23 July 2018

Uganda: MPs Need 2,700 Army Bodyguards

A presidential order for heightened security measures for MPs, which will include army snipers and bullet-proof escort cars was received last week with immediate acclaim and criticism.

At this moment of tumult over insecurity and murders countrywide, MPs such as Winnie Kiiza, (leader of opposition in Parliament), Beatrice Anywar, Francis Mwijukye, Patrick Kasumba (NRM), Arinaitwe Rwakajara made a strong argument for the need to secure the whole country instead of protecting only the 452 MPs.

An analysis of the cost and benefit of securing all 452 MPs shows it will take lots of cash, soldiers or policemen and escort cars to keep them safe. And such deployment of human and financial resources will mean that other Ugandans will remain under-served, naked and probably exposed to criminality, security experts have warned.

Here is why. According to knowledgeable security officials, in terms of human resource, a Hilux double cabin escort vehicle with an open carriage bed sits a maximum of six policemen or soldiers. That is four security officials behind and two in front including the commander.

That means government will have to deploy about 2,712 security officials to escort our 452 MPs everywhere they go. In military terms, that number of escorts could be equated to about three battalions of soldiers. A battalion is made up of between 300 to 800 soldiers.

Asked whether the army can deploy all those soldiers to guard MPs, the Army and Defense Brig Richard Kalemire said, "We haven't gotten the directive but what I can say we have the capacity to secure the MPs and our people."

"We shall cross the bridge when we reach there," he added.

The sheer number of body guards needed to secure MPs raises troubling questions about the need for such a deployment to secure so few Ugandans. A member of parliament superintends over a constituency, which may have about two to three sub counties. Each sub county has approximately 10,000 people with one police post manned by about two policemen. Some have none at all.

So with six policemen or soldiers shadowing a single MP that would mean the legislator will be moving around with a protective human shield that would otherwise have made about 30,000 people in his/her constituency feel a little safer.

Imagine also what the 452 escort cars would do if they were converted into police patrol cars. Right now each of the 118 districts that make up Uganda has one police patrol car, which responds to every incident; a murder, accident, an insider police official has said.

And in some sub counties, officers in charge of police stations or posts use motorcycles or bicycles as modes of transport. An addition of 452 escort cars to the police fleet would enhance police visibility, presence and response to incidents.

That would go a long way in the fight against crime. And it emerged last week that government may have to borrow or forego some budgeted activities in the 2018/19 financial year if the presidential directive to provide 'sharp shooters' to guard each member of parliament is to be actualised.

House Finance Committee chair Henry Ariganyira Musasizi (Rubanda East) told The Observer that buying of the vehicles would be treated as an item of unforeseen expenditure normally financed through either supplementary spending, borrowing or slashing and re-allocating monies.

"If this decision is implemented it means the budget will suffer either directly through a budget cut or suppression of some activities, or the government will be forced to go into the domestic market to borrow more money to finance this unforeseen expenditure," Musasizi said last Monday.

In a letter to Finance Minister Matia Kasaija dated June 29, 2018, President Museveni said MPs have been singled out for intimidation and possible attack by terrorists. He ordered the urgent procurement of escort pick-up vehicles with open carriage beds for each legislator.

"I have decided to protect MPs as we wait for the putting in place of these security measures. MPs already have some police guards. Those will stay with them. I will, however, add two elements; the sharp-shooters of the army and follow-pickups that will be used by these against small arms bullets," Museveni said in the letter.

THE COST

The sharp shooters, however, will come at an enormous cost. It comes after government has gone through the budgeting process.

Government will now have to fork out at least between $160,000 and $220,000 for each pick-up truck for the 452 members of parliament. The number of legislators will increase to more than 460 after the new municipalities polls have been conducted by end of the year.

If we take the least cost $160,000 or Shs 595m (at the current exchange rate), it means that the government will have to spend $72m (Shs 269bn) to buy the cars alone. This figure is an industry estimate by vendors.

Then the president also suggests that the guards be provided with bullet-proof jackets and helmets, also at the taxpayers' cost. According to bulletblocker.com, an online journal with information on military wear, a simple bullet-proof jacket costs at least $640 while a helmet goes for $300.

This means that government needs at least $1,000 for simple bullet-proof wear. The Observer has calculated that guards' wear will cost $2.7m (Shs 10bn). So, finance has to quickly find Shs 279bn. And this figure will increase because going forward; the taxpayer will also have to provide fuel and maintenance of the vehicles.

