Recently, during the induction of the new Members of the 10th Parliament, Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba urged his colleagues to desist from the temptation of being bribed by the Executive, or any other section of society.
‘Talk is that the price tag for MPs is Shs5 million. I urge the 10th Parliament not to carry that tag,’ Niwagaba, an outspoken legislator, who subscribes to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), said.
Mr Niwagaba’s remarks are not a type of new music to the ears of most Ugandans who are conversant with the current political dynamics, where ‘commercial enterprise’ has infiltrated politics. It is, therefore, not surprising that over the years several MPs have lost their seats following allegations of voter bribery, an indicator of how the Ugandan moral fabric has degenerated over the years.
That noted however, the most discernible form of bribery was in 2005 when MPs of the 7th Parliament were doled with Shs5 million to remove term limits, as had been enshrined in the 1995 Constitution.
This act, made public by Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Sekikubo, reportedly marked the beginning of bribery of members of the august house by the Executive as we know it today and just recently, before the new MPs of the 10th Parliament swore in, President Yoweri Museveni gave each NRM MP Shs5 million to ‘hold celebratory parties’ and also to help them ‘clear some debts they had (allegedly) incurred during the electioneering’ process.
“I had to rescue my MPs; the politics has currently been spolit but people should know that politics is voluntary work unlike the private sector which people just enter to make profits,” Mr Museveni reportedly said of his gesture.
However, the gesture was heavily criticized by the opposition led by Mukono Municipality legislator Betty Nambooze Bakireke, who charged that the money was meant to influence the re-election of Jacob Oulanyah as Deputy Speaker. The fiery legislator, known for her acerbic attacks against the NRM, even dared Mr Museveni to declare the source of funding for the MPs booty, to which the NRM chairman answered that he had gotten the funds from ‘different sources’.
There have been several instances where MPs have been the beneficiaries of presidential bounties outside their formal salary and perks’ structure, an anomaly that drains the national coffers just to satisfy the privileged class, usually in exchange for a prize bull targeted by the Executive.
Fortunately, some members of the privileged class have held their heads high and rejected the dubious overtures to the delight and admiration of many a Ugandan tax payer. That sets these very few MPs apart.
In 2013, Mr Museveni directed the Clerk to Parliament to give MPs Shs5 million as ‘facilitation’ to ‘consult’ on the Divorce and Marriage Bill 2009, but outspoken NRM supporter, Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko returned the money saying it could pay 15 civil servants. His colleague, opposition Forum for Democratic Change MP William Nzoghu, also returned the money saying he ‘was not sure the money was ‘genuine’.
Towards the 2011 elections, the MPs were in for yet another bounty, when they received Shs20 million ostensibly to monitor government projects including the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) projects in their constituencies. Some opposition figures like Aruu county MP Odonga Otto swooped the money and claimed it was to facilitate elections but then Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Atim Anywar aka Mama Mabira, resisted the temptation and returned the money, earning her a deserved place at the altar of fiduciary prudence.
Mama Mabira’s resolve to help rid the country of dubious transactions that negatively impact on the Ugandan citizenry is legendary; in April 2007 she rallied Ugandans to reject government’s move to give away part of Mabira forest to the Mehta family of Lugazi, to grow sugar cane.
As a sign of the Ugandans’ gratitude, she is now back, an MP of the 10th Parliament representing Kitgum Municipality, elected as an Independent candidate.
Meanwhile, as the country wakes up to another chorus, this time the removal of the age limit, a lot of care should be taken to ensure that what happened in 2005 does not happen again.
Indeed, the decision to countenance the removal or sustenance of the age limits in the Consitutuion must be the voluntary preserve of Ugandans, carried out without any attendant fiduciary mischief that involves the bribing of MPs or any other section of Ugandans.
It is only then that all Ugandans will appreciate the role of our MPs under the guardianship of the Speaker Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga and her Deputy Jacob L’Okori Oulanyah as guardians of the citizens’ interests.