Experts speak out on the public’s ‘dangerous’ apathy to ongoing hemorrhage of public funds.
This week’s passing of a Ushs 268 billion budget for Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) went largely unnoticed by many ordinary Ugandans, more so the millions of people who are affected by the city’s largely unaccountable and unsupervised administration.
In a move to obtain legitimacy to spend colossal sums of taxpayers money, Minister Frank Tumwebaze this week defended KCCA’s 2014/15 record budget on the floor of Parliament.
With the help of Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanya, who flipped the usual question he puts to MPs when voting. Contrary to common procedure, Oulanya said; “I put a question that those in favor say Ayes those oppossed say Nay, he changed it to….I now put a question to the motion the KCCA budget should not be approved.” Opposition MPs joined their NRM counterparts in shouting Naye!
Tumwebaze emerged with overwhelming support from his party including on highly contemptuous provisions such as the proposed plan by KCCA to spend Ushs 35 billion to purchase USAFI market whose fire-prone wooden structures have been a source of public ridicule. The market has further failed to attract seasoned traders, largely for fear of losing hard-earned money when fire breaks out in the crowded structures.
Some opposition MPs expressed astonishment at the sudden jump in the value of the place – that was only two years ago, valued at Ushs 100 million.
Masaka municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga’s persistent call for the budget to be discussed thoroughly by the relevant KCCA authority were rejected by the speaker. Mpuuga reminded the house that the budget had not gone through the due process of debate and that government was hell bent on having its way.
In trying to illustrate the conspicuous fraud, Butambala county MP Muwanga Kivumbi noted that the recently constructed modern Wandegeya market cost about Ushs 7 billion.
Opposition MPs as well as Kampala division mayors have recently expressed outrage at the apparent ongoing disregard to good governance in KCCA including lack of accountability and oversight. Kampala Central Division Mayor Godfrey Nyakaana this week threatened to drag KCCA and its Executive Director for usurping the power of the people.
Opponents of government and KCCA’s ways of doing business argue that the general public should not be blindfolded by the ongoing beautification exercise in Kampala to block calls for proper accountability.
Councillor Bernard Luyiga, representing Makerere University has joined sidelined Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago’s chorus call for greater accountability, saying Jennifer Musisi and Tumwebaze have usurped the power of Council to propose budgets and spend public funds without the will of the people.
But while the unfolding accountability scandal at KCCA is hardly unique, it is surprising for many that it is largely ignored or even encouraged by the general public, and law makers who are supposed to supervise government programmes and promote principles of good governance.
A few people have stopped at acknowledging that Kampala lacks a legally constituted council.
Fine artist Nuwa Wamala Nyanzi wrote on his facebook page thus: “Apparently there is no legally constituted KCCA so [the passed budget] is a donation and none should expect any accountability whatsoever.”
Over the past few weeks, the media has been awash with reports of massive fraud in the infrastructure sector. The way the government contracted a dubious company ‘Eutaw’ to build the multi-billion shilling Mukono-Katosi road without thorough due diligence has left many in shock.
But also questionable is the way the government signed the contract for the construction of the standard gauge eastern railway route with a largely unknown company China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC).
Nicholas Opiyo, a renowned human rights lawyer has argued before that growing impunity is not accidental but instead a sustained and consistent plan by the NRM government to dominate power.
James Nkuubi, another lawyer and expert working with HURINET-Uganda, argues that what happened in Parliament this week during the passing of the KCCA budget was a determination of the executive to usurp people’s power.
“What happened in Parliament was piercing the eyes of the public. It was a deliberate move by the government to pass the budget using its mob in Parliament. But the most important thing is the amount of money that is involved.” Nkuubi adds that because the government funds the greater part of KCCA’s budget, it has now become the supervisor, raising the possibility that there is connivance to steal public funds.
“Once a government entity has no oversight, as we are witnessing in KCCA, you cannot rule out abuse of public funds,” Nkuubi emphasizes.
More worrying however, according to Nkuubi is that the passing of KCCA’s budget and other recent developments where the government has sidelined clearly stipulated accountability safeguards such as opening up bidding processes, creates room for even greater abuse.
“We have created a dangerous precedent that budgets can pass without a council. It is going to be very difficult for us to reverse this trend. It means that we have emboldened impunity,” Nkuubi adds: “Every step of wrong doing, emboldens the wrong doer.”
While such stories elicited open demonstrations by members of the public or walk-outs from Parliament by MPs, the recent questionable spending by government has been met with apathy.
According to Nkuubi, Ugandans have become apathetic to abuse of power and public funds.
“Everyday we wake up to stories of public abuse. Either people have given up or their anger is boiling underground and can erupt anytime. It is very dangerous when people are quiet,”argues Nkuubi.
To some, the ongoing abuse of public funds will have an impact not only on the future of Uganda’s politics but also on all other aspects of life.
Some observers speculate that unfolding financial scandals are aiding the government to amass money to be spent in the 2016 campaigns.
“The government learnt a lesson not to raid the central bank for money at the same time. They are pulling resources from the budget slowly,” says one anonymous observer. Still, if the government dumps huge amounts of money into circulation in a short period, it will still likely cause inflation.