For millions of Ugandans whose life is reduced to a daily struggle to secure fundamental needs, a Shs 200 million car-privilege for MPs is an expensive splurge on a single lawmaker’s mobility.
To an ordinary poor Ugandan, Shs 200 million could provide a lifelong upgrade. But for the recipient lawmakers, the car grant is too little to buy a decent car upgrade that befits their status.
In January, the parliamentary commission asked for Shs 165bn to buy cars for MPs, the speaker, deputy speaker, directors and assistant directors.
The ministry of Finance released Shs 111bn to buy cars for all MPs in the 11th Parliament. Parliament has 529 MPs and 26 ex-officios. Each got Shs 200m in July.
Interviewed for this story, many MPs said Shs 200 million is too little to buy a brand new sport utility vehicle (SUV). Leader of Opposition in Parliament Mathias Mpuuga (Nyendo-Mukungwe MP) said MPs don’t buy brand new cars because the official car grant can only buy secondhand vehicles.
“I was in the 9th Parliament, we were given Shs 103m to buy vehicles and I bought one. Given the nature of our work, I remember by the end of three years, the car was really broken down,” Mpuuga said in an interview last week.
“Very few members can use a car for five years and it takes them to the [next] campaign. If it survives the campaign, it cannot be roadworthy after five years…” Mpuuga added.
Each MP in the 10th Parliament got Shs 203m to buy a car. Mpuuga bought one too.
“I had to buy a vehicle because I had the first term experience… You need a good car to be able to service the constituency and do your work as an MP and remain decent? In fact I had to buy one that would take me into the campaign. The campaign is a very rigorous situation you know… It requires a strong car,” Mpuuga said.
Kumi Municipality MP, Silas Aogon, a two- term MP who served in the 10th Parliament, said he got the car grant at a time his constituents were starving.
“We had a lot of famine [in Teso] after the floods so most of the money I received was used to support university education for students in my constituency. I was not able to purchase a proper car for myself. A car befitting the leader of the people, a person who is busy, a person who reaches the hard- to-reach areas…,” Aogon said in an interview last Friday.
“We have received money to purchase cars for this term. It doesn’t mean that I have a fleet of cars now. The car I bought in the last term is totally old now, tired and needs urgent disposal but the unfortunate bit is that the money [Shs 200m] I have is not enough to buy a new car,” Aogon said.
“My statement may sound hard to some people because they feel Shs 200m is a lot of money. Look at what they give to permanent secretaries, a good car will cost around Shs 600m… Shs 200m will only get you a second-hand car from an NGO which is disposing of cars, much as people think it is a lot of money. As your MPs, we are the ones buying cars, which have been used by non-governmental organizations and embassies and that is where we are. I think everybody should pray for us.”
LoP Mpuuga acknowledged that an MP’s car grant is a huge burden on the taxpayer but leaders need good cars to work.
“If MPs are desperate, it will put this country in danger. The discussion that we should engage in as a country is the form of the car grant. It should either be an interest- free loan. I have worked with political leaders and it is very dangerous to have desperate political leaders. It can plunge the country into chaos,” Mpuuga said.
Mpuuga said he ordered for a personal secondhand car.
“I am in the LOP’s office but this is an appointment; so, whichever facility I use here is not personal. I will need a facility that will service my constituency when I am out of this office. I am not scared of occupying and leaving an office because it is not a personal office. This is an entitlement, I will buy a vehicle which at the end of the day, I will use for official work and the family…,” Mpuuga told us.
Upper Madi MP Isaac Joakino Etuka [who was also in 10th Parliament] said it was unfortunate that people don’t know that MPs need good cars to traverse the country.
“I can assure the public that some MPs buy cars of more than Shs 200m that can manage the terrain and distances they drive. Most MPs have to top up to get good cars that make them a bit comfortable. This is a job where you have to move a lot…,” Etuka said.
Etuka said he had to top-up to buy a car because the first car he bought in 2016 has many mechanical faults.
“Whatever you present on the floor of parliament is what we get from the constituency. You cannot sit in parliament and wait for information from the electorate. The money is not enough and besides, MPs have to pay their drivers……” Etuka said.
“Some MPs have served more than one term but have no cars. You find that by the time MPs return to parliament, they have already spent a lot in the campaigns and that makes it difficult for them to move. The public should understand the challenges their leaders face in their core responsibility,” Etuka added.
Burahya MP Stephen Kagwera, who was in the eighth and ninth parliaments, said the assumption that those who have served in parliament before do not deserve cars is wrong since the term of office expires at every end of five years.
“For MPs who have been in parliament for more than one term, people outside may assume they have two or more cars depending on the number of times [they have been in parliament] but what I can assure you, within five years if an MP has bought a car of whatever type, it will have depreciated,” Kagwera said.
“Each time an MP is elected in office, he is a new MP… So, there is no way government can say now, we give the new MP and not the old MP, no. Why should old MPs be taking an oath here [in Parliament]? Why can’t they continue on the other oath they took? It means the moment they take oath, they are new members and they are taking on new responsibilities,” Kagwera added.
Mwenge North MP David Muhumuza said while Shs 200 million is too little to buy a befitting car for a legislator, it is worth it since it helped his constituents acquire an ambulance.
“When we got the money, some of us are economical; like me, I got the money and bought three cars. I bought a good ambulance for the people of Mwenge in this Covid era. The whole county had no ambulance. I had to squeeze and buy a strong car for myself and another small truck for the constituency so I am not benefiting alone,” Muhumuza said.
Workers’ MP Abdulhu Byakatonda urged the public to pile pressure on their leaders to deliver services.
“This is a small thing. I implore the public to look at the performance of MPs and ensure they do the oversight role. You can talk about Shs 200m but how much money is put to waste? How many organizations are performing in terms of service delivery? If we can enhance the performance of MPs and their presence is felt in the constituencies then they can cause a difference.” Byakatonda said.
He said he used the Shs 200m to buy two double-cabin trucks for workers to facilitate mobilization, skilling and building capacity. “Some of them face challenges of legal aid and I thought workers can engage in cooperatives so that they can increase their productivity and enhance household incomes. The challenge has been that government in most cases has not engaged workers,” Byakatonda said.
What Shs 200m can do
Shs 200m given to a single MP to buy a car can pay salaries of at least 34 primary school teachers who earn Shs 480,000 monthly, for a whole year.
The same money can at least pay 400 police constables in a month at a tune of Shs 500,000.