The Speaker of Uganda Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga has clashed with the Attorney General over the contentious Shs 10bn allocated by the House to its members to partake in the war against COVID-19.
While Parliament approved the request on 7 April 2020, an amount worth Shs 10bn within this supplementary budget was approved for each Member of Parliament to receive Shs 20m.
It all started with William Byaruhanga being called on the floor of Parliament to guide the House on this week’s court order temporarily barring lawmakers from using the contested funds until an application is heard and disposed of.
Parliament maintains that the money was released on Friday last week before the court order came out on Tuesday.
Mr William Byaruhanga acknowledged that the court ruling came to block what has already happened but told MPs that those who had not spent the money by Tuesday should not touch it.
“The High Court ruling on 21 of April barred the Parliamentary Commission from disbursing the Shs 10bn. The Parliamentary Service Commission had already sent out this money,” said Byaruhanga.
Adding: “However, the miscellaneous application also said the money should not be dissipated or spent if it had already been disbursed. Therefore, money which had not been spent by 21 April 2020 shouldn’t be touched lest it will be considered contempt of court.”
The Speaker and a cross section of MPs, however, disagreed with the interpretation saying individual lawmakers were not party to the ruling since only the Parliamentary Commission and the Attorney General were served.
“Learned Attorney General I think you are taking the side of the court well aware that MPs are not party to the petition,” said Kadaga.
She said “touching of MPs’ bank accounts was not part of the prayers in court,” adding, “The judgement was not on MPs’ bank accounts. We’ve always complained about poor legal representation by the Attorney General. The cash was wired on 17th April while the suit was filed on 21st. I therefore beg to differ.”
The Speaker’s position was emboldened by the submission of the State Minister of Sports, Denis Hamson Obua.
“We are aware the petitioners took the Parliamentary Commission and the Attorney General to court and no single member is party to the outcome,” said Obua.
Kadaga and MPs however disagreed with the interpretation saying individual MPs are not party to the ruling since only the Parliamentary Commission and the Attorney General were served.
Observers say Parliament’s insistence on using the taxpayers’ money, especially at a critical time when a nationwide fundraising effort is underway to help the vulnerable survive during the COVID-19 lockdown, could turn out as the biggest corruption scandals of Parliament in recent years.
Kadaga said the Fund was meant for drivers of ambulances MPs had seconded to the Ministry of Health as well as support their advocacy work.
Article 156 of the Uganda Constitution, 1995 gives Parliament the power to appropriate funds presented to it in an Appropriation or Supplementary Appropriation Bills which are prepared by the Executive branch.
However, Article 93 of the Constitution provides that Parliament shall not impose any charge on the consolidated funds unless the motion is brought by the Executive.
However, Jim Mugunga, the Finance ministry spokesperson, last week said they were not consulted by the Budget committee of Parliament.
Parliament’s action also contradicts, Section 15 PFMA which enjoins the Parliament to ensure that public resources are held and utilised in a “transparent, accountable, efficient, effective, and sustainable manner.”
Some lawmakers have since returned the money, saying it’s the “right thing to do” and condemned the Parliament’s recent actions.
Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) Executive Director Julius Mukunda told the Media that paying drivers of the ambulances that MPs seconded to Health Ministry, as well community sensitisation “are in no way oversight roles but rather a duplication of the work of the National Task Force, and what other Government agencies are already doing as defined by the Uganda’s National Policy for Disaster Preparedness and Management (2011).”
He said “Parliament of Uganda must restrict itself to its legislative role and leave COVID-19 response activities to the National task force appointed by the President.”
Kadaga today tried to threaten MPs who challenged the Parliament’s decision in courts of law, saying, “Under our rules of procedure, any MP who loses a motion against a majority is obliged to stand up in the House and complain. But not to rush to court to overturn Parliament’s majority vote. The MPs who rushed to court, flouted our rules.”
In a veiled warning, which also was supported by some MPs, Kadaga tried to question the legality of the entire supplementary budget.
“The Supplementary Budget is not passed in isolation; it is a whole,” said Kadaga.
“Going by logic, the judge is indirectly ordering whoever got part of the Shs 302bn Supplementary Budget (President’s Office, Health Ministry, Judiciary, etc), not to expend any shilling from thereof,” she said.
However, the judge in her ruling gave instructions only about the funds which were self-allocated by Parliament not the entire supplementary budget.
“That until the hearing and determination of miscellaneous application No.179 of 2020 the status quo to paragraphs 16, 17, 18 and 19 of the affidavit of Gerald Karuhanga sworn in support of this application be maintained I.e the monies in the sum of UGX 10, 000, 000, 000, (Uganda shillings Ten billion) appropriated to the 1st respondent (Paramilitary Commission) under the impugned amendment to the report of the budget Committee in supplementary Expenditure….remain undistributed until the determination of miscellaneous application No. 197 of 2020,” said Kampala High Court Judge, Esther Nambayo on Tuesday.
She further directed that “if already paid, the Members of Parliament are ordered not to dissipate or spend the same until the hearing and final determination of miscellaneous application No. 197 of 2020 or until further orders from this Honorable Court.”