By Godfrey Olukya
KAMPALA, Uganda (AA) - Ian Clarke wondered in one of his columns in a Ugandan newspaper how the country could afford to pay higher salaries to MPs than those in Ireland from where he hails.
He said that apart from earning very high salaries, Uganda’s parliament is also unnecessarily big. The current parliament has 527 MPs.
MPs earn higher salaries than most MPs in the European Union. EU countries make up the biggest number of donors to Uganda.
The MPs earn 35,000,000 Uganda shillings, equivalent to €8,427. That is far higher than what is paid to most European countries’ MPs, including Uganda’s major funding countries like the UK, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Ireland among others.
According to information from the website of the Association of Accredited Public Policy Advocates to the European Union, indicating the basic monthly salary of MPs in the EU, it is only MPs from Italy at €10,435, Austria with €10,134 and Germany with €9,082 who earn more than Ugandan MPs.
Interestingly, more than 20% of the country’s budget is funded by donor countries.
In addition to high pay, every member of parliament, regardless of whether he has been reelected, is given 200,000,000 shillings, or €48,157 to buy a new vehicle at the beginning of a new 5-year term.
Even in Africa, MPs in larger economies like Egypt, Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia and Tanzania earn far less than Ugandan MPs.
“Money paid to MPs is gotten from national coffers after over squeezing citizens through high taxes, especially on fuel, alcoholic drinks, cars and luxury goods,” said Lillian Najuma, a primary school teacher.
“A member of parliament earns 70 times more than what I earn every month. That is unfair. What is so special about MPs that they earn such big amounts of money yet they do not do much work as we do,” she said.
A primary teacher in Uganda earns 500,000 shillings, or €119.
Asked why MPs earn big pay, Finance Ministry official John Ekemu said the agency has nothing to do with the salaries.
“The MPs are given authority by the country’s Constitution to set their own salaries. That is the reason why they give themselves hefty salaries,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General Jackson Kafuzi was asked recently about why MPs give themselves extraordinary big salaries.
“Those representing people in parliament are seen by local people as multibillion moving vans. MPs are stressed by people who beg for money. As members, we are stressed by the people we represent. Out of 800 phone calls from voters, 795 are asking for money,” said Kafuzi.
He asked parliament to develop a mechanism to educate the public about the fact that an MP’s job is to connect with the government and make laws, not to give away money.
“Politics in Uganda have become a source of employment. It has become lucrative employment because of the big salaries paid to MPs and other politicians. People do all they can to win elections, including bribing voters and compromising elections officials,’’ said Emma Okello, 70, a retired civil servant.
Okello said,” politicians get big loans to use in bribing votes during elections.”
“That is the reason why when they get to parliament. They want to get as much money as possible so that they are able to clear their debts,” he said.
He said that because MPs earn a lot of money, poor people tend to try to depend on them. “The MPs have to contribute money for school fees, have to send money to cover burial expenses for whoever dies in their constituencies, they have to buy alcohol to those who take it whenever they come across them.”
Renown critic, pastor Solomon Male, said, “We do not have MPs in Uganda. Those are vampires. They live utopian lives while the majority of Ugandans languish in poverty. They give themselves unimaginable high salaries while people are dying in hunger. We would be better off if we had no parliament at all.’’
Male said a good number of MPs cannot even speak in parliament because they are poor in the English language while others rarely attend parliamentary sessions. English is the country's official language.
Stephen Lubega, a businessman in Uganda’s capital of Kampala, said, “It is shameful that our MPs earn big amounts of money yet our economy is small. They only mind about their stomachs.’’
Sarah Birete from the Center for Constitution Governance (CCG), an NGO that tracks if governments are governed according to their constitutions, said in an interview that the current government is plunging the country into debt for expensive leadership.
“The argument that creating several administrative units amounts to taking services nearer to the people is fraudulent. This is not leadership but thuggery by the privileged political elite and should be condemned by all well intentioned Ugandans,” she said.
President Yoweri Museveni condemned the MPs for being selfish and giving themselves big salaries.
But he said he cannot prevent the practice because his hands are tied and cannot do anything about it because the Constitution gives MPs authority to set their salaries.