If ever I had any doubts that there is a crisis of leadership in Uganda, the happenings in May 2011 cleared them all. Our ninth parliament consisting of 375 members of parliament (MPs) took three days of swearing. Each MP took the oath of office and swore to ‘the Almighty God’ that they would give faithful service to the parliament. However, it seems that they either did not fully understand the meaning of the oath or interpreted it literally.
The first order of business for our new parliament was to throw out the media, other observers, and behind closed doors allegedly increase their emoluments to more than Ush 15,000,000 per month. The Government of Uganda (GoU) has purchased two brand new Mercedes Benz vehicles at Ush 838 million as ceremonial cars for the speakers of parliament, in addition to the latest top of the range V8 Toyota Land Cruisers that the speakers use for travel to their constituencies. Comparatively, 31.1% of Uganda’s population (8.4 million persons) are poor and survive on less than Ush 72,000 per month. Millions of Ugandans take only one meal a day and millions more are unable to take the minimum dietary requirement of 3000 calories per day.
No wonder, we clamor for leadership at the top (to have our turn to eat) while neglecting the wider leadership roles at the bottom of the pyramid. For example, since 85 % of Ugandans live in the rural areas of Uganda and produce food for Uganda, it would make sense that the leaders in the rural areas should be the focus of the attention of the GoU. But clearly, judging from the unnecessary number of MPs and their emoluments, this is not the case. Would it not be better for the GoU to focus attention on ensuring that the leaders at the district, sub-county and village levels are facilitated to stimulate political, social and economic development to the extent that each district should be able to sponsor one MP to represent the district in parliament? There is a thought, in this case the district councils would be the ones to set the emoluments of the MPs. The current system is irrational for it allows for districts, such as my ancestral district, Pallisa, whose annual revenue collection is about only Ush 130 million, to be represented by five MPs that cost the nation Ush 900 million per year. Do we need all those MPs?
Indeed, negative trends such as the sky-rocketing food prices shall continue because those who are expected to do something about it (such as our MPs) will only make pretentious noises. They do not feel the pinch as they are cushioned by their vulgar disproportionate emoluments. Those who feel the pinch are pretty much ignored and are expected to be thankful whenever the ‘big man’ visits from Kampala and drops them a few crumbs. Leadership at the top has thus become an avenue to amass wealth as opposed to rendering service to the nation. Unlike in other nations, leaders in Uganda measure their success not on what they have done for their country but rather what they have looted from their country. Our systems and structures reflect this attitude, for example, the fact that our MPs are the ones who are mandated to decide their own emoluments and to set their own performance standards.
The maiden actions of our MPs show that they did not take the oath seriously. Could the oath's reference to only one God (for many in Uganda, as is the spirituality of African indigenous religions, God is not singular) be a loophole? To which god were the MPs honoring their promise with their proposal to increase their emoluments? Perhaps, the MPs are simply honoring the part of the oath which requires them to be faithful to the parliament, in which case they have interpreted parliament not as an institution, but them the individual MPs? But then again, the MPs are within the law, for after all, in Uganda, MPs determine their own pay, set their own performance, and they do not swear to promote the welfare of the people of Uganda.
With such a lot, do we expect the current GoU to be open, transparent and accountable to the people of Uganda?
By Norah Owaraga,
The author is Sociologist and PhD Student, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Makerere University Kampala.