Uganda's parliament has come under scrutiny after legislators allocated themselves a total of $2.6 million to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers say the funds are being used to feed constituents. But the High Court may order them to return the money.
Early this month, Uganda’s parliament passed a supplementary budget of $80.2 million meant to support the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
The budget included $2.6 million in pay to legislators, or about $5,250 to each member.
Describing the payout as fundamentally wrong and criminal, lawmaker Gerald Karuhanga says parliament violated legal procedures on how a supplementary budget is passed and says the money for members was smuggled into the budget.
Karuhanga, speaking to VOA, argues that the $2.6 million should have been handed to the Ministry of Health.
“What message are we sending to the nation? That when people are busy donating, we can’t donate from what we’ve earned," Karuhanga said. "That we can even easily, take away, literally, even the food meant for a patient in intensive care.”
Ssemuju Nganda, the opposition chief whip, says the money is being used to feed hungry constituents.
Nganda says that before the supplementary budget was passed, their constituents were thronging their homes, seeking help ranging from food to health service requests.
This, says Nganda, shows how deaf the government has been to the pleas of Ugandans.
“I am doing work that is supposed to be done by government. We gave them 59 billion shillings to distribute food relief to vulnerable people in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono during the first 14 days of lockdown," Nganda said. "The 14 days ended when they had distributed food in less than ten percent of the targeted one point five million people, so really, there is no government in Uganda.”
President Museveni has said that any legislator found distributing food to the public will be charged with attempted murder. One legislator, Francis Zaake, was on Monday arrested from his home constituency in Mityana district, Central Uganda.
The payout has caused an uproar among Ugandans. Nana Nalongo is a mother of six.
“It makes me very angry. The things that Ugandans would think were the ones to be tackled by Parliament, like put a voice for us to get services at subsidised rates, it’s not what’s happening," Nalongo said. "Health, food and water and power, we kept waiting, will Parliament talk about this, they haven’t done that. We wait for the top, from the head of State, he just makes it a comedy show. People are starving, we are having one meal, when we had three meals.”
Uganda’s High Court has ordered the $2.6 million frozen until it holds a hearing on the matter, scheduled for April 29th.
On Wednesday, Speaker Kadaga summoned the attorney general to advise parliament on how to handle the matter, as the money has already been disbursed.