Wednesday, February 22, 2012

MPs Ugx 103m CAR Scheme - An Exhibition of Patriotism -Deficiency

So, our dear legislators are asking for money to acquire new cars for their use. This money is being termed as ‘CAR GRANTS’. I agree they do a lot of work and keep travelling upcountry to serve us and therefore they need facilitation to carry out their duties. A grant is defined as ‘’give formally, transfer legally’’ meaning without interest.

Below are the allowances they receive in Uganda Shillings:

Monthly salary 2.3 Million

Constituency allowance 3.2 Million

Subsistence allowance 4.5 Million

Mileage allowance 5.4 Million

Town run allowance 1.6 Million

Monthly gratuity 780.000

The highest paid MP earns about 21 Million and the lowest earns about 15.4 Million. With this amount of income per month, is it possible that an MP may not be able to save some of this money over a certain amount of time depending on his/her current expenses and afford to buy a car in the long run? When campaigning, most (if not all) of them assured their constituency members how they will work hard to ensure that these people get all available services. Have the people gotten all (or even most) of these services? Can a yes answer be evident if one travels away from an urban area to a rural area? Take note that some of these MP’s double as ministers and therefore receive allowances and salaries as ministers and then as MP’s separately. With such an amount of money being earned by someone who claims to be working for the good of the country, is this the right thing to ask for? How many MP’s do not own their personal cars? Most of them have a car for themselves, another for their wives and some of them even have a car that stays home for day-to-day activities like taking children to school and any emergencies that may arise in the absence of both parents! The current plan by leadership in Kampala is to decongest the city. The MP’s should be the first to push this initiative forward by agreeing to own one car and even leave that car in a location outside the city and have one (or two or even three) of the buses that are being brought into the city to transport the rest of us (who may not be able to get a 103 million car grant) be set aside to collect them from these parking spots, rather than have 365 more cars headed to Parliamentary Avenue. This would really encourage the rest of the citizens to do the same.

Alternatively, couldn’t they think of asking for the 103 million shillings and pay back over time with interest thus contributing to the economy? In such a way, those who believe they may not be able to pay back this money would opt out and keep using their personal cars or even public transport to enter the city! Those who would pick the money would pay back over time, with interest, thus contributing more money to the economy through the interest accrued. There should also be a legislation barring MP’s from being Ministers. That way, more employment opportunities would be created and the independence of the Legislature would be preserved.

The enjoyment of different gov’t benefits (including cars, salaries, allowances, offices, et al) by one individual would also be avoided thus contributing to fair distribution of income among the general public. To me, this money being asked is more of a personal investment than a public investment. It is such behavior of using tax payers’ money for personal benefits that must be condemned from our public leaders and instead encourage them to serve without any self interests. If anything, the reasons being given for the failure to increase teachers’ salaries to their request and expectation should be understood by the MP’s as having the same impact across public leaders and civil servants.

Otherwise, I don’t see how the MP’s can get this car grant, drive back to their constituencies and explain to the teachers that there is no money to facilitate increase of their salaries at a much faster rate. It is these same MP’s who take ‘official’ tours to Mulago, other public health facilities and educational facilities in their areas and promise work on these lacking facilities but never get back to fulfill their offers. All they do is blame gov’t for the dilapidated structures and facilities yet it can be in their power to cause a difference of a much higher magnitude. On a daily basis, I read newspaper advertisements of people (usually children) asking for contributions of donations to surgery of major parts of their bodies but on very few occasions have I read of these politicians contributing to these surgeries! I find their request totally lacking in patriotism for the fights they always claim to spearhead in Parliament and I pray they realize the urgency of many more needs by other people than these multi-million personal investments!

