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"House full of clowns", Museveni mocks the Ugandan parliament

Museveni adressing mps in Kyankwazi last week. (Photo courtesy of Chimp reports (1)

Last week while addressing 243 newly elected National Resistance Movement Parliamentarians; President Yoweri Museveni mocked Parliament by describing it as a theatre-like house full of clowns who keep sitting, standing, and saying point of order. Any right-thinking Ugandan would agree with Museveni’s point of view. Why? You may ask.

Uganda’s 11th Parliament will house 527 Members of Parliament, an increase from the previous 457 members. This will make Uganda’s legislature the sixth biggest in Africa with Morocco, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Algeria, and Egypt making the top five. This big number does not only have a cost implication of maintaining the August House but also degenerates the quality of debate due to the limited time available for each member.

Many Ugandans just like President Museveni are frustrated with the August House not only for her members disregarding their constitutional duties but also for wastage of taxpayers’ money. In Uganda, a Member of Parliament earns an average of UGX 25 million ($ 6,922) per month which is inclusive of a basic salary of UGX 6 million ($ 1.661) and amenities in allowances depending on the distance between the constituency and Parliamentary building in Kampala. Only the basic salary of this monthly package is subjected to tax.

If we are to use the same figures for the next Parliament, it will imply that Government of Uganda will have to expend over UGX 158 billion ($ 43,747) annually on the 527 Members of Parliament.  This may be increased upward by MPs if they so wish since Article 85 (1) of Uganda’s Constitution gives them the right to determine their emoluments. Each of the incoming 11th Parliamentarians will also be given UGX 300 million ($ 83,064) to purchase a brand new vehicle.

But who should take the blame for making Uganda’s Parliament turn into a house of clowns or burden?  This question cannot be answered without bringing the Executive spearheaded by President Museveni to the spotlight, since he contributed to the increase in size. Parliament through the tabling of proposals led to the creation of more constituencies under the pretext of improving service delivery.

Each time new constituencies are created, new slots for Members of Parliament come up and this is the reason why the size of Uganda’s parliament has kept growing. Some members even finish five years of their tenure without saying a word on the floor of parliament but still get paid for representing his/her constituents. This is partly the reason why parliament is being labeled as a house of clowns.

Who benefits and who losses from such a Parliament with big numbers and clowns? Ever since 2005, the National Resistance Movement and her chairman President Yoweri Museveni have been the beneficiaries of this kind of parliament because they have leveraged on their bigger numbers in parliament to make any constitutional changes starting with the 2005 scrapping of term-limits and famous December 20, 2017 removal of the age-limit.  Of course, the taxpayers do lose because they carry the burden of paying hefty emoluments to Members of Parliament, of which some(MPs) of them do not meet voters’ aspirations.

To bring parliament to order, President Museveni vowed to wage a war of trimming some of the benefits Members of Parliament are entitled to starting with benchmarking travels.

“This traveling outside to benchmark is corruption. It is not correct to squander scarce resources by traveling. Our late comrade Magufuli fought this traveling and saved a lot of money to do other things,” Museveni said.

What could explain President Museveni’s change of tone towards Parliament of late; could it be that the Speakership position is gaining more Power?

The SecretKnown is that Museveni wants to trim the powers of Parliament so that the Executive remains the only powerful arm of government that coerces other arms to meet her demands.  The battle of who yields more power over members of parliament among the Speaker and President has also forced President Museveni to wage war against Parliament.

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