By Tumusiime K. Deo
The media has recently been awash with news of how majority Members of Parliament have secured loans worth billions, that they have failed to clear and many risk being arrested.
For the neutrals, it’s easy to be amazed at this development because Members of Parliament are loosely expected to be well-to-do; if not for anything else, but the fact that they earn a far rosier salary than many average Ugandans. In any case, such are the people who sit to determine their own salary and allowances immediately they enter the August House, and they are entitled to a free car, the last time valued at over 100 Million even when [all] of them already own a car!
But life is very interesting---I know some Members of Parliament, who have two children like me; but unlike me, they own posh cars, live in luxurious homes, own several businesses in town, and in terms of workload per capita, we are fairly at par. Once in a while I meet the MPs in the Supermarket.
They fill their trollies with lots of goodies to match their ‘status’, while I carry the smallest basket with only basic items like soap, bread, rice and sometimes butter. At the local market, sometimes we meet again; they buy bunches of matooke (and I guess lots of it ripens in the store and is never consumed), but I buy a few fingers and some posho.
At the MPs’ house, breakfast must be ‘English’, lunch ‘continental’, and dinner ‘assorted’- but poor me, my breakfast is often a cup of tea and a slice of bread or a banana, lunch is occasional and my doctor said my dinner must be akin to a beggar’s even if I had so much money.
I also value my daughter’s education, and as such, I decided to enroll her in one of the good schools around town. As we enter the school gate, the MP is often right behind us with his two daughters.
My other daughter is in a cheaper, not too fancy school, since she’s only at the level of ABC, 1,2,3. Some people call it play group; but in any case, I can’t afford 2Million for both per term in a better school. The other term, my daughter secured a 95 percentage mark in Mathematics, and the MP’s daughter got a 70. As we drove out of the school gate, the MP was visibly sad.
The MP and I pray from the same church---The Buziga Church of God. When we enter, the MP is quickly recognized and ushered to the front seat, and many a time, he’s invited to make a speech at the end of the service. Me I never have chance to speak in church even when I actually have so many ideas-but as soon as I get home, I write articles read by many, including the MPs.
When the offertory basket passes around, the MP deposits a cool 50K, but me, everyone gets to know I gave God coins. I often remember the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 12 where the poor widow who gave coins, was said to have given ‘the most’.
The banks in Uganda have studied the life of a typical Ugandan, and have set up very romantic baits. Many visit people’s offices and convince hapless employees to take up loans supposedly with lengthy repayment periods---but very few have contracts spanning beyond a year. And beyond contract length, very few Ugandans are able to earn a decent life off their monthly salary.
It therefore becomes a prerequisite for an ordinary Ugandan to secure a bank loan if they must for example, build a home. Each time I saw the ‘bait masters’, I took to my heels. But one day when my wife was searching for a job, she got one with a bank in town, and “bait master” was the offer.
However, even then, whenever the temptation of taking loans came to birth, I ran away as fast as I could, because I never even had adequate collateral. And the banks, aware that people fear collateral; nowadays don’t require one, but instead, they secure your signature and make you indebted for a lifetime.
Well, MPs would feel offended to be called ‘ordinary’ Ugandans for they prefer the title of ‘Honorable’. They certainly have collateral to secure loans worth so much, and whenever they don’t have, the August House stands surety. Their term of office is 5 years, and some are not assured of re-election.
So they must amass so much wealth to guarantee them years of life matching to their earned status. Indeed many retain their title of “honorable” long after they have ceased to be in Parliament. Jesus had no kind words for such as Members of Parliament, and his message was well packaged in the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:
The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop (a fat salary as determined by MPs for themselves). He thought to himself, ‘what shall I do? I have no place to store my crops’ (remember the huge trolley in the supermarket!). Then he said, ‘I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones to store my goods’ (it’s here that MPs secure loans to build bigger houses et al). I will say to myself: ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink and be merry’ (remember the English breakfast, continental lunch and assorted dinner, all the luxuries). But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your life will be demanded from you’.
These are not my words, but the words of the one who gave me what to say.
Tumusiime K. Deo is an International Communications Consultant