Nyabushozi MP, Col Fred Mwesigye, on Friday April 24, surprised the country when he joined opposition voices critical of the Shs 20 million Members of Parliament appropriated themselves to support their activities against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mwesigye’s action, according to sources, was influenced by President Yoweri Museveni’s negativity to the payment.
Mwesigye said in a tweet, “I returned the money to Bank of Uganda Parliamentary Commission Account. Whereas I support that MPs should be facilitated to join the war against Covid-19, I disagreed with the way that money was put into the budget. If it had come from the Commission, I wouldn’t have had a problem.”
The money, which was last week doled out the MPs, is off the Ush10 billion package which was controversially fixed into the government’s Shs 287 billion supplementary budget request to fund government efforts against the pandemic that has caused disruptions in Uganda as well as across the world. The figure later grew to Shs 304 billion.
Mwesigye’s announcement came a day after the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, had instituted disciplinary proceedings against Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine) because he had described the payout as a bribe.
Kadaga also threatened to discipline Trade, Industry and Co-operatives minister, Amelia Kyambadde, who seized an opportunity while on NBS TV’s Morning Breeze show to criticise the pay-out.
“I think we need to take action. How can a minister solicit for a question and then dramatically rejects [the money] to embarrass the House? People will have to answer. For Kyagulanyi, after making a statement, he will go to the Rules [Privileges and Discipline] Committee for bringing Parliament into disrepute,” Kadaga said on April 23, further sounding threats against MPs Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and Jonathan Odur (Erute South) who filed a suit against Parliament.
Emerging details now show that Mwesigye and Kyambadde acted out of a desire to please President Yoweri Museveni who had wanted all the NRM MPs to reject the money in a face-saving gesture.
Museveni’s Rwakitura home falls within Nyabushozi county and therefore Mwesigye sees himself as the President’s MP, while Kyambadde has a working relationship with Museveni spanning over four decades.
Last Monday (April 20), Museveni told his ministers during the weekly cabinet meeting that the payout was discrediting his government especially when he is persuading the private sector to support government efforts against COVID-19.
Museveni reportedly told the ministers that the better option was for the ministers and the entire NRM parliamentary caucus to not take the money.
Museveni was backed by Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa but their arguments were defeated by Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa, who reportedly told the President to tread carefully on the issue lest he risked hostility from the MPs.
“The post COVID-19 stage is going to be a critical one which will require us to borrow heavily and it will be the MPs to pass the loans. Telling them not to take the money might backfire yet we need them to pass the loan requests,” Nankabirwa reportedly said.
The Kiboga Woman MP also reminded Museveni it was legally impossible for the Executive to influence the MPs not to take the money since the MPs are answerable to the Parliamentary Commission.
The controversial payment was fixed in the supplementary budget by Parliamentary Commission, which comprises the Speaker, her deputy, Jacob Oulanyah, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and five MPs from both the ruling and main opposition party in Parliament. The Prime Minister, Dr Rukahana Rugunda and the Finance Minister, Matia Kasaija, are also members.
With a broken public service delivery system, Museveni was reportedly told, it is the MPs that are financing activities that would have otherwise been run by the government.
Apparently, when Museveni realised his proposal was unpopular, he then fixed a meeting with Kadaga the following day (April 21) which resolved to incorporate the MPs into their respective district COVID-19 taskforces.