The Monitor (Kampala)

Uganda: Young MPs Steal Human Rights Job

Kampala — Two issues dominated debate in Parliament last week; the war in northern Uganda and demand for accountability for public funds.

The main actors were MPs from Acholi and Lango, we'll return to that later. First the overwhelming appetite of Members of Parliament to soil their hands in everything.

YPA meet

Between Sept. 28-29, the Young Parliamentary Association (YPA) organized a two-day workshop at Jinja Nile Resort Hotel, to "give MPs civic education skills".

Participants also included members of civil society and local government.

The workshop was funded by European Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA).

Civic education is a good idea, but how can MPs keep their political interests and patronage out of it?

YPA Chairman Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo County) said MPs would draft a national civic education manual, collect money, and team up with civil organizations to do the job.

To keep politics out of the exercise, legislators won't go to their home constituencies.

Ekanya from Tororo will go to Kanungu or Bukoto West in Masaka.

Where does this leave the Uganda Human Rights Commission, constitutionally mandated to carry out civic education?

Are the MPs saying that UHRC is incompetent? Why not just sack its officials?

Thanks to Ethics and Integrity Minister Miria Matembe, who counseled MPs to stop demanding for sex as it would chase married women out of politics.

Acholi, Lango MPs unite

Over the week the Acholi and Lango parliamentary groups have been calling news conferences and meetings, pressing government to protect their people.

With the extension of Joseph Kony's terror into Lango, the two groups have merged to form a larger voice, for the first time under the movement's 16-year rule.

Dr. Okulo Epak (Oyam South) heads the Lango Parliamentary Group, while Eng. Hilary Onek chairs the Acholi Parliamentary Group.

After a meeting on Wednesday, the two groups told a joint news conference that they had unearthed a plot by top government officials to use the Kony war to cause hatred between the Acholi and Langi.

"We are aware of machinations and propaganda intended to set us against each other and erode the historic harmony between us," said a joint communiqué from the two groups.

"We have decided to call the bluff to these machinations and propaganda," said the statement, signed by Epak and Onek. "We urge our people not to succumb to these tricks."

MPs at the press briefing included Ben Wacha, Dan Kidega, Omod Okot, Betty Amongi, Nobert Mao, Charles Angiro, Odonga Otto, Zachary Olum and Margaret Ateng Otim.

Mao said there was evidence that high-ranking government officials were trying to use the war to incite the two tribes against each other.

One such case, Mao said, was President Yoweri Museveni's call on Acholis "to denounce the rebellion like their counterparts in Lango".

He said Museveni suggested that the Acholi "support the war, which is wrong".

Epak said it was possible that government deliberately let Kony attack the Langi to set them up for a tribal confrontation.

"We shall be united and speak with one voice on the matter," the MPs' statement said.

The MPs said they would organise joint meetings "of our religious, traditional and local political leaders, to create a comprehensive approach to their affairs."

"We have decided that our regions shall not be turned into a battle theatre, and to support all measures by the government to stop the insurgency."

MPs pledged support for all means to peace - including military, peace talks, and amnesty.

"But of course we prefer a peaceful method. War is expensive, destructive, and involves killing each other," the statement reads on.

Acholi and Lango MPs are the most outspoken and highly respected in Parliament.

While some regions voted for MPs who would sleep and wake up to vote for the Movement, Lango and Acholi MPs are always on their feet.

Faced with a common 'enemy' even die-hard Movement supporters like Youth MP Dan Kidega threw their lot with their colleagues.

Accountability

I hereby proclaim Dr. Okulo Epak MP of the week. After the Acholi-Langi meetings, he still found time for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to demand for accountability from government.

His vice, Jack Sabiiti (Rukiga), who chaired PAC meetings last week, also deserves a pat on the back.

On Wednesday and Thursday officials of the Ministry of Finance emerged with the most questionable accounting practices - even though it's supposed to police the other ministries.

In his 1999 and 2000 reports to parliament the Auditor General said when asked to answer questions about their accounts, ministyr officials shied like Operation Wembley suspects.

They have failed to balance their accounts with Bank of Uganda to trace for Shs 107bn, whose accounts were closed and it disappeared.

Now they are gathering guts to seek approval to write off the huge losses.

The Auditor General said "debits in the bank statement not credited in the cash book stated that Shs 108.5bn is not supported by documentary evidence."

The Under Secretary (in charge of Finance and Administration) Orone Atipo and the Director of Accounts Gol Bwotch led the team to PAC.

PAC Vice Chairman Jack Sabiiti (Rukiga) said Finance has failed to reconcile its accounts because "presidents [late former President Tito Okello Lutwa] have continued to pick money from Bank of Uganda."

Bwotch said the other problem was that incompetent people had been given key jobs in the ministry.

He said the faulty accounts go back from the 80s until 1999, and the audit firm Earnest & Young had been hired to sort them out.

The Finance team also failed to explain the ministry still keeps p to Shs 328bn of public money on dormant accounts in BoU.

The AG said Shs 17.4bn kept on two revenue accounts in BOU had vanished, and the accounts been closed without the money being transferred to the Consolidated Fund.

Finance officials have two weeks to trace the money.

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