet to be verified, that they will be topped with another 50m/=, most likely quietly under the table!
Parliament is the peoples’ elected representative, and as such ought to strive to reflect the true aspirations of the popular will, and should at all time with humility accept public criticisms even when false or unfairly done, but with the best of intent. For the past three weeks which picked up last week with revelation by the MPs themselves that they will now each receive 200m/ grant for vehicles, and have budgeted to spend 68m/= as funeral expenses for each MP that dies, the public rightly went angry. In addition, a huge delegation of MPs had travelled at public expense to the US for a trip many Ugandans didn’t consider worthwhile.
And in response to perhaps media and public criticisms, based on perhaps inaccurate information most likely given by some MPs, instead of explaining, MPs and parliament as an institution got enraged launching impudent attacks on the media and whoever else dared speak out against their alleged greed, lack of seriousness and mediocrity. That, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga used a sitting to specifically castigate the media, should speak volumes about an institution that on a daily basis is on the frontline demanding transparency, probity, frugality, and accountability from others! Often, many MPs have made it habitual to attack persons and institutions even without the basic decency, research, and using false, sometimes well calculated, malicious and fabricated lies.  And so as the adage goes, what goes round, always comes around, and MPs should always be ready to carry their own Cross.
However, because of false inflated egos, in the matter of their personal welfare, MPs want to treat well intentioned criticisms as unwarranted and therefore unwanted inconveniences. When it comes to write the rules that govern them, MPs often leave such wide gaps that enable them to drive through a 60ton truck whenever necessary as they did early this year to circumvent a Court judgment that their allowances are eligible to taxation.
Equally, on the policy on MPs’ vehicles, if we call it so, there is no requirement that MPs should furnish the office of the Clerk to Parliament or the Auditor General with a receipt as evidential proof that the money received was indeed used to purchase a vehicle of the equivalent amount, which is an abuse and fraud. Often, as we all know, many MPs divert the money to other purposes, and those that purchase vehicles, buy secondhand well below the money received, the reason they don’t want to furnish receipts because they would expose themselves as swindles. MPs should know that their high sense of entitlement to free public goodies  is creating antagonistic and sometimes irreconcilable contradictions with the population, and partly explains the excessive and often unreasonable financial demands their electorate places on them.
Therefore, the on-going attempt by parliament to gag open public criticism especially by the media, which is the only means available, although futile, should worry everyone and must be resisted, fought and neutralized. MPs must be forced to retreat from the high road because it can breed an un-accountable parliament. During the Constituent Assembly (CA) debates, Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, then a delegate, cautioned other delegates against giving a young parliament in a third world country like Uganda, what he termed too much unqualified powers because it could lead to “legislative tyranny,” and yet we were running away from “the tyranny by the executive.” With the current trends in parliament on many fronts, Nsibambi, might not have been very wrong. Many pointers are of greed, mediocrity, and lack of collective responsibility and will to public duty, and now using unbridled gangsterism to suppress even well intentioned criticisms.