Inside the fight over foreign trips at Kyankwanzi retreat

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Inside the fight over foreign trips at Kyankwanzi retreat
Inside the fight over foreign trips at Kyankwanzi retreat

Africa-PressUganda. New details have emerged on how NRM MPs-elect ganged up with Independents in Kyankwanzi, and hatched a plot to defeat President Museveni’s “ban” on foreign travel and other non-essential government expenditures.

Sources narrated how ring-leaders in the plot against budget cuts created parallel WhatsApp groups to coordinate “a charm offensive” against nervous members who wanted to back the President on the alleged ban.

Even though the President didn’t call for an outright ban on trips abroad, the MPs- elect, particularly “the returnees”, were telling “first-timers” that the proposed ban on foreign travel would deprive them of the much needed dollars for the next five years.

The silent campaign against President Museveni’s proposal picked momentum after information leaked that party officials had smuggled in a resolution banning foreign trips. This angered members, and promised to fight until the resolution is expunged from the records of the retreat.

Before they set off from Kyankwanzi to Ngoma Government Farm in Nakaseke District for the closure of a three-week retreat, they decided to keep the matter under wraps for fear of backlash from the voters.

They also decided to heckle the resolution on foreign travel until it is defeated.When the NRM secretary general, Ms Justice Kasule Lumumba, read out resolutions from the retreat in Ngoma on April 28, the MPs-elect were shocked. They stopped listening and started jeering and heckled. Sources talked of “pandemonium” as Ms Lumumba read out the resolution on travel abroad.

The MPs-elect demanded that the resolution be deleted from the records and maintained that the retreat didn’t discuss foreign trips. They accused the NRM secretariat of smuggling the resolution.

Realising that the situation was getting out of control, the President, who kicked off the debate on discouraging foreign travel for MPs and other government officials, intervened and the matter was put to a voice vote, aka acclamation, for those in favour to say aye or yea and those in contrary to say nay or no.

The Nos carried the day and the resolution on cutting travel expenses was deleted.Mr Museveni, however, assured those craving for trips abroad that there will be no mchezo [games] entertained in the new term, starting later this month.

He also indicated that he was prepared to go an extra mile to put the matter to a referendum if need arises. Sources told Daily Monitor that in Kyankwanzi, there was no formal discussion on cutting government expenditures, including foreign trips.

The President had on April 15, threatened war with parliament over wasteful foreign travel and unnecessary salary increments. The President rebuked incessant trips abroad as another form of corruption that squanders resources meant for development purposes.

The country was expected to achieve a lower middle-income status in 2020 but failed to achieve the target. For Uganda to attain the lower middle-income status in the remaining two years, NPA officials say the economy has to grow by more than 15 per cent annually.

Sources told Daily Monitor that in Kyankwanzi, there was no formal discussion on cutting government expenditures including foreign trips. The President had on April 15, in a hard-hitting speech, threatened war with parliament over wasteful foreign travel and unnecessary salary increments. The President rebuked incessant trips abroad as another form of corruption that squanders resources meant for development purposes.

“And then this traveling outside, pure corruption. MPs that they are going to benchmark. That is corruption. This time I must tell you as members of the NRM that this time we shall fight. They end up involving all of us in mistakes. It is not right to squander and wasting resources for the country [through] traveling [around the world].” Mr Museveni told MPs- elect.

“Our late comrade [John Pombe] Magufuli fought this travelling [problem] and saved a lot of money which he used for development. So please, this time, do not misuse your chance [by over traveling].” After the President spoke on the matter, sources told Daily Monitor that the issue of travel abroad for MPs progressively came under various topics, especially one for corruption, presented by Dr Ramathan Gobi and another which talked about the need to rationalize government budgets. Travel abroad again featured prominently under presentations by Prof Fred Muhumuza and Prof Augustus Nuwagaba. Parliament’s Communications director Ms Helen Kaweesa, in an interview with Daily Monitor on Friday, talked of an adjusted budget that responds to the prevailing economic situation in the country. She has also advised members to consider virtual meetings as a cost cutting option. Zoom meetingsFormer Parliamentary Commission, Mr Emmanuel Ddombo, who now heads the communications directorate at the ruling NRM Secretariat, agreed with Ms Kaweesa’s views and asked MPs-elect, who were jostling for globetrotting deals in parliament, to reconsider their stance on the matter and get used to Zoom technology. “The Covid-19 pandemic has partially resolved that matter [foreign trips] not only in the executive arm of government and the judiciary, but even in parliament,” Mr Ddombo said. “I am aware that many meetings that have hitherto been conducted by physical movement of people, can now ably be conducted using the new innovations like Zoom and other [cost-cutting] ICT applications” He added: “Parliament and other arms of government should enhance their technologies to enable them participate in international virtual meetings and benchmarking sessions so that they don’t rely on lack of the same to justify their travel budgets.”

Similar caution

In May 2016, while addressing newly-elected NRM Parliamentary Caucus members, who had gathered at State House Entebbe to elect the party’s flagbearers in the Speaker and Deputy Speaker race, Mr Museveni said he gets embarrassed that Uganda is still languishing in the league of low developed countries and asked MPs in the new Parliament to stop scrambling for trips, roaming the world like Christopher Columbus yet Ugandans expect them to deliver services.

This time, the President warned MPs-elect against emulating Ferdinand Magellan who went around circumnavigating the world. He promised that at an appropriate time, the NRM Caucus would get time and discuss cutting government nugatory expenditure and come up with a forward. The President would then task the new Parliament and Cabinet to work together and propel the country into a middle income status. What they said

Geoffrey Ekanya (FDC, Tororo North MP-elect):

Covid-19 has given us the best advice on those matters… but I think, we deal with the problem, we must look beyond parliament. It should be for all government departments to avoid double standards,” Jacob Oboth Oboth (NRM, West Budama South MP-elect), Deputy Speaker aspirant and Chairperson legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee: “[Cutting foreign travel] is not a matter to be decided upon by one person by the Parliamentary Commission. Travel abroad is a policy matter.” Eddie Kwizera (NRM, Bukimbiri MP-elect): “The word is now a global village and there are certain meetings we can’t miss as a country. But we must also be honest and deal with abuses. Some MPs and government officials use travel as a source of income. Some have attended meetings where they can’t even add value. You find an MP who doesn’t even know anything about economy and he attending a World Bank conference. This is unacceptable. We must deal with abuse of foreign travel and only go for meetings that add value.” President Museveni: “And then this traveling outside, pure corruption. MPs that they are going to benchmark. That is corruption. This time I must tell you as members of the NRM that this time we shall fight. They end up involving all of us in mistakes. It is not right to squander and wasting resources for the country [through] traveling [around the world].” Speaker Rebecca Kadaga: “I want to urge members to desist from traveling because things are really happening. Unless it is necessary, let us stay put in our country because even on the plane, you can sit with people who are sick,” she said in her communication during the plenary sitting on March 12 2020.”‘

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