@jobaze (on twitter)

Thursday, February 9, 2012



Following Daily Monitor breaking the sad story of our legislators in the 9th parliament getting Ugx 103 million each in a generous car scheme, the public and civil society have condemned (and rightfully so) this unfortunate precedence. This story was a bit disheartening, considering that the 9th parliament had in the recent past won the public trust in the fight against corruption and financial indiscipline on the part of the Executive. Until recently, the widely held view in the public was that the current crop of MPs would revamp and redeem the integrity of the institution of parliament. The Parliamentary Commission has attempted to justify this car scheme but to no avail. It is apparent that no logical reason can explain and or justify such financial excesses in times when the economy is punctuated by high inflation, high interest rates, high unemployment and slow growth. I wish to offer nine alternatives which the 9th parliament can use these funds for.

1. Health Care for Nodding disease victims and patients.
Northern Uganda is currently grappling with the nodding disease that has affected over 2,000 children and left over 80 dead. The government is still clueless on how to address the challenges brought by this disease. Ugx 35 billion would go a long way in providing basic health care and welfare support to the over 10,000 households that have been affected by this disease. It is unfortunate for legislators to have the luxury of having Ugx 103m to buy posh cars when their constituents and ordinary people are dying of the nodding disease. Household affected by this disease are unable to engage in any economic activity e.g. farming. Government should direct these funds to the welfare and healthcare of households affected by nodding disease.

2. Primary Health Care to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.
According to the State of Uganda Population report 2011, it is estimated that between 6,000 and 14,000 women and girls die due to pregnancy related complications every year. Additionally between 13,000 and 40,500 women and girls suffer from disabilities resulting from complications in pregnancy and child birth. Ugx 35 billion, instead of wasting it on highly paid MPs, could be used to provide services that are critical to mothers and pregnant women e.g. antenatal care, emergency obstetric care, family planning, HIV/AIDS services. With such numbers, it implies that by the end of the MPs’ term of office, between 30,000 and 70,000 women will have died due to pregnancy related complications.

3. Police Welfare and Salaries.
According to the East Africa Bribery Index, carried out by Transparency International in 2011, Uganda Police was found to be the institution most-prone to corruption and bribery in the region. One of the reasons for this is the poor remuneration and poor living conditions of police workforce. On average, police men earn a paltry Ugx 200,000 per month. With the dire economic situation and the high cost of living, policemen are most likely and prone to soliciting bribes for some extra cash to afford a decent living, pay for their children’s education etc. The Ugx 35 billion for the MPs car scheme could be used to provide a soft loan/ credit scheme for policemen to help their families engage in small enterprises like farming, shops, bricklaying, fish farming, art and crafts. These entrepreneurial activities would significantly improve the incomes of the policemen and thus motivate them for better professional service.

4. Improving Teachers’ Salaries and Housing
Teachers have in the recent past been engaging in civil strikes to protest the low pay that has been exacerbated by the high inflation and dire economic situation. Teachers earn like, policemen earn averagely Ugx 200,000 per month and this barely covers rent for decent accommodation, upkeep, transport and education for their own children. With poorly paid and unmotivated teachers, the quality and standards in the government funded UPE program have been low and appalling. According to the Annual Learning Assessment Report 2011 by the Non-governmental Organisation; UWEZO-Uganda on UPE, 9 out of 10 pupils in P3 cannot do English and math of P2 level. In all the districts assessed, the competence in English and math amongst P3- P7 pupils was below 50% .Most actually are in the range of 10% to 35%.These are appalling statics. The Ugx 35 billion intended for MPs cars scheme could be used to improve the salaries and or build staff housing for teachers in rural areas to motivate them for better service delivery in schools.

5. Irrigation and Improved Agricultural Production
It is agreed that among other reasons, the high inflation and high food prices are due to supply shocks. Owing to the long dry season in 2010, agriculture yields were poor thus there wasn’t enough produce to meet the demand both on the local and regional markets in Rwanda and South Sudan etc. It is thus important that in order to improve and sustain agricultural production all year round, government needs to support irrigation and better farming technologies in rural areas. In the FY11/12, a paltry ugx 5bn was allocated to the Ministry of Water and Environmental Protection for irrigation schemes. The Ugx 35 billion intended for the MPs car scheme could go a long way in providing irrigation schemes all across the country, thus a major step towards boosting our agricultural production.

