Pay dispute endangers public trust in House – Ogalo

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Pay dispute endangers public trust in House - Ogalo
Pay dispute endangers public trust in House - Ogalo

Africa-Press – Uganda. The 11th Parliament is in the limelight over questionable expenditure, including a decision by its Commission members to award Shs1.7 billion to themselves in “service awards” within the first year of service.

The spotlight has concentrated on Nyendo-Mukungwe Member of Parliament Mathias Mpuuga, a beneficiary and the immediate past Leader of Opposition in Parliament, after his National Unity Platform asked him to resign as a parliamentary commissioner.

Lawyer and former legislator Dan Wandera Ogalo, who introduced a Private Member’s Bill that the 6th Parliament enacted to create the Parliamentary Commission, says the cash rewards betray the spirit of the law.

He says profligacy will cause the public to lose confidence in the House, which in turn will undermine democracy. Below are excerpts of the interview.

How did the idea of gratuity to MPs, particularly members of the Parliamentary Commission, start?

To understand today’s context, you have to understand the kind of Parliament after the making of the Constitution in 1995.

When I was elected to the 6th Parliament, I found a Parliament which was more like a department of government under the Executive. The staff of Parliament were employed by the Public Service Commission directly under the President.

In other words, the President was the one who would discipline, and promote the staff of Parliament.

That was one aspect that worried me. The President and the Executive were in charge of our staff at Parliament.

The second thing that worried me was that [the] budget of Parliament was decided by the Minister of Finance.

Parliament would like any ministry to go to the Ministry of Finance and beg for money to run the affairs of Parliament.

This was a problem because Parliament is supposed to have oversight functions, must be independent, and is supposed to check the Executive. Every year Parliament appropriates money to ministries for service delivery and other programmes.

So it is necessary that Parliament, which gives the Executive this money, has to follow up this money to see whether it is doing the work it is supposed to do. But to do that, it must be independent.

If you are going to check on Lubowa Hospital you have to ask the minister of Finance or the Ministry of Health for money for transport.

If they don’t want you to go, they will not just give you the money to go and you will not be able to carry out your oversight functions.

So, my preparation and introduction of the private member’s Bill, which later became the Administration of Parliament Act, was to detach from the dominance of the Executive so that it could be able to check on the Executive. And that meant having its staff preparing its budget.

I think preparation for the budget is where the problem is. When Parliament is preparing the budget, is it frugal?

Is it planning for activities that are necessary for its oversight functions? I didn’t introduce the law to get Parliamentarians money, no!

The law was supposed to ensure that Parliament is effective in its functions of oversight, legislation, and representation. The money would be appropriated for those purposes.

So, it is a question of budgeting. Is budgeting for its core functions? If it is not, then that is where you find problems.

And what safeguards did you install in the law to ensure that the Parliamentary Commission does not go overboard?

In the draft which was passed by Parliament, I put there the Leader of Government Business, who is the Prime Minister, and I put there the minister of Finance in the Commission. These two members of the Executive are supposed to take the interest of the Executive into account.

So if you jump up and say, Parliamentarians are giving themselves money, Parliament is greedy, if that is so, it is greed with the concurrence of the Executive. So for me, if there is misuse of taxpayers’ money, it is not just Parliament alone.

Another provision that I put in the Act was that when the Parliamentary Commission prepares the budget, it sends it to the President, I was mindful that there would be a need for the Executive’s interest.

But to protect Parliament from the President’s dominance, I provided in the law that the President would only make comments on the budget to highlight what the government can afford and what it can’t afford but then send those comments back to Parliament itself to make a final decision.

So, there are safeguards in the law to protect the taxpayers’ money, if those safeguards are not being put into practice and that is a weakness in our structural management.

What do you make of the heavy criticism being heaped on Parliament and backlash from the public?

If the public thinks that a lot of taxpayers’ money is being wasted, then ask the Prime Minister [Ms Robinah Nabbanja because] she sits on the Commission, ask the Minister for Finance [Mr Matia Kasaija, who also sits on the same Commission].

So, you cannot say that it is only the Commission that is picking the money, it is picking the money together with the Executive.

After the law was passed, members said that ‘you Ogalo, you are the one who has brought this law, you go on the Commission.’ so I was selected together with Hon Salam Musumba and Capt Guma Gumisiriza then to be on the Commission. It all depends on your outlook.

It all depends on the outlook. If you think that taxpayers’ money is something to play with, then you do so. If you think that as a Commission you are responsible for service and ensure that you are frugal, your approach will be different.

For example when I served as a Commissioner, there were no additions. You earned just live any other Member of Parliament. There was no addition that because you are a Commissioner you are entitled to this or that, No! You used your own car.

So it depends on the attitude and philosophy of the Commission at the time. As far as I am concerned, my Commission was more concerned with ensuring the effectiveness of Parliament. So when we were budgeting we were budgeting for only those items which would ensure that Parliament does its activities.

Would you agree with those who are criticising Parliament?

I think so. I think I would agree with the public when they say that this is going too far. Let me give you an example.

When I was a Commissioner, the Clerk of Parliament decided that for ease of communication, the Clerk brought us a mobile phone.

The matter was debated on the floor because that was taxpayers’ money. We had to walk back from that.

So when you see the figures [of the money] being given to Commissioners [and other members of the Commission], it is disturbing! That is the kind of money that would have to go to service delivery. So, I would think that the Commission ought to pull back and budget only for functions of Parliament, not for individuals in Parliament.

How then should Parliament handle this matter, considering that currently, it is former LOP Mr Mpuuga and maybe tomorrow it may be Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and even then current LOP Mr Joel Ssenyonyi?