Government will also have to find additional parking space along the parliamentary avenue to accommodate additional traffic.

Yet the estimated amount is more than one third of the entire agriculture sector budget of Shs 831bn. But when you remove recurrent expenditure, it is almost equivalent to the entire agriculture budget left for development expenditure.

The 2018/19 budget notes that agriculture employs three quarters of Ugandans and contributes at least 24% to the country's Gross Domestic Product.

Already, government has found a hard time implementing the tax measures it announced in the 2018/19 budget to raise money, with an outcry specifically raised against mobile money tax and social media. Many people have by-passed the social media tax using Virtual Private Networks.

Government has to look for other sources to raise money. The quick one being domestic borrowing. This also has implications for private businesses which will have difficulty accessing money for investment because banks prefer to lend to government.

Already, a Bank of Uganda 2017 report shows that commercial banks' investment in government securities increased by Shs 2.2 trillion while increasing their lending to the private sector by a meagre Shs 168.4 billion in 2017. The consequence of this is the continued slowing down of the economy.

PUBLIC EXPOSED

The call to provide more security to VIPs, where the MPs fall, means more ordinary people will be left exposed. In particular, this comes at a time when in April, Uganda Police said it was closing 1,663 police posts due to constant attacks and ineffectiveness to respond to crime.

"The police council directed the closure of police posts due to staffing challenges. We were guided by the council to concentrate on having a police station at every sub-county where police officers and their equipment can be protected and managed well," Emilian Kayima, police publicist was quoted in Daily Monitor.

It is not that crime meted out on ordinary people has reduced. According to 2017 Uganda Bureau of Statistics abstract, serious crime investigated by police increased to 32,198 cases countrywide up from 7,416 cases in 2012.

The money needed to provide MPs security is eight times the money government needed to buy the Shs 30 billion cancer treating machine in 2015. It took government a whole year to procure the machine.

Maracha MP Denis Lee Oguzu wondered why government has found it necessary to quickly find money for MPs' security needs while priorities like healthcare lack funding.

"When we wanted government to take care of all the elderly through the Sage (Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment) programme, government said there was no money. When we ask government to stock drugs in hospitals, government says no money. Government should have focused on all these priorities rather than buying MPs pick-ups," Oguzu said.

"This now confirms our earlier assertion that this government could probably be one of the most extravagant governments Uganda has had in history. Already, State House is costing Ugandans a lot of money and here we are imposing tax on Ugandans- where shall we get this money from?" Oguzu added.

National coordinator for the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, Julius Mukunda described the directive by the president as an act of budgetary indiscipline and lack of focus on the state of security in the country.

"The number of MPs killed compared to that of the ordinary persons killed is less therefore that money would instead go to budgets of security organisations to take care of all Ugandans and not only for security of MPs," Mukunda said.

Ministry of Finance permanent secretary and secretary to the treasury Keith Muhakanizi said the ministry would advise the president on the best way forward given the limited resources.

"Whether we have found the money or not, all I can say is that we shall advise the president or implement his directive the best way we can. People bias us for nothing. The Constitution is very clear; we implement the directives of the president but of course it is also our duty to advise him on the best way to implement his decisions," Muhakanizi said.

Museveni however said that when the security measures are in place, the individualized security would be done away with.

"We shall do away with the individualized security which is really a waste of resources-financial and manpower. Act fast and I expect speed," Museveni's letter to Kasaija said.

"With these measures, we were re-affirming to our people that the security of Uganda is unshakeable. These measures however may take a few months to be put in place, our people to train on them. I have therefore, decided to protect the members of parliament as we wait the putting in place of these systems since they are being singled out," Museveni said.

Last week, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga told MPs that the Parliamentary Commission would sit and decide on the presidential directive.

But Workers' MP Arinaitwe Rwakajara, a member of the commission, said there was nothing to discuss. "What is there for us to discuss? It is a presidential directive and therefore not ours; it doesn't touch our budget, and it is not within our mandate to assess the security of members," Rwakajara told The Observer.

The executive director of the Uganda Media Centre Ofwono Opondo said the presidential directive does not necessarily mean that all MPs will be given army snipers.

"Some will get overt security, others covert security. In fact, some already have the covert security; those you cannot see," Opondo said.

According to Opondo, the security heads have to examine Museveni's directive and advise him on what is feasible. Temporary or not, if implemented, the cost of providing escort security for legislators will not just leave a huge dent on the public purse but also a bitter taste in the mouths of ordinary people.

amwesigwa@observer.ug

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