The Shs200m for MPs cars: Was it really necessary now?

By: Busiku Esther Sharon

The Shs200m for MPs cars: Was it really necessary now?

The Shs200m advanced to each of the 555 members of the 11th Parliament as a one-off lump sum payment vehicle allowance has kicked up yet another storm in the general public severely battered by the socio-economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The dispatch of the money by the Ministry of Finance, which has been considered by all and sundry as insensitive and dishonorable given the hard times occasioned by the pandemic, was confirmed last week by the Director of Communications and Public Affairs in Parliament, Chris Obore.

This means that as the taxpayer currently seated at home, struggles to find oxygen in Mulago National Referral Hospital or part with millions of shillings in a private medical facility in case they catch the deadly virus, they on the other hand, have to shoulder a whooping Shs111billion for the 555 MPs including the 82 ministers already catered for by their respective ministries.

The car allowance for Parliamentarians started in the 9th Parliament when MPs were each given Shs103m but the money has since increased to Shs200m in the 10th and 11th Parliaments. It is just one of the many allowances they get: a net salary of Shs6.1 million, a housing allowance of Shs6.5 million, a constituency support fee of Shs17.03 million, a town running fee of Shs1.945 million, and a fuel allowance ranging between shs10.3 and shs31m per month.

MPs emoluments are determined by the Parliamentary Commission and were provided for in the budget for the 2021/2022 financial year but while I appreciate facilitating of MPs to do their work, I think this was particular allowance is an overcharge, extravagant, and a waste of public resources for a poor country that has more critical social service sectors that require more funding right now.

The timing of this release was insensitive and morally reprehensible which makes one wonder if our leaders have the countries best interests at heart.

To consider a charge on the Consolidated Fund, the Public Finance Management Act, 2015, states the

Minister may suspend, withdraw, limit or place conditions on a warrant where he/she determines that it’s necessary due to financial exigency or that it’s in the public interest to do so.

This debate is not new, for instance in 2016, Ibrahim Semujju Nganda, MP Kira Municipality moved to rationalize how much Government spends on cars for politicians and public servants who earn big to afford their own means of transport.

Uganda ranks fourth among highest paid legislators only after South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya according to a 2018 Face2Face Africa article by Mark Babatunde.

Every five years, MPs get car allowances, which means that those reelected continue getting paid for the same allowance for example the 11th Parliament has 181 members returning from the 10th Parliament while there are those that have served more than two terms.

Is there accountability for this money? What happens if cars are not bought? Do all MPs even buy the cars? I don’t think so especially since the allowance is considered their money and they can use it as they please.

“It is quite unfair to drive a car of Shs200m when the people I represent are living in a bad condition. I am going to use my car grant for youth empowerment.” – Muhammad Ssegirinya, Kawempe North MP said on social media.

In January 2018, MP Sse­mu­jju tabled a mo­tion to review pro­vi­sion of ve­hi­cles to politicians, public and civil ser­vants but it gained little traction in Parliament as the Minister for Public Service hijacked it to carry out further research that has never been made public four years later.

Ssemujju had argued that instead of buying free vehicles for leaders, Uganda could benchmark from neighboring Rwanda and Tanzania that exempt intended beneficiaries from taxes on the retail cost of a vehicle.

Rwanda in 2014 introduced a revised Fleet Policy which was a vehicle loan scheme to apply to Ministers, Ministers of State, Permanent Secretaries, Senators, Deputies (Member of Parliament), Mayors, Director Generals, Vice Mayors, Executive Secretaries of District and their equivalents with the selection based on operational needs.

When President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986, he introduced the Motor Vehicle Co-ownership scheme where, based on the need for a car, the individual public servant together with the Government would contribute to its purchase, a move that Ssemujju notes had worked well for the country.

Such schemes would save Uganda a lot of money and relax the public that feels their taxes are being wasted on luxuries instead of priorities. Little wonder, calls for donations to finance the Covid19 vaccination are unheeded because nobody is motivated to support a Government with misplaced priorities.

When the pandemic first broke out in March last year, several individuals and companies stepped forward to offer Government material and financial support but close to the Sh28b that was collected was instead used to purchase 282 double cabin trucks for district officials to the dismay of the public that needs more ambulances and ICU beds.

According to a report by The Daily Monitor dated Friday, July 23rd, 2021, the MP’s car cash could buy 7.5m COVID19 vaccines but so far Uganda has vaccinated only 1.1m people using donations.

In July, Dokolo District Woman MP, Cecilia Ogwal, asked why the Ministry of Health chose to buy double cabins with the money and yet they had agreed in the 10th Parliament to purchase ambulances that are in short supply.

The health sector in Uganda is wanting in both infrastructure and supplies for example some districts like Terego don’t have a single hospital while the entire country has only 4 ambulances fitted with ICU. Medics have consistently complained about the lack of personal protective equipment. How then can our priority be MPs cars?

In addition to Covid19, Uganda is also burdened by a litany of other diseases such as Malaria, Cancer, Sickle Cell Anemia, and HIV/AIDS that well deserve funding since the population continues to succumb to them.

You can never have enough money in the health sector so it’s imperative we have even more for emergencies. Malaria is still the leading cause of death in Uganda, why should Ugandans survive Covid19 and die of Malaria or any other disease?

Therefore, it is not in the public interest for the government to spend such a huge amount of taxpayers’ money on luxuries. The money should have been used to strengthen the health sector, added to the relief fund so more vulnerable Ugandans especially those in rural settings are assisted, Uganda is here to stay, let’s do better for Uganda and its people.