Recently, while at my favourite tailor’s shop, Hassan’s shop, a debate ensued in which Hassan argued that it would be best if we allowed President Museveni to run for president un-opposed and then have all the other potential presidential candidates – Betty Kamya, Mugisha Muntu, Norbert Mao, Kibirige Mayanja, Kizza Besigye, Olara Otunu (all excellencies) – to run for parliament. Hassan’s point is that Uganda lacks and needs a parliament that is numerically and ideologically strong in order to counter any misuse of power by the executive.
At first glance, Hassan’s argument is easy to dismiss, but I really do think that it holds some merit. Especially when analysis such as the one Henry Mulindwa wrote about in is article titled: “Shock As 200 Members Of Parliament Go Mute” become frequent. Henry Mulindwa in his article wrote: “The Hansard shows that out of the 376 legislators, despite the huge opportunities for them to speak; only 176 members were able to stand up and speak in a full month though on average, at least 70 members can speak a day! This therefore means each Member of Parliament amongst the 376 legislators has the opportunity to speak at least every month only if they stand up to speak.”
Let us go back to May 2011 when our current parliament took three days swearing in, as each one of them individually took the oath of office and swore to ‘the Almighty God’ that they would give faithful service to the parliament. Aside from the fact that a number of the MPs were unable to take the short oath in one go, because they kept stumbling in pronunciation of the words, especially ‘solemnly’, it seems that they also did not fully understand the meaning of the oath or have interpreted it literally. Once they stumbled through the swearing in camaraderie, their first order of business was to throw out the media and all other observers, and behind closed doors, it is alleged that they proposed to increase their emoluments to more than 15 million shillings per month.
At the helm of the leadership of the MPs are the speakers of parliament for whom the Government of Uganda (GoU) reportedly purchased two brand new Mercedes Benz vehicles at 838 million shillings as ceremonial cars, in addition to the latest top of the range V8 Toyota Land Cruisers that the speakers reportedly use for travel to their constituencies. Comparatively, 31.1 percent of Uganda’s population, an estimated 8.4 million persons, were categorized poor at the time; each surviving on less than 72 thousand shillings per month. Millions of Ugandans at the time were eating only one meal a day and millions more were unable to take the minimum dietary requirement of 3000 calories per day.
It is no wonder that the norm in Uganda is for us all to clamor for leadership at the top, while neglecting the wider leadership roles at the bottom of the pyramid – the mushrooming 2016 elections campaign pages on facebook are a testament to this. One would expect that since 85 percent of Ugandans live in the rural areas of Uganda and they are the ones who are producing food for Uganda, the leaders in the rural areas should be the focus of the attention of the GoU. But clearly, judging from the unnecessary number of MPs and their emoluments this is not the case. Would it not be better for the GoU to focus attention on ensuring that the leaders at the district, sub-county and village levels are facilitated to stimulate political, social and economic development to the extent that each district should be able to sponsor one MP to represent the district in parliament? In this case the district councils would be the ones to set the emoluments of the MPs.
The current system is irrational for it allows for districts, such as my ancestral district, Pallisa, whose annual revenue collection is about 130 million shillings only, to be represented by five MPs that cost the nation 900 million shillings per year? Negative trends such as the most recent weakening of the shilling and the sky rocketing food prices shall continue, because those, such as our MPs, who are expected to do something about it are mute or will only make pretentious noises for they do not genuinely feel the pinch as they are cushioned by their vulgar disproportionate emoluments. Those who feel the pinch, leaders and peoples of the rural areas, are pretty much ignored and are expected to be thankful whenever the ‘big man’, MPs inclusive, visits from Kampala and drops them a few crumbs.
In Uganda we have come to accept and to promote the paradigm in which leadership at the top is perceived as the time for privilege for the individual to amass wealth and not as the time for the individual to render service above self to his/her country-folk. So, unlike other nations, it seems leaders in Uganda measure their success not on what-have-I-done-for-my-country-today but rather what-have-I-taken-from-my-country-today”. The maiden actions of our current MPs and their subsequent actions too – staying mute in the house -show that they do not take the oath that they took seriously.
Or is it perhaps the case that for some of them the oath may have a loophole for it refers only to one God, and yet for many in Uganda, as is the spirituality of African indigenous religions, God is not singular? So, to which god were the MPs honoring their promise with their proposal to increase their emoluments? Perhaps, the MPs are simply honoring the part of the oath which requires them to be faithful to the parliament, in which case they have interpreted parliament not as an institution, but as them the individual MPs?
But then again, the MPs are within the law, for after all, in Uganda, MPs determine their own pay, set their own performance, and they do not swear to promote the welfare of the people of Uganda, as the President does; why won’t they stay mute?