18 June 2017

Uganda: On Whose Side Is the Parliament of Uganda?

Photo: Daily Monitor
Parliament (file photo).

If one needed proof that the Parliament of Uganda is a rubber stamp and a door mat of you know who and not a defender of the interests of the people of Uganda, new evidence is available in the public domain.

Saturday Monitor of June 3 published details of the evidence in a story by Ismail Musa Ladu titled, 'Parliament rejects proposal to disband State House scholarships.'

The story is absurd and offensive. How could MPs shoot themselves in the foot and betray wananchi who sent them to Parliament to champion, defend and protect their causes and interests? On whose side are Uganda's MPs? Are MPs on the side of the oppressor or on the side of millions of wananchi who are despised and suffering? These are questions which will be explored in this column, but first some background to a very unpatriotic affair.

According to Saturday Monitor of June 3, "Parliament has disregarded the views of its Committee on Presidential Affairs which had proposed that State House gives up control of the Shs20 billion scholarship fund under its charge to the Higher Education Students Financing Board and instead passed the budget unchanged."

After considering the policy statement of State House for the 2017/18 Financial Year, the committee wisely recommended that the State House Scholarship Fund should be phased out and Shs20 billion earmarked for the fund be allocated to the Higher Education Students Financing Board for a students' loan scheme under which all Ugandans will have equal opportunity to access the funds.

Committee members rightly expressed concern over the opaque selection criteria used to award scholarships under the State House programme and questioned why Shs20 billion was proposed for the fund when the number of beneficiaries was reduced from 8,000 to 3,720.

As readers may recall, the State House scholarship programme was operated secretly for many years until Dr Kizza Besigye exposed it during campaigns for the 2001 elections; as usual, regime apologists at first denied existence of the programme. The full list of beneficiaries has never been published, but you can guess where the vast majority come from.

To the best of my knowledge, the West Nile region - with a population of more than three million - has so far been awarded only one State House scholarship, to former MP Akbar Godi who is currently in jail at Luzira Prison. He got a scholarship to study law at Kampala International University, but as soon as NRM regime learnt that Godi had joined FDC, the scholarship was immediately discontinued, two years before he completed an LLB course.

What is the truth?

A senior aide to Sabalwanyi, Don Wanyama, denied the existence of a State House Scholarship Fund. The spin doctor alleged that, "there is no provision for the State House Scholarship Fund. That is now a matter being handled by the ministry of Education and not State House," and he added that if the President offers sponsorship for a student, it is catered for under Sabalwanyi's huge and classified presidential donation budget which exceeds the annual budget of the ministries of trade and tourism combined.

Why on earth would MPs reject a rational, sensible and unanimous recommendation from one of Parliament's important committees? What is the logic behind this clearly anti-people and wrong decision?

MPs should, in fact, demand a full list of the beneficiaries of this secret and unfair scholarship fund. If what is making rounds in the grapevine is half true, more than 80 per cent of the beneficiaries of the fund come from one region which may explain why the list has never been published by government for the information of Ugandan taxpayers. One day, the ugly truth will be revealed.

In another development, Parliament attempted to impress wananchi a few days ago that it was not toothless, but could bite. Well, the cynical ploy fell flat and the Bunge (Parliament) was left licking its self-inflicted wounds.

According to a story published in Daily Monitor of June 5 titled, "MPs summon top Finance officials over Shs720b loan," the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) summoned Bank of Uganda Governor Emmanuel Mutebile and Treasury Secretary Keith Muhakanizi to explain how Shs340 billion of a Shs720 billion foreign loan meant for medicines and rural electrification was used.

Muhakanizi dismissed the planned inquiry as "misdirected" and advised MPs to ask the IGG or Auditor General to undertake any investigations which he said is unnecessary, which left the youngish vice chairperson of PAC, Gerald Karuhanga, angry and gnashing his teeth in disbelief!

If MPs knew how low they are held at the Treasury, they would not bother to make such demands. Senior officials at the Treasury know that what most MPs really care about are their hefty allowances, benefits and packages. Most MPs do not even attend plenary or committee meetings.

I am sure if Parliament was abolished today, wananchi would neither lose sleep nor miss that House of infamy! Against this background, the Bunge of Uganda is definitely not on the side of wananchi.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.


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