Lawmakers sitting on the Committee on Public Service and Local Governments have recommended the halting of the issuance of new luxurious cars to former leaders until the laws providing for such benefits are harmonised so as to end duplication and wastage of public resources.
The recommendation was revealed by Ojara Mapenduzi, Chairperson of the Committee on Public Service and Local Governments while appearing before the Budget Committee to present the report on the Budget Framework Paper for the Ministry of Public Service and Ministry of Local Government.
He noted that that currently, the Presidential and Prime Minister Emoluments Act and the Parliamentary Pensions Act detail a number of retirement benefits for its leaders, a trend that has seen some officials benefit from both laws, thus leading to the wastage of taxpayers’ money.
The Committee recommends that the aforementioned laws be harmonised or amended to address the duplication of the retirement benefits. Funds be provided for the purchase of vehicles for the aforementioned leaders based on the harmonisation of the retirement benefits. In other words, the Committee is recommending that before funds are provided, we first need to harmonise, and then later on, funds can be provided because otherwise, it will lead to the wastage of resources, reported Mapenduzi.
Mapenduzi asked the Budget Committee not to approve the UGX 7.2 billion being requested by the Ministry of Public Service for the purchase of luxurious vehicles for the former leaders. Those supposed to benefit include Vice Presidents, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi and Prof Gilbert Bukenya, and former Prime Ministers, Amama Mbabazi and Ruhakana Rugunda.
Some of the retired leaders are still holding public offices that draw retirement benefits under both the Parliamentary Act and the Presidential Emolument Act, and this creates a risk of duplication and wastage of public resources, said Ojara.
When Public Service Minister, Wilson Muruli Mukasa presented the UGX 7.2 billion budget for luxurious cars to the sectoral Committee last week, there were public concerns over former President Ssekandi, who in December received another expensive car from Parliament as a former Speaker. Parliament will pay the salary for his chosen driver, fuel and service the car for five years, and it is not clear whether the same kind of spending would be done for cars the Ministry of Public Service had requested money for.
Dickson Kateshumbwa, MP for Sheema Municipality, welcomed the development but urged the Committee to ensure that the Attorney General is asked to table amendments to the laws because the issue of vehicles to the former leaders has been a matter of public concern.
The recommendation of harmonisation of retirement benefits, I think, isn’t creating the resource centre. I think you need to have strong recommendations urging the Attorney General to table the amendments because this matter has been a matter of public concern, he said.
Otuke County MP Paul Omara backed the proposal to halt the budget for cars for former leaders.
I am baffled that we created a law that gave retired leaders several benefits, if you are Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Vice President and President, you will be able to have four benefits coming your way. I think before we put money, let the laws come to harmonise these issues, he stated.
Gratuity, Pension pack
Meanwhile, MPs raised concern over the UGX 79.3 billion request by the Ministry of Public Service to cater for the payment of gratuity, pension and severance packages for the 2,170 staff whose jobs are to be abolished as a result of rationalisation of Government agencies.
Some of the MPs demanded that the money should be appropriated after the process of merging and abolishing some of the agencies is completed. Last year, Parliament rejected two Bills presented by the government to amend the relevant laws and some Articles of the Constitution to pave the way for the rationalisation of agencies, affecting about 40 statutory bodies.
Chekwii County MP Moses Aleper wondered if the government had conducted a cost-benefit analysis on how the rationalisation of agencies would affect the country.
It is alleged that we can save UGX 700 billion from this rationalisation, but our national yearly wage bill is around UGX 7.2 trillion which is about 10 per cent. For us in accounting, we do total reporting, we don’t just go for financials. We also look at the social and environmental costs. Let us look at the UGX 700 billion we are saving, the cost of doing this exercise and then the social cost of the people who will lose jobs definitely, there will be a political backlash; naturally, it will arise, said Aleper.
I think these guys haven’t looked at the cost-benefit analysis, they are just throwing UGX 700 billion, which we haven’t investigated by the way, you might find it is even lower than that. There is no law in place, and obviously, this will need to feed into the appropriation, it will be like we are legislating in anticipation, so let us start with the laws first, then we go to that, added Aleper.
The MPs also raised concern over the failure of the Ministry of Local Government to provide funds for the Local council elections, despite the recent move by the Government to extend the tenure of the current leaders by six months.
When you look at the budget for local government, there is nothing to do with elections of LC1s, when you look at the unfunded priorities, there is nothing there. But again, when you look at the Shs490Bn unfunded priorities, there is nothing to do with the elections, you have just put it there, but you haven’t quantified it. Why isn’t it quantified? If you came up with it, go and interact with the Ministry because this is something that needs to be prioritised, said Karim Masaba, MP for Mbale Industrial Division.
MP Aleper castigated the Ministry of Local Government for placing payment of ex-gratia and honoraria for local councillors as part of its unfunded priorities, wondering how salaries can be an unfunded item in a national budget.
These are salaries for the LC1s, how would you love it if your salary for this year is treated as an unfunded priority? This is the only thing that these people get: UGX 10,000 per month. These MDAs treat priorities as non-priorities, so we must question and interrogate most of these proposals. You can’t put ex-gratia as unfunded priorities,” he added.
Last week, Parliament approved two statutory instruments: to extend the term of office for another 180 days and that of women councils for the same period. There are fears among political players that these elections might be extended several times until the 2026 general election cycle.