Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Politics of Pigs and Ugandan MPs : Speaker Kadaga should not silence media from exposing MPs’ Greed


The Transition of Ugandan MPs From Honorable Members of Parliament (MPs) to Diabolical Members of the Pig Family(Mpigs) : MP burial to 67.7 million shillings

Is public anger against members of parliament justified?


 Written by URN
Created: 17 September 2016

The rising anger against MPs, illustrated by the dropping of blue and yellow-painted piglets at parliament last week, has raised fears the collision course could accelerate into a confrontation.
A legislator told The Observer yesterday that she now fears to introduce herself as a member of parliament in some quarters. Security at parliament has been tightened following reports that a group of people planned to storm the building.
There is a growing feeling in the public that legislators, on both sides of the political divide, are living greedy and ostentatious lives while being insensitive to the plight of the people who voted for them.
Among other factors, the current outrage has been triggered by MPs demanding cars at the cost of Shs 150m each; lavish expenditure on travel, and VIP burial expenses estimated at Shs 68 million per funeral.
This perception has been aggravated by a couple of MPs who are championing what is perceived as opportunistic political projects such as Anne Maria Nankabirwa’s Kyankwanzi district resolution urging President Museveni to rule beyond 2021, and Kafeero Ssekitooleko’s age-limit bill.
On the other hand, MPs point out that they deserve all the facilitation they get, just like other public servants, to enable them per- form their roles efficiently. Moreover, given the breakdown in service delivery and poverty, MPs spend much of the money they earn on their voters through handouts, school fees, funeral expenses and ambulances, to mention but a few.
That is why some of them smell foul play in the public discontent against them. They suspect rival institutions, particularly those whose officials have come under scrutiny over misuse of public resources, are behind the negative sentiments.
“We do not rule this out,” said Nabilah Naggayi, the Kampala woman MP.
“Why is it that of all the institutions that are given public money, the people are targeting us?”
Chris Obore, the director of communication and public affairs at parliament, told The Observer yesterday that the public anger against parliament, while justified, is misplaced.
“If the people are concerned about the expenditure of parliament, who is telling people how the ministry of works spends its money or how the ministry of health spends its budget? We need to make this comparison so that the people can know whether parliament is being wasteful or not.”
Over the years, parliament’s expenditure has been rising in part because of the increase in the number of MPs and additional costs such as security. Between 2011 and 2016, parliament’s budget has almost tripled from Shs 158bn to Shs 444bn.
Yet it remains unclear whether the rise in the number of MPs and in parliament’s expenditure, has led to more efficient representation. Eshban Kwesiga of Parliament Watch, an organisation that tracks the performance of parliament, said they intended to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the performance of parliament to determine its effectiveness.
Frank Gashumba, a social critic and confessed sup- porter of Dr Kizza Besigye, told The Observer yesterday that the selfishness of the MPs should be an eyeopener to the voters.
“MPs are not the problem. The problem is the dumb people that keep voting them. We should shift our focus now to the voters so that they become hungry and angry towards the MPs they voted,” said Gashumba.
Gashumba added that he had launched a campaign to mobilize 100,000 signatures that will be taken to President Museveni, who will be expected to rein in the MPs.
“The president fears numbers; so, when we take these signatures, he will be forced to act,” Gashumba said.
Ahmed Kiyimba, a businessman, posted on his facebook page on September 20: “I think it’s high time the whole country (MPs and non MPs) do some soul-searching and find out what we really want, just yesterday all those MPs were ordinary citizens, so whatever they are doing incidentally represents what most of the society thinks and we’ll have the same result if we swap the individuals tomorrow as long as they are drawn from the current Ugandan society....Food for thought.”
The opposition, in trying to deflect this anger, has tried to save some face with FDC, the biggest opposition party in parliament, suggesting that MPs be given car loans, as opposed to free cash. Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, the FDC spokesman and MP for Kira municipality, told journalists that he intends to table a motion to this effect.
But Ibrahim Kasozi, the Makindye East MP, labeled Ssemujju’s move as “opportunistic,” doubting whether he will garner the needed support.
“That is a cheap move that will not work,” Kasozi said of his FDC colleague.
Prof Morris Ogenga Latigo, the former leader of opposition, told The Observer on Wednesday that parliament needs to do some soul searching.
“Parliament should retreat from controversies and do things that people perceive that they should be doing. Sometimes you don’t have to do things on your account,” he said.
The pigs’ saga has also sown seeds of disharmony amongst fellow MPs while drawing in the media. In various media inter- views, Muhammad Nsereko, the Kampala central MP, has accused FDC of being behind the pigs protest at parliament. The accusation has not gone down well with FDC whose spokesman Ssemujju has in turn accused Nsereko of grandstanding.
“Nsereko has an exaggerated sense of himself. He is angry that people have discovered who he is,” Ssemujju told us earlier in the week.
Sources in parliament told us that Latif Ssebaggala, Kawempe North MP who is also the Imam of parliament, has been trying to reconcile the two MPs but to no avail. In the crossfire between parliament and the public is the media, which has come under severe attack from the legislators.
MPs accuse the media of amplifying and exaggerating the benefits of MPs, particularly the vehicles, hence whipping up public sentiments. During a heated plenary session last week, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga suggested that editors may be summoned before the parliamentary committee on rules and discipline to explain why their media organisations report unfavourably about parliament.
On social media and other platforms, some people have suggested that the kind of politics obtaining in Uganda today is a perfect reincarnation of the Orwellian politics, described in the 1945 classic book, Animal Farm by George Orwell. In the book, the animals chased away the farm managers whom they accused of mistreatment.
After the pigs took charge as leaders, other animals soon or later realized there was no difference between the old and new leadership. In one of the quotes from the book that have been do- ing rounds on social media, Squealer, one of the pigs, tries to defend the leaders.
“Comrades!”Squealer cried,“You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brain- workers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for yoursake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.”

