The recent court ruling on Parliament’s alleged determination of its own emoluments without a motion from the government – in this case the Finance minister – has again sparked off bitterness against MPs.
The gist of the petitioner’s case was that the powers of Parliament to determine its own emoluments, as enshrined in Sections 3(5); 4(2) and 5 of the Parliamentary (Remuneration of Members) Act, are unconstitutional as it contravened Articles 93, 99, 113 and 117 of the Constitution. The Constitutional Court agreed with the petitioner.
The ruling stopped the Parliamentary Commission from adjusting emoluments without a motion or resolution from government. It did not stop the Parliamentary Commission from taking care of the MPs and parliamentary staff emoluments.
The Parliamentary Commission is chaired by the Speaker of Parliament and comprises the Deputy Speaker, Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and minister of Finance. It also has four backbench MPs, one of whom must be an Opposition member. That constitutes the summit of Parliament administration.
Well-intentioned good governance activists will agree that by having, in the Parliamentary Commission, the Prime Minister (PM) who is the Leader of Government Business in Parliament, and the Finance minister; the Executive is directly involved in the affairs of Parliament.
Therefore, if the Parliamentary Commission decides to improve the emoluments and welfare of MPs and technical staff in the parliamentary service, they do so with the participation of the Executive.
It’s then difficult to understand what the ruling actually means when it says the MPs decide their own emoluments without the Executive. If they did so, I am sure by now each MP would be earning at least Shs50 million or more monthly. There would be justification for it.
Is the judgment, therefore, about procedure or substance? The national Budget cycle starts with the Budget call circular from minister of Finance.
At Parliament, the technical departments make Budget proposals that are submitted to the Parliamentary Commission for approval. The PM and Finance minister (Executive) are part of the approval process at Parliament before the commission budget is sent to the Finance minister.
It’s clearly disputable to imply that Parliament charges the Consolidated Fund without acceptance of the Executive.
But my determined interest is not to dwell on the legal subtleties. I have no claim to legal expertise but have immense interest in public policy and governance.
So, let me focus on the noise that followed the ruling. The obvious one is that MPs are bleeding the taxpayer’s purse. They are selfish. They don’t care about the suffering of the ordinary citizens. They only care about themselves. Such statements in our context are understandable given the overall challenges we face as a country.
Unfortunately, most of these statements come from the elite who ordinarily are supposed to be the leading lights of any society. Leading lights address issues on merit and based on facts. But our intelligentsia appears to invest in more talking than in knowing.
The government, as we all know it, is the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. According to statistics I have seen, since 1999/2000 financial year up-to-date ( for 17 years), the Executive takes an average of 96.55 per cent of the national Budget, the Judiciary takes averagely 1.75 per cent while the Legislature takes an average of 1.70 per cent.
Do these statistics show that MPs are greedy? They instead reveal the Legislature that legitimises the national Budget, has in the last 17 years appropriated more money to the Executive and the Judiciary to perform their functions— than to MPs.
Since 2001, MPs have not increased their salaries. An MP earns Shs2.6 million basic taxable pay. They are also entitled to gratuity of 30 per cent of their salary and subsistence facilitation of Shs4.5 million. The committee sitting allowance is Shs15, 000 for the chair and Shs10, 000 for a member. They are also facilitated to travel three round trips to their constituencies.
In 2001, the mileage paid to an MP was set at Shs1, 042 per litre of fuel on murrum road and Shs896 per litre on tarmac. By 2005, this became untenable as pump prices had shot up.
It was reviewed to Shs2,125 per litre on tarmac and Shs2,500 on murrum. So since 2005, MPs have been buying a litre of fuel at maximum Shs2, 500 yet since the same period, pump prices of fuel have fluctuated between Shs3,500 and Shs4,000. So do MPs have special fuel pumps from where they buy cheaply?
Surely, to be paid mileage of less than the fuel pump prices, to perform public work for many years, does not amount to greed; or does it?
In the 2001 motion, MPs were to be facilitated with Shs20 million to purchase vehicles. Whether Shs20 million can today buy a vehicle suitable for an MP, I leave it to your judgment.
But at the beginning of the 9th Parliament, government gave Shs103 million to each MP to buy a vehicle. It was the talk of the nation. The MPs had committed sacrilege. However, MPs like the majority of public servants, are entitled to government facilitation of a car; and at their status, each of them is to be driven in car of 4.0cc engine capacity.
Definitely, that car is a four-wheel drive which is not less than Shs200 million. It must be straight from the factory. They are also supposed to be provided with a State paid driver. The government is supposed to repair the vehicle. All an MP would need is to have the car ready whenever he needs it.
But the government instead gives every MP Shs103 million to buy a car, pay his or her own chauffer, and pay repair costs for five years. This MP is still branded greedy, selfish and insensitive to the taxpayers!
For illustration purposes, a High Court judge earns Shs9 million basic salary; they also get Shs2 million monthly housing allowance in addition to medical allowance.
The same judge has a four-wheel drive car of not less than Shs200m with a government-paid chauffer and a police escort. The State pays for car repairs and fuel at the current pump prices. However, the judge has not been labelled greedy and said to be burdening the taxpayer!
Leave alone a judge; an LC5 chairman or an RDC drives an expensive double cabin pick-up truck. They do not repair them. They don’t pay their drivers. The point is that many civil servants allocated government vehicles are more expensive to the taxpayer than an MP who is given Shs103 million in five years. But we choose to throw all manner of profanities at legislators!
The media buys into the same blackmail yet the media has over the years exposed how government vehicles under the care of ‘trusted’ public servants not MPs; rot in garages and individuals’ backyards!
By accepting Shs103 million, MPs gave up their status. But if the money given to them is too much in the estimation of right thinking citizens, then we have an option of government providing each MP with a car, driver and fuel for five years then the cars revert to government.
It would also avoid uncalled for portrayal of MPs as insensitive whenever they demand what is due to them like in the case when each of them recently received Shs100 million for fuel arrears for five years.
Lastly, Parliament’s mission is to achieve improved accountability, rule of law and national development within a multi-party democracy system while the vision is to be a vibrant, independent and people-centred Parliament.
That alone invites citizens to put pressure on Parliament to perform. Citizens must not relent because Parliament is core in advancement of democracy. However, holding Parliament to account is not the same as blackmail. As of now, there is more blackmail of MPs than holding them to account.
The writer is director communication and public affairs at Parliament