Uganda Executive, MPs in tussle over use of Covid-19 funds

Saturday May 16 2020

Uganda MPs allocated themselves money from the Covid-19 supplementary budget. FILE PHOTO | NMG


Despite seeming to have softened his stance on the Ush10 billion ($2.6 million) that Ugandan legislators allocated themselves as part of the Covid-19 supplementary budget, President Yoweri Museveni is said to have ordered an audit of the expenditure.

In a letter dated April 28 to the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, President Museveni said he instructed the Auditor-General to go over how the funds were used.
“I am requesting the Auditor General to audit this aspect, where the MPs became the ‘purchasing’ officers of the state and see whether their efforts were legal. I have asked him to conclude it in four weeks,” said the president.

In a recent televised address on coronavirus, President Museveni described the Covid-19 cash as a trap that the MPs had laid for themselves and “morally reprehensible.”

However, this provoked anger from the legislators who accused the president of attacking parliament and trying to make them look bad.

On May 9, the MPs passed a resolution condemning the Executive for “attacking the legislature and undermining its independence.

On April 8, Parliament passed a Ush304 billion supplementary budget to be used in the fight against Covid-19 by different ministries and government agencies. Out of this figure, Ush10 billion ($2.6 million)—Ush20 million ($5,284) for each MP—was allocated to parliament.


Illegal allocation

Despite Speaker Kadaga’s efforts to explain that MPs were to use this money to sensitise their constituents about the pandemic and for maintenance of ambulances in their constituencies, President Museveni and the Cabinet insisted the allocation was illegal and inappropriate.

After Parliament’s move became public, the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) which monitors accountability of public resources also wrote to the executive, citing breach of budgeting and public finance management laws.
“I am not surprised that the President raised the same questions we did in our letter. Nothing is supposed to be done with this money when the president has not assented to the Bill. How did the Secretary to the Treasury approve spending when the president has not assented? These points raise uncomfortable questions for the Parliamentary Commission,” said Julius Mukunda, the CSBAG executive director.

Mr Mukunda, whose organisation has been tracking compliance with the April 29 High Court order, says that there should be a timeframe within which the legislators should return all the money.

As at April 12, the number of MPs that had returned the money stood at 101 out of a total of 458 legislators.

The total amount returned was Ush2.029 billion ($536,142), leaving a balance of Ush7.971 billion ($2,106,257) still in the hands of legislators, according to CSBAG tracking records.

In addition, there is pending accountability of Ush960 million left as balance after the Ush10 billion was shared.