Could Kadaga’s stand mark a turning point in fight against corruption?
The Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga yesterday staged a gloves-off press conference in which she protested the criticism that has been levelled against the institution she leads following allegations of misuse of UGX10 billions that was part of the money meant to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaker Kadaga lamented what she described as unfair and hostile treatment that has been directed at Parliament on the alleged misuse of public funds, yet, as she mourned, “nobody is asking how the rest of the UGX284 billion” that was passed on April 7, 2020, in a supplementary budget meant to boost the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaker Kadaga made a number of landmark remarks that pointed at perhaps the lowest point in her relationship with the executive, the judiciary and the public when she rejected criticism for diverting money that was meant to help in the fight against COVID-19 outbreak.
Kadaga told the nation that: “As Parliament, we are sad that the media, the executive and the judiciary is harassing us. We passed so many billions of money but no body is following how it is being used, and they are focusing on just the UGX10bn.”
Kadaga outlined the various departments that were allocated the UGX284bn, while expressing anger that no one is bothered how it’s being used and instead the focus is on Parliament’s ‘misuse’ alone.
She said: “All the 135 districts in the country UGX165bn, no body is talking about it. We gave the President’s office UGX15bn. We gave the Ministry of Health UGX90bn, even though they had asked for UGX60bn. We gave the Office of the Prime Minister UGX59bn, no body is talking about it. You may not even know this is the money they used to buy rotten food. Is that what you want, that no body talks about about distribution of rotten food?”
Speaker Kadaga got to the point of alleging that the National Task Force on COVID-19 has been distributing expired milk.
She accused Justice Michael Elubu of the High Court of Kampala, of interfering with the work of Parliament when he directed MPs where to take the UGX20m that had been given to them by Parliament.
“He has no authority to appropriate money, but he simply directed that money goes here and there. It’s completely unconstitutional,” she said angrily.
In the ensuing battle and the apparent show of impunity by the Speaker in the way her institution abused the public trust, comes with an eerie feeling that this could spark trouble for the speaker.
But Speaker Kadaga has got the backing of the Members of the Parliamentary Commission, which comprises members of both the ruling party and opposition as well as the majority of the MPs on both sides of the isle, who say they have already used the money to help their people weather the painful effects of the lock-down measures.
The Parliamentary Commission, is the administrative arm of Parliament and plays a major part in determining the expenditure of Parliament on privileges for MPs.
In addition, the MPs know they have committed worse crimes in the past and that perhaps the executive needs them for his continued stay in power.
Besides the apparent deterioration in relations between her and the president, as seen by the angry reaction to the president’s comments, there is a silver lining surrounding the exposing of the dirty linen in the public.
The sense, as projected by Kadaga, that there is rot everywhere but instead blame is going on one way, is a milestone testament to the heightened level of corruption. And coming from someone at the level of a Speaker of Parliament, the third-highest-ranking person in government, but also someone who is charged of checking excesses of the executive – especially the executive, is a high level degree of admission.
It is a great admission of guilt that what is going on is not right. In fact the speaker didn’t waste time justifying the legality of the money, but rather emphasised the independence of Parliament to allocate resources, regardless of the value-for-money to the tax payer.
Many people have previously accused Parliament of abuse of power by allocating itself salaries and benefits far above the salaries and allowances of other public servants, as a mark of greed and corruption.
This time however, the public spat between the Speaker and the President over the matter appears to be more of an an indictment on her leadership and credibility rather than a step towards addressing the worst crisis Uganda faces – corruption.
Judging by the flood of angry and hostile comments on her twitter posts on the matter, one can conclude that this is more about how she handled the matter than anything close to fighting corruption. In fact, some have pointed out that the threats that have been issued against those that took back the money, represents a marked level of arrogance towards tax payers who are trying to call her to order, and thereby undermines the fight against corruption.