As a diversion and cover up, Gen Yoweri Museveni is attacking MPs, his usual punch bag and scapegoat for many failures.
While presiding over a function to launch a book on his contribution to the Muslims in Uganda two weeks ago, Museveni attacked MPs for increasing their allowances. He also used the same function at Saza ground in Kasangati to attack me and Kyadondo MP Robert Kyagulanyi. We - Kyagulanyi and I - are the reason people in this area are poor.
The civil society, especially a group calling itself Budget Advocacy something, even addressed a press conference to attack MPs. They reasoned and rightly so that the about Shs 63 billion that MPs have budgeted for fuel refund can actually help buy medicine if given to National Medical Stores (NMS).
My opinion on MPs and their allowances is now known. But I can restate it for purposes of this article. I think Uganda can do better with less than 200 MPs. I also think these MPs (200) should be properly facilitated. We are now 450. I have also presented a motion for a motor vehicle loan scheme which government requested to stay.
Back to the MPs’ allowances. There is a proposal in the budget to calculate MPs’ mileage allowance as per the pump fuel price. At the moment, we are paid, I think, about Shs 3,600 per litre. Because our mileage is calculated in terms of litres required, I think it makes sense to keep adjusting it when fuel prices go up or down.
That is the proposal in the budget. It is to bring the cost to the pump price. Trouble is that because of the huge numbers involved, any adjustment ends up in billions. And parliament is not an easy group to defend. There are many unforgivable mistakes we have individually and collectively made. Our performance remains questionable.
The budget of parliament has, for example, as a result of these adjustments, now gone to Shs 561 billion. This means that the tax-papers are spending Shs 1.5 billion on parliament every day. This is the money that parliament requires to pay about 400 members of staff, 450 MPs, building a new chamber because of numbers, building a new parking because of numbers and buying all sorts of things from vehicles to furniture.
This is a big figure considering that the total budget for the judiciary is Shs 151 billion only. The country in fact needs more judges and magistrates than MPs. Unfortunately, Museveni these days also donates constituencies and districts.
Be that as it may, I think the media and civil society have naively misdirected the debate on the budget. For example, the media has not informed the public that Museveni’s budget for donation has jumped from Shs 80 billion of last year to Shs 200 billion in the next budget. Mulago hospital budget is Shs 71 billion.
This is one of the items to be financed under State House budget. In total, State House budget has grown from Shs 274 billion in 2018 to Shs 407 billion. And by the way, Uganda Heart Institute needs Shs 256 billion to build and equip itself, which is not provided for in the budget. And Museveni has given himself another Shs 68 billion for classified expenditure under State House. Classified expenditure under Defence is now over Shs 600 billion.
What the public must know is that a big portion of this money that is being splashed is borrowed money. If you look at what the ministry of Finance calls resource envelope, our budget will be Shs 40 trillion.
The item that will consume more money is interest payment at over Shs 3 trillion. And nearly half the budget will be financed by borrowed money. We will borrow Shs 6 trillion to pay money we have picked from commercial banks through treasury bills and bonds. We will also borrow more than Shs 7 trillion from external sources such as the World Bank to finance roads and other projects.
It is the reason our debt as a country is now, I think, over $12 billion yet our total GDP is $27 billion. I know stories about MPs are sensational but we need to discuss abuse of public resources in general.
Museveni’s ostentatious expenditure should receive the same amount of publicity as that of MPs. In fact between Museveni and MPs, our money can be redirected to better use. Maybe the country has given up on Museveni. The MPs and parliament are a legitimate target over budget but let us not use them to let the man himself escape.
The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.