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Clear the hullabaloo on MPs’ retreat funding

By Vision Reporter

Added 20th March 2005 03:00 AM

THE Parliament has been embroiled in yet another controversy. This time the issue in question is the source of money used to meet the expenses of the members of the committee on legal and parliamentary affairs when they were on the recent retreat at the Crested Crane Hotel in Jinja to draft the repo

THE Parliament has been embroiled in yet another controversy. This time the issue in question is the source of money used to meet the expenses of the members of the committee on legal and parliamentary affairs when they were on the recent retreat at the Crested Crane Hotel in Jinja to draft the repo

John Kakande

THE Parliament has been embroiled in yet another controversy. This time the issue in question is the source of money used to meet the expenses of the members of the committee on legal and parliamentary affairs when they were on the recent retreat at the Crested Crane Hotel in Jinja to draft the report on the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill.

In my view, the way the deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has handled the controversy has not been helpful. She caused more mistrust by refusing to ask the committee to explain the source of the money. The Parliament and the country need full disclosure of the source of the money. The committee must clear the air.

Samia Bugwe North MP Aggrey Awori first raised the issue during the plenary last week, arguing that the committee, chaired by Jacob Oulanyah, had used money from an unofficial source, which, according to him, was in breach of the parliamentary rules. A day later, Aruu County MP Odonga Otto, one of the members of the committee on legal affairs, told the House that as an ex-seminarian, he felt it was only proper for him to refund the money as its source was suspicious.

Otto offered to surrender the money to the deputy speaker after revealing it was MP Moses Kizige, who had paid the money to the committee members from his pocket. For unexplained reason, Kadaga did not ask Kizige to explain the saga. Kizige also has to date not volunteered to explain where the money came from. It was instead another member of the committee, Alex Ndeezi, who offered some explanation, claiming the money was from an organisation called the European Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA), which has been involved in funding a series of activities organised by MPs.

As for Kadaga, she not only refused to touch Otto’s money, but also asked: “Do you want me to dig up all the money that MPs have received for facilitation?”

One of the implications of Kadaga’s remarks is that MPs have been receiving facilitation from secret sources and, therefore, should not demand to know who paid for the Jinja retreat!

The parliamentary rules also provide for a code of conduct for members of parliament.

Among other things, the code states that “members (MPs) should not place themselves under any financial or other obligations to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their duties”. The code further provides that “members shall, at all times, conduct themselves in a manner which will maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action, which may bring the House or its members into disrepute.”

Kizige and Jacob Oulanyah are duty-bound to explain the circumstances under which the Jinja retreat was organised and financed. The committee is conducting serious official business.

Is it possible that Parliament did not have money to pay for the committee’s retreat? It has been alleged that the retreat was hurriedly organised for the committee to write and present its report to pre-empt the petition challenging the legality of the omnibus Constitutional Amendment Bill. These allegations can not be taken lightly given the fact that Kizige is a prominent kisanja (third term) crusader.

Furthermore, an official of AWEPA has been quoted in the press denying that the organisation sponsored the retreat. AWEPA has previously not been involved in sponsoring committees doing official work. It has been sponsoring activities of MPs that do not fall under official business such as workshops organised by the Young Parliamentary Association (YPA), the women MPs or the parliamentary reporters.

True, often MPs in their individual capacities or parliamentary committees attended retreats or workshops organised and paid for by other government agencies and even private organisations.

However, the legal affairs committee is handling sensitive issues and should have, therefore, avoided a situation that puts its credibility into question. Some of the proposed amendments to the constitution, particularly the proposal to lift the presidential term limits, are very delicate.

The manner in which Parliament considers these amendments will determine the legitimacy of the final constitutional changes. The constitutional changes will be rendered illegitimate if Parliament is perceived to be acting on the whims of the Executive or other forces.

jkakande@newvision.co.ug

Clear the hullabaloo on MPs’ retreat funding

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