Perhaps MPs, some people concluded, deserve all the apples and milk (perks) they are getting so that they can serve their voters better.
In response to negative press coverage, speaker of parliament Rebecca Kadaga has assigned parliament’s committee on rules, privilege and principle to investigate journalists and consider charging offenders with “contempt of parliament.”
What a waste of time and abuse of power! It’s absurd that some MPs went as far as suggesting that journalists should swear an oath before they are allowed to cover parliament.
This level of self-importance is, in fact, what the public is reacting to when they criticize their MPs. And when the journalists reflect the public’s sentiments, they are only performing their duty.
MPs are not beyond criticism. In fact, no one is. It is also the right of Ugandans to know how taxpayers’ money is being spent in parliament because they pick the bill.
While they might be powerless to stop expenditure they find objectionable – like funding two speakers and dozens of MPs to attend a conference in the United States – it’s still their right to speak out against it through the media. Any attempt to take that away, while hiding behind wild conspiracy theories, smacks of arrogance and intolerance.
It is particularly revealing that the working relationship between journalists and parliament has soured during the current speaker’s stewardship. Under Ms Kadaga’s watch, journalists have been chased from parliament for writing news stories she didn’t like.
Still under her watch, parliament has moved to eliminate journalists who have stayed on the beat for more than five years and later those without degrees. These moves, including those that appear well-meaning, have not been engineered in good faith. They have been inspired by the urge to control journalists’ work in a bid to entertain only that content that the speaker can tolerate.
This is not to suggest in any way that journalists don’t make mistakes. When they do, parliament has a team of former journalists working as communications officials whose job it is to respond in the media whenever their employer has been wronged or misrepresented.
There is no need for an institution that should be championing press and other freedoms to resort to draconian measures to gag the media.

Gertrude Njuba
Captain Gertrude Njuba, the State House Land directorate head, says Ugandans should stream onto streets in Kampala and demonstrate against the 10th Parliament’s lavish spending on cars and funerals.
In an interview with The Observer, Njuba adds that dropping piglets within the precincts of parliament by the Jobless Brotherhood youths was a primitive way of showing their displeasure with parliament.
“I have always been against any defiant acts. But today, I would willingly join the demo against the lavish expenditure of the MPs if anybody apart from Dr Kizza Besigye called me,” Njuba notes.
Njuba is the first government official to publicly criticise parliament since the controversy over its spending spilled into public view.
Njuba was particularly angered by the alleged Shs 2bn spent on the MPs’ recent trip to the US to attend the Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) convention. However, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga vehemently disputes that figure.
“I have been admiring opposition politicians including Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda [Kira municipality MP] who have been telling us that they stand for the poor people’s causes. Now that they have also turned on their heels, at one time they will be described by a creature worse than a pig; for me, I am for a mass demonstration against them,” Njuba adds.
However, Chris Obore, the director for communication and public affairs at Parliament, described Njuba as ‘populist.’
Obore told The Observer on Saturday that the state honours every person who has made a contribution and MPs were among them.
“She [Njuba] has worked in State House for many years, has she ever rejected any benefits from government including her salary?” Obore wondered.
“As an elderly woman who has worked in government, she should desist from being a populist.”