Kampala’s traffic jams prove safer for MPs to receive inducements
You may loathe Kampala’s traffic jams probably because you are not a Member of Parliament. And if you are an MP, your bad attitude towards those traffic hold ups is because none of the lobbyists has come to deliver a financial stress relieving package to you while stuck in jam.
The evening traffic hold ups have turned into a safe place for legislators to receive inducements from various lobby groups who want a given law or investigation before Parliament to be passed in their favour, This is done to avoid the preying eyes of spies and CCTV cameras at Parliament, according to MPs who spoke to this website on condition of anonymity.
At the beginning of the current session of Parliament, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga caused for the disbandment of the entire membership of the Committee on Trade, Tourism and Industry after she got information that members of the committee had received inducements as they wrote a law to regulate sugar production in the country.
Before the Sugar Bill was tabled for the first reading in January 2017, members of the committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry received packages of Shs 10 million each, according to an MP who was a member of the committee before it was disbanded.
“I was handed Shs 10 million in an envelope, and when I asked what it was, they told me that there is a bill we were going to handle and we had to deal with two issues – the zoning of sugar producers, and the Uganda Sugar Board,” the MP said.
Large scale millers were in support of the government proposal of creating sugar production zones such that no new factories are licensed within a radius of 25km. The same millers who form the bulk of the Uganda Sugar Manufacturers’ Association were also opposed to the creation of the Uganda Sugar Board in preference of a Sugar advisory council, a non-autonomous entity working under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Co-operatives.
According to the MP, the price tag went up to Shs 25 million once suggestions came up that the committee must conduct field visits to seek views of other stakeholders.
Before long, the committee MPs took a sponsored foreign trip, attracting Kadaga’s ire that during the State of the Nation address in June, she threatened to scrap the committee, and transfer its roles to another committee.
She was later convinced not to scrap the committee but instead disband its composition thus requiring the party whips to designate new members. This is how Fort Portal Municipality MP Alex Ruhunda got replaced by his Nansana Municipality counterpart, Robert Ssebunya.
But even the new members of the committee also took inducements. According to some journalists that travelled with the committee during its field visits saw the MPs receive bags of each sugar factory they visited.
The interests of the large-scale sugar millers in bill failed because some MPs felt betrayed by a youthful colleague who is alleged to have picked their booty from the sugar producers but used it for his personal use, banking on the NRM influence in the House.
“Because it was a government bill, he anticipated that NRM MPs would be whipped to support the government position [of zoning the sugar producers] only to get shocked after the minority report [by Butembe MP Nelson Lufafa] was knocked out,” said a source.
The said youthful MP worked with two other MPs from Busoga to persuade the MPs to reject the majority committee report which was against the interests of the large-scale sugar producers.
“There have been undocumented claims about improper dealings between some committees of Parliament and the subjects of investigation, they still remain mere whispers, however, Parliament could not ignore them. The Speaker cautioned both staff and members to be aware that such complaints are coming up,” the Director of Communications at Parliament, Chris Obore said.
KADAGA SPIES, CAMERAS
Before the Sugar bill, MPs had debated and passed the Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill that slashed the tax levied on mobile money transactions to 0.5% on withdraws.
The telecom companies were reportedly against any form tax levy on mobile money transactions to be incurred by their customers given the effect the tax has had on mobile money transactions since July 1 when the tax was introduced.
Aware that Kadaga deployed some MPs to spy on their colleagues, plus the CCTV cameras that were installed almost everywhere in Parliament, the mode of receiving bribes has also changed.
It is no longer possible see the legislators trooping into an office at Parliament or some hotel to receive their packages.
“During debate on the Sugar Bill, the Speaker consistently said that the integrity of Parliament is at stake, and because we were already aware that she planted some people to spy on us, many of us were cautious about receiving any money to pass the bill,” an MP said.
On November 15 when the Sugar Bill was read for the second time, a youthful MP quietly talked to his colleagues promising a payment of between Shs 10 million and Shs 15 million each to cater for the interests of the large-scale sugar producers.
For fear of being captured by the CCTV cameras or by Kadaga’s spies, the legislators were to receive the packages while in traffic jam.
“Somebody waits for you somewhere in a traffic jam, and when you get there, you just lower your window, he throws in the package wrapped in a black kaveera and you proceed,” an MP who confessed having received the bribe money told this writer on condition of anonymity.
In May, Kadaga told journalists that she had received several complaints about MPs and Parliamentary staff, especially committee clerks, but she hadn’t landed on evidence to incriminate them.
Obore said that Parliament is now urging the public to report cases of bribery to Kadaga’s office or that of Jane Kibirige, the Clerk to Parliament.
“Parliament is pushing for transparency and accountability in all its operations. The Majority of MPs are concerned and do their work diligently, however, if there are some who may be involved in improper dealings, they need to first reflect as leaders to be conscious of the image of the institution of Parliament, and secondly, be aware that the Speaker wields power to cause disciplinary action against them if she gets evidence,” Obore said.
He however said that some of the claims could be engineered by some subjects of Parliamentary investigation with the aim of blackmailing the MPs not to pursue their oversight role.