Uganda: Shs10b MPs COVID-19 Cash Takes New Twist

The Shs20m which the High Court has directed each MP to return either to their respective district Covid-19 taskforce or the Parliamentary Commission will have to be taken back to the Consolidated Fund before it is reallocated for expenditure, the Secretary to the Treasury has said.

Mr Keith Muhakanizi's take is a new twist in the debate regarding the appropriation of Shs10b by Parliament to itself off the Shs284b supplementary budget to fight Covid-19, which has pitted Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and several MPs against President Museveni and the courts of law.

The decision by the Parliamentary Commission to distribute the Shs10b by wiring Shs20m to each MP's account to supposedly fight Covid-19 in their constituencies, has attracted a lot of questions from the public.

President Museveni, while giving his 12th address to the nation about Covid-19 on April 28, said the MPs had fallen into a trap by taking the Shs20m each, accusing them of trying to divert Ugandans from focusing on the bigger fight against Covid-19.

"I am very thankful to Ugandans; they have responded to the Shs20 million allocated to each MP that caused confusion. It is bad planning but secondly, there were also legal and constitutional issues involved. It would be morally reprehensible to give themselves money for personal use when the country is in such a crisis and it's totally unacceptable to the NRM," Mr Museveni said.

Coinciding with the instructions by the President not to spend the money individually, Justice Michael Elubu of the High Court on Wednesday ordered that the Shs20m be taken to the district task force for those representing electoral areas or to the national task force for those representing interest groups. There was also an option of banking it back on the Parliamentary Commission Account with Bank of Uganda.

The President's guidance and the decision of court has pitted Parliament, which is the legislative arm of government, against, the Executive and the Judiciary.

At a media briefing on Thursday, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said Parliament was under attack from the Judiciary and the Executive. She insisted the MPs must follow her own guidance while spending the money.

"They should follow my instructions because it is enshrined under the Constitution," the Speaker told journalists.

While addressing a press conference together with some members of the Parliamentary Commission, Ms Kadaga said the public attention has been on the Shs20m allocated to each MP rather than the entire supplementary budget.

"We are really concerned that a lot of attention has been attached to the Shs10b. I don't know why you are fixated on the Shs10b. So, everybody is visible except Members of Parliament. Why do they want us to be invisible? We are elected leaders. So they want to go and show that they care more about those people than we, whom they elected. This is wrong and we will not accept it," she said.

Parliament and the Attorney General Chambers have already disagreed with the decision of court, saying the Judge gave orders after the petitioners, Mr Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and Mr Jonathan Odur (Erute South), had withdrawn their application after reading the Parliament's affidavit in reply.

"The appropriation is our business but a judge is sitting in the court saying now he is appropriating. This is an attack on Parliament by the Executive and Judiciary," Ms Kadaga added.

Now, Parliament is set to sit on Tuesday to discuss how to deal with the Executive. During the same meeting, the Speaker is expected to read out the breakdown of the Shs400b approved for classified expenditure by the Ministry of Defence.

However, despite the Speaker asking the MPs to stick to her guidelines on spending the money, which includes buying food and medical supplies, and hand them over to their district task forces, some of them have already decided otherwise.

During the week, several MPs have withdrawn the money and taken it in cash to their district taskforces, while others, have chosen to return it to the Parliamentary Commission.

However, as the district taskforces continue to receive and wait for cash from MPs, Mr Muhakanizi wants every penny received in donation to be transferred to the Consolidated Fund for proper appropriation.

In a letter to all accounting officers, Mr Muhakaniz directed on Wednesday that all cash donations both at national and local government level shall be banked directly by the donors in the national collection account in Stanbic Bank.

"The accounting officer of the local government will receive and acknowledge all bank deposit slips from the donors for onward submission to the accounting officer, Office of the Prime Minister," the letter reads in part.

Mr Muhakanizi said the Shs20m being taken by MPs to the districts and national taskforce or returned to the Parliamentary Commission by MPs, is affected by his guidelines, adding that he will issue more guidelines tomorrow (Monday).

"This money, once banked on the Account of the National Response Fund on Covid-19, it will be transferred to the Consolidated Fund. The donations coming to the national taskforce and the district taskforce cannot be spent there because it was not appropriated for. It can only be spent through a supplementary," he said.

This means, the hands of the chief administrative officers are tied on releasing these donations to the district taskforce chaired by the Resident District Commissioners. Mr Muhakanizi also said, the district and national taskforce already have guidelines on how to account for the food and other donations they distribute after receiving from donors.

Some MPs who have returned the money

Kyadondo East MP and leader of the People Power political pressure group, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, and his close ally, Mr Francis Nzake (Mityana Municipality), rejected the money in writing.

Among those who have handed the money to their districts include Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, who delivered Shs20m to the Omolo District taskforce.

Mr Oulanyah told the taskforce to spend the money wisely. "In line with and respect to the directive given by H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and guidance by Parliament, I handed over the Shs20m to Omoro District Covid-19 taskforce today at Lalogi Health Centre IV," Mr Oulanyah said in a tweet on Friday.

Ms Betty Aol Ocan, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, told Sunday Monitor that she will be delivering her share to the Gulu District taskforce tomorrow (Monday) with a view to have it spent on feeding the vulnerable people.

Some of the MPs who have delivered the money to their districts include Mr Thomas Tayebwa (Ruhinda North), Mr Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South), Ms Sarah Opendi (Woman MP, Tororo and State Minister for Minerals).

Soroti District Woman MP Angelline Osegge yesterday said she had delivered eight tonnes of posho (maize flour) to the district taskforce.

But, some of the MPs have stood their ground to return the money to the Parliamentary Commission. They include Col Fred Mwesigye (Nyabushozi), Mr Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka Municipality), Mr Jonathan Odur (Erute South), Mr Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala), Mr Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality), and Ms Amelia Kyambadde (Trade Minister).

The list is likely to grow tomorrow when the banks open because Friday was a public holiday, while banks did not open on Saturday as per the Bank of Uganda directives in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak.

Like other districts are waiting for the money from MPs, Mr Sibendire Thembo Bigogo, the Kasese District chairperson, has pleaded to the six MPs not to return the money to the Parliamentary Commission. "Many people are almost dying of hunger," he said.

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