At a time, when landlocked East African country Uganda is seeking funds from donors to help it to buy COVID-19 vaccines, the government’s decision to give 200 million shillings ($54,000) to every member of parliament to buy vehicles has generated controversy.
The new members took oath recently after getting elected to their offices in February.
Analysts said the announcement coming just a day before Uganda Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja requested the corporate sector to support the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program, has led many to question this largesse at these tougher times.
Annet Namata, chairperson of the Union of Human Rights Defenders said in times of financial hardships faced by people, buying expensive vehicles for MPs does not make any sense.
“This money should have been used to buy food for people who are starving due to COVID-19 lockdown,” she said.
An opposition leader Hassan Kisitu also said that many people are losing lives because they are not either vaccinated or are unable to buy medicine.
‘’So far only 1.1 million people have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Yet the government is squandering money on MPs,” he said.
A secondary school teacher in Kampala, Alex Kagigo said that granting funds to all 529 MPs to buy vehicles means that a big chunk of finances has been diverted to buy luxuries. He described the step as “unfortunate”.
Kagigo said that the money given to each MP could have vaccinated 3,176 people keeping in account that two jabs cost $17. He said the total amount given to all the MPs was enough to buy jabs for 1.6 million people.
Anti-corruption activist Simon Muloki said that apart from that huge amount of money meant to buy vehicles, the MPs earn about 30 million Uganda shillings ($8,219) per month when the per capita income of the population is just $902.
Ugandan officials defend announcement
However, the Uganda parliament director of communications and public affairs department, Chris Obore justified giving money to legislators. He said the MPs have been getting this amount previously as well.
“It is true that MPs have been given money to buy vehicles. We received the money for MPs car allowance and it has already been paid to them. It is the same amount that MPs of the last parliament also got and it is a one-time payment in five years,” he said.
He said that MPs need tough vehicles to visit their far-off villages in their constituencies negotiating bad roads.
Dismissing allegations that this money could have been used to combat the COVID-19, Obore said the MPs were also involved in the fight against the pandemic.
“The MPs need facilitation to do their work and, in these pandemics, they are much involved in activities in their community,” he said.
An MP Richard Lumu Soozi also defended the government decision. He claimed that ministers were paid much more to buy vehicles.
Another MP Ronald Nsubuga Balimwezo said he will use the money to buy a low-cost vehicle and will buy an ambulance for the people he represents from the rest of the money.