6. Youth Employment, entrepreneurship and Job Creation.
Government recently released Ugx 40 billion to banks (Stanbic, DFCU and Centenary Bank) under the Youth Capital Venture Fund for youth job creation and entrepreneurship. This is meant to provide loans of amounts ranging from Ugx 100,000 to 5,000,000 for youth to start up small enterprises and create their own jobs. At Ugx 5m each, this money would benefit only 8,000 youths. This is just 3% of the estimated youth (256,000) that can’t find jobs every year. It is only rational that parliament should have agitated for the allocation of the Ugx 35bn car-scheme funds towards the youth capital venture fund to increase access to credit amongst youth and thus boost entrepreneurship and job creation.

7. Environmental Conservation and Tree Planting
The challenges of global warming and climate change are already upon us. In 2005, owing to the prolonged dry season, the water levels in Lake Victoria and River Nile went down thus affecting the hydrology of River. This further compromised the ability of power dams to operate at desired capacity thus power shortages and outages. On the global scene, there is increasing legislation and charters to curb emission of greenhouse gases and mitigate the challenges of climate change. Ugx 35 billion could be used for environmental conservation programs like tree planting in areas like Nakasongola and Luwero where in the recent past; we’ve seen big multinationals chase people off their land for commercial tree planting. The government can give incentives, seedlings and other farm inputs to rural communities to plant trees, commercial forests etc. to foster environmental conservation and commercial tree planting which would earn these rural households income.

8. Solar Panels and Renewable Energy for Health Centers and Local Administration units.
The power shortages and the persistent load shedding have not only had a negative effect on the economy but on the health sector too. We have had instances where medical workers can’t conduct certain diagnosis tests and minor operations because of lack of electricity to power small medical equipment and also provide lighting. Ugx 35 billion can be used to procure over 2500 solar power systems/units to be installed at various rural community health centers and sub-county offices. This would guarantee smooth running and service delivery at these health centers and administration units using this renewable energy resource.

9. Fish Farming to boost Export Revenues
In light of the current economic down-turn, Uganda’s exports earnings from the regional markets have gone down from $1.6bn in 2009 to $1.35bn in 2010 according to a UBOS report 2010. The dwindling exports and the increasing import bill have put pressure on the local currency in relation to foreign currencies especially the US dollar. Furthermore, due to the European economic crisis and slow-down in the global economy, our exports have taken a battering. Economists argue that our exports face elastic demand whereas our imports are demand inelastic. A European consumer can afford to forego our flowers but we can’t forego importing oil and other manufacturing inputs. So we need to build competitiveness on exports like fish to keep up our export income. Lake Victoria’s fish stocks are going down due to over fishing, water hyacinth and pollution. So fish farming is one facet of the agriculture sector that can boost our exports and foster higher foreign exchange earnings. Ugx 35 billion is enough to set up at least five (5) fish farming centers and processing factories in various regional centers like Arua, Jinja, Mbale, Gulu and Mbarara. This would also have a multiplier effect of creating jobs and income for the local population.

It is clear that this MPs car scheme is selfish and insensitive on the part of our legislators. More than ever before, it is clear for all and sundry to see that the institution tasked with ensuring that the executive arm of government delivers services and programs that resonate with the needs and aspirations of the wide population is not up to the task. The above suggested alternatives to utilizing the Ugx 35 billion offer opportunities for youth employment, environment and energy conservation, improved agriculture production, better community healthcare, export growth and foreign exchange earning. It is a sad irony that our “Leaders” decide to buy imported posh SUVs using tax payers’ money when they have just applauded the KIIRA EV innovation by the College of Technology, Makerere University.

For God and My Country.

Agaba Rugaba
Social Critic