The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: MPs Failing to Scrutinise Govt

Although Parliament is charged with holding the executive to account, a survey by this newspaper shows MPs have not done a good job.

Parliament executes this role through accountability committees on Public Accounts, Local Government Accounts, Government Assurances and on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises.

As a practice in the Commonwealth parliamentary system, the accountability committees are chaired by the major opposition political party, in this case, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). The accountability committees, after scrutinizing the AG's reports, write reports for Parliament to debate and recommend action for government to take.

But a snap survey of opinions from MPs themselves found that these committees, set up largely to monitor the use of public funds as per Article 164(3) of the Constitution, have underperformed.

"Indeed, some of our committees have not worked to our satisfaction and this affects the performance of Parliament in terms of monitoring public expenditure," Aswa MP, Reagan Okumu (FDC) said last week.

Poor performance:

Since start of this 9th Parliament, the Auditor General has released several audit reports that have either been shelved or their consideration by the respective committees has been painstakingly so slow. For instance, financial audits from the AG for years ending 2010 and 2011 were submitted to the LGAC but have not been disposed of.

"There are genuine issues raised in these reports, like poor performances of funds sent to the districts, misuse of resources and funds. But in no case have we seen a report made by the committee on these issues," says Busiro South MP Joseph Balikuddembe (DP).

LGAC is chaired by Jack Sabiiti (Rukiga, FDC), deputized by Odo Tayebwa (Bushenyi-Ishaka municipality, FDC). The committee was feared, when it was headed by the current shadow attorney general, Abdu Katuntu, for grilling local leaders.

But LGAC Vice-Chairman Tayebwa believes they are making progress. "I absolutely agree that there have been some delays in making reports to Parliament, but we have a report which is ready and I am certain that it will soon be tabled," he said, complaining, however, that the committee had too much work.

Commissions:

The committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE), also appears to have underperformed. There are two annual financial audits of public bodies that were submitted to COSASE for scrutiny but no committee report has been tabled in Parliament.

COSASE's work schedule reveals the committee was supposed to have finalized consideration of the Auditor General's reports on Uganda Revenue Authority, Uganda Investment Authority and Uganda Bureau of Statistics for years 2002 to 2010 and written its report by September.

However, COSASE Chairman Amuriat Oboi (Kumi, FDC) blames the slow progress on tight schedules. "It is rare for the members of my committee to sit and consider the subject matter as before because of the demands on them from their sessional committees," he says.

Oboi added that for instance a report on UIA was completed last month but has not found space on the congested order paper. The committee is yet to examine reports on at least nine public bodies.

Performers:

However, the committee on Government Assurances appears to have done some good work. Chaired by Odonga Otto (FDC, Aruu), it has written two reports on promises made by government officials.

"This is unprecedented in the history of Parliament. But, now we can just refer to the committee's published report and hold the government to account for failure to fulfill a particular assurance," says MP Okumu.

PAC promising:

Now chaired by Kassiano Wadri (Terego , FDC) with Paul Mwiru (Jinja municipality East, FDC) as vice, PAC was more vibrant under the leadership of the current leader of Opposition Nathan Nandala-Mafabi. Still, it has not fared badly.

The committee reported on the fraudulent compensation of colossal sums of money to private firms whose contracts with government were cancelled. Its work, on the Basajjabalaba compensation scandal, also led to the resignation of two ministers Khiddu Makubuya and Syda Bbumba.

But PAC, too, has unfinished business - such as the questionable compensations to different companies like Dura Cement and Beach Site as well as the Shs 5.6bn given to the Burundi government. However, Mwiru says at least the report on Dura Cement is ready.

Opposition politics:

Sometimes this poor performance boils down to political intrigue. A technical staff, for instance, pointed out that when PAC had just started with Maruzi MP Maxwell Akora (UPC), an accountant, as Wadri's vice, performance was good. Akora was withdrawn from PAC after his party (UPC) refused to back an FDC-led move to boycott the election of representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly.

But who looks bad in all of this?" Okumu asks. "We [opposition] are the ones who lose because it is clear that we are the ones who are supposed to make government accountable but we are failing in our roles."

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