You see, at the end of the day, all expenditures of Parliament and government are in the national budget. The national budget is presented to Parliament. Parliament sees these figures.

My advice would be that when both the committee and the House are considering the budget of the Commission, let them pay more attention to items of expenditure.

Let them query that. So it comes back to whether Parliament has that obligation. That one we cannot advise. It comes from individuals.

Do you anticipate a situation where NUP and Mr Mpuuga arrive at a middle-ground?

That debate within NUP is very healthy. It is good for the country. So, I would think that we should not try to cover it up. This debate is what will now help bring pressure on Parliament and say, “you can’t spend taxpayers’ just the way you like. So, for me I think NUPs approach is fair! It is right. If something is seen as wrong, you debate it.

Do you think that the NUP party will survive and keep afloat after this?

I think that the party will survive because every part has its internal issues. What is important is the way you handle your issues. I think the way NUP has handled it has been okay.

The problem is that you have social media where you find that there is a lot of misinformation.

I think that the party will survive because it is showing to the country that when they find something that is not okay, they question it as a party. All parties have had that problem but it is the way you handle it.

If Mr MPuuga and the NUP party fail to reach middle-ground, what options does Mr Mpuuga have?

I think [Mr] Mpuuga should work hard towards maintaining the party.

He should not be confrontational about this.

I think the leadership should try to resolve how best this matter can be finalised and the party should continue with [Mr] Mpuuga.

We have a deficit in Uganda in terms of leaders in our political parties. We need to encourage them to strengthen rather than to weaken them.

So my advice to [Mr] Mpuuga would be [that] don’t walk away. Try to keep your party together. If it means you sacrificing for it, [then] do so! The country is bigger than you [Mr] Mpuuga.

The strength of your party also translates into the strength of the democracy of the country.

So, should he yield to what the party is asking of him?

Yes! By the way, even if you think you are right, sometimes you give way. Look at it from the legal point of view.

This is money that was budgeted for but the question is how does it affect the democracy of the country? So, sometimes even if you’re legally right, you may have to give way for the betterment of the bigger picture.

What are your parting shots?

Parliament is a critical institution in the democracy of a country. It is such an important component of stability of progress [and] unity that when there is an outcry from people, the leadership of Parliament should not look at it as an attack on them.

Parliament should be responsive. It should be able to accept and say yes, maybe here we’ve gone too far and re-adjust. We can’t afford to have a Parliament in which people have no confidence.

That is very dangerous for democracy because it is a building block. So my advice to the leadership would be that something is not right, we can’t pretend it. Go back to the drawing board. Even look back at the past to learn.

Who is Dan Wandera Ogalo?

He was born on November 27, 1957, making him 67 years old.

He studied at the King’s College Budo and later joined Makerere University where he pursued and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in law. He went on to acquire a diploma in legal practice from the Law Development Centre (LDC).

Mr Ogalo also has a Master’s degree from Makerere University. In 1993, while representing Bukooli South in District Bugiri District, Mr Ogalo became a delegate to the Constituent Assembly (CA).

He was the architect of the Private Member’s Bill that was enacted by the 6th Parliament to create the Parliamentary Commission, which to date serves as the highest decision-making organ of Parliament.

He later represented Uganda in the East African Legislative Assembly between 2007 and 2012.

Mr Ogalo was part of the team of lawyers who represented aggrieved petitioners, the Uganda Law Society (ULS) in the controversial age limit petition that was heard in Mbale City that saw the upholding of the scrapping of the controversial Article 102 b from the Constitution, paving way for President Museveni to contest again in 2021 presidential elections.

The upper cap for one to contest for presidency was 75 years while the lower cap was 35 years.

He is a renowned constitutional lawyer currently practicing with Victoria Advocates and Legal Consultants in Kampala.

What the law says
Establishment of the Commission.

(1) There shall be a commission called the Parliamentary Commission.

(2) The Commission shall be composed of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, the Leader of Government Business or his or her nominee, the Leader of the Opposition or his or her nominee, the Minister responsible for finance, and four members of Parliament one of whom shall come from the opposition and none of whom shall be a Minister.

6. Functions of the commission.

The functions of the commission shall include— (a) to appoint, promote, and exercise disciplinary control over persons holding public office in Parliament; (b) to review the terms and conditions of service, standing orders, training, and qualifications of persons holding office in Parliament; (c) to provide security staff to maintain proper security for the members of Parliament and facilities within the precincts of Parliament; (d) to provide a parliamentary reporting service; (e) to provide such other staff and facilities as are required to ensure the efficient functioning of Parliament; (f) to cause to be prepared in each financial year estimates of revenues and expenditure for Parliament for the next financial year; (g) to make recommendations to Parliament on or, with the approval of Parliament, determine the allowances payable and privileges available to the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and members of Parliament;

(h) to do such other things as may be necessary for the well-being of the members and staff of Parliament.

32. Allowances of members of the commission.

Members of the Commission shall be paid such allowances as may be determined by the Commission with the approval of Parliament.

Compiled by Franklin Draku

What former LoPs say…
Mr Wafula Oguttu

It is totally criminal. If somebody had suggested it or maybe Parliament or maybe the government or public service, it would have made some sense but a commissioner to give themselves and give nobody else. That was criminal.

Prof Ogenga Latigo

When I was leaving as Leader of Opposition, I even wanted just my laptop which I was using as my personal computer to go with. Parliament did not give it to me. And I still feel very hurt about it because that was a computer I was using and writing my letters.

Ms Betty Aol Ochan

It is wrong for this to be done yet our people are suffering without sufficient money for service delivery. If it is by policy that that type of award should be there then it should be for all.

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