‘Now that you are all sober, probably broke, likely in debt and the only thing you can pay is attention, allow me to wish you a Happy New year.’
This is one of the funniest things I have heard this year. In this pun lies a truth because it is at this time when most Ugandans are paying attention that the issue of the ‘Presidential handshake,’ a scandal that outed 42 senior government officials who benefited from a UGX 6 billion pay-out following the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) win against a British oil firm, Tullow oil came to light. And Ugandans are not having any of it.
Amid the backlash, Parliament sat to deliberate on the matter in a motion tabled by Mbarara MP, Michael Tusiime. Hitherto that, some of the alleged beneficiaries came out to speak on the matter. Uganda Revenue Authority Commissioner General, Doris Akol who is named as one of the beneficiaries made a public statement in that regard. One of the most contentious issues is that it was a conflict of interest on her part since she doubled as the accounting Officer and also as a beneficiary. Permanent Secretary (PS) to the treasury Keith Muhakanizi also said the payouts were legal and in conformity with the Public Finance Management Act of 2015. In addition, the PS also stated that the pay would be charged on the supplementary of 2016/17 Budget. Firstly, the ground rules for a supplementary, stated in Section 25 of the Act is that a supplementary should be financed only if it is unabsorbable, unavoidable or better, unforeseen, all not characteristic of this payout. The same Act in Section 58 also states that withdrawals from the Petroleum fund (under which the said UGX 6B falls) can only be made under authority granted by an Appropriation Act and a warrant from the Auditor General. While presenting the Audit Reports for 2015/16 the Auditor General told of his unawareness on the matter. Both processes were either skipped or were meant to happen in retrospect, we won’t know now.
Despite the claims of legality and of a philosophy under which the actions were taken by the beneficiaries, an injunction was conveniently placed to stop a further investigation, even those by Parliament into the matter. Lawmakers like the title reads were involved in the making of this legislation and are therefore in the position to discern whether this is what they had in mind when they passed it. The logic here should be, if the matter is legal, the investigations will only affirm that claim. An attempt to stifle probes into the matter only raise red flags and is a sign of even greater perils. The matter also emphasises the importance of transparency, if the matter was legal, then why all the secrecy?
Gladly the Speaker exercised her Judgement, asserted the autonomy of the institution of Parliament in this matter. “I cannot accept court to determine how we speak in the House and how we prepare the Order Paper. The court is interfering with Parliament and it’s going to the core of democracy,” she said. In addition, she invoked Section 4 of Parliament Powers and Privileges Act of 1955. The injunction, dubbed ‘stupid’ twice on the floor of Parliament by the Speaker was not acknowledged, in fact, the speaker ordered that it be vacated lest the house goes on recess indefinitely, with no business going on. Given that pending business in Parliament has ground to a halt, the Judiciary ought to expedite whatever processes necessary to ensure full functionality of the legislative arm of Government.