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Ugandan Opposition MP’s Reject Payments as Bribes

  • Halima Athumani

Members of the Opposition walk to the Parliament Accountants office to return $8000 given to them to consult on the Age Limit Bill to amend the constitution, Oct. 25, 2017. (Halima Athumani for VOA)

The ruling party’s bid to remove the presidential age limit from Uganda's constitution is stirring up controversy again, this time over the disbursement of a total of $3.5 million to lawmakers to fund ongoing consultations on the proposed amendment. The opposition has rejected the payments as a bribe.

Each of Uganda’s 445 members of parliament has received a transfer of $8000 since late Tuesday, a total sum of $3.5 million. The opposition is calling it dirty money as parliament prepares to vote on a constitutional amendment to remove the presidential age limit.

Opposition lawmakers led by chief whip Semujju Nganda stormed the parliament accounts office to give it back Wednesday.

On phone, an officer in the Parliament Accounts office makes frantic calls as members of the opposition storm the office to return $8000 given to them to consult on the Age Limit, Oct. 25, 2017. (Halima Athumani for VOA)
On phone, an officer in the Parliament Accounts office makes frantic calls as members of the opposition storm the office to return $8000 given to them to consult on the Age Limit, Oct. 25, 2017. (Halima Athumani for VOA)

“Give me a piece of paper," said Nganda. "No, no, what you do, count the money. No, he has to acknowledge before we leave here. We want to leave you with the money.”

The office staff said they could not accept the cash. The opposition lawmakers left it anyway, scribbling their names on a piece of paper.

“We have returned the money," he said. "We did not ask you to bring the money, we had said we will not take the money.”

In 2005, the government gave each lawmaker about $2,500, to fund consultations on another controversial amendment, the one lifting presidential term limits. That amendment passed the same year.

The opposition chief whip Nganda said no additional funds are needed for consultations on this latest proposed amendment to lift the age limit.

Members of the Ugandan opposition in Parliament address journalists as they return money given to them for consultations on the amendment of the Age Limit Bill, Oct. 25, 2017. (Halima Athumani for VOA)
Members of the Ugandan opposition in Parliament address journalists as they return money given to them for consultations on the amendment of the Age Limit Bill, Oct. 25, 2017. (Halima Athumani for VOA)

“They have paid me for my October emoluments and salary, with money for two rounds in my constituency," he said. "Mr. Museveni just wants to be smart. Last time, he bribed MP’s with five million [Uganda shillings, $2500]. ... Ask yourself, who does the calculation to know that this time the consultation is for five million, this time it’s for 29. And we are saying ‘No, we can not be part of that bribery.’ This money has been diverted from items for which we approved it as parliament of Uganda.”

But ruling party member Kakooza Joseph said the money is facilitation for work allocated to them by parliament.

“Once the commission gives an extra role, the commission must provide a facility to do that extra role," said Kalooza. "And I think the Speaker was very clear and said, you go and do such a role which is given to you by parliament.”

Parliament gave lawmakers 30 days to consult their constituencies before the vote on the amendment, which is expected as soon as next month.

President Yoweri Museveni is currently serving his sixth term in office. But he will be 76 years old at the next elections in 2021, putting him over the constitutional age limit by one year and making him ineligible to run.

On Tuesday, Museveni called a meeting of the ruling party leadership, which voiced its support for lifting the age limit.

Consultations around the country continue, with the opposition feeling the wrath of the police dispersing their meetings using live bullets and tear gas, according to opposition MP’s, while the ruling party members continue to hold small meetings in their homes and town halls.

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