An election victory is a moment of celebration and a moment of uneasiness for many members of parliament.
First, they borrow to run an election campaign. When they win, they stake their salary to borrow more money to save their mortgaged property. The worst nightmare for a lot of MPs is the piles of constituency demands for cash and help.
Interviewed for this story, many lawmakers said they are overwhelmed by the financial demands for assistance.
Budaka County MP Arthur Waako Mboizi said voters think lawmakers are constituency property. He said MPs are not seen in the realm of representatives, who are supposed to deliver vital information that should channel development and service delivery.
“They load everything on MPs, from meeting burial expenses to taking children to school to making contributions to churches, mosques, and others. “The law is very clear; ambulance services are a preserve of the government, but you find that a lot of ambulances have been bought by MPs,” he told The Observer.
“We have become absentee landlords in our constituencies. You can’t dare go to your constituency unless you have a real hardened heart to tell these people the truth. You either go at night and leave very early in the morning or stay in Kampala. They converge on your compound by 5am. This has killed the moral fiber of society,” Waako said.
“People must change their mindsets. They should stop waiting for handouts. People are becoming useless in their societies. It is good to increase MPs’ salaries, but that will not solve the problem. When salaries are increased, voters will know, and the burden will pile up,” he said.
He said presidential donations should end. People should be encouraged to work. They shouldn’t get things for free; they should work and earn their money, he said.
Established shortly after independence in 1962, the parliament initially had 92 members. That number has since increased to 120, 319, 375, 426, and 529 legislators in the 2021-26 term.
The core role of MPs is to pass laws, lobby for, and monitor government services in their constituencies.
Earlier this month, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LOP) Mathias Mpuuga said MPs are overwhelmed by constituency demands.
He said MPs are asked to do what the central government should do for Ugandans.
Mpuuga further argued that there is no way parliament can convene a session without the Prime Minister, Robinah Nabbanja, and without a statement from her on the order paper.
Nakaseke Central MP Allan Mayanja Sebunya said; “We want the government to meet its obligations. If it upgrades health centers like Nakaseke and Kikamulo health center III, then there is no reason for MPs to step in and fix those facilities. The government should upgrade roads.”
He said if government is keen on improving service delivery, then MPs wouldn’t have to build maternity wards, schools and other things.
Mityana South MP Lumu Richard Kizito said MPs are overburdened because the government has failed to do its part.
He said Kenyan MPs are given constituency development funds of about Sh4 billion to meet constituency needs. They are also given staff and vehicles. In Uganda, MPs are given a salary and fuel, he said.
Last year, female legislators decried the growing financial burden constituents place on their purses. These concerns were raised at a three-day retreat organized by the Forum for Women in Democracy for first-time female MPs under their strengthening citizen’s engagement in elections program held at the Lake Victoria hotel, Entebbe.
The MPs said whereas some of their male colleagues are reelected without becoming charitable to their constituents, women are forced to contribute a larger portion of their purses to their constituents to buy their way back to parliament.
A 2015 survey on election financing found that parliamentary aspirants in 2016 spent 10 times more than candidates 15 years ago.
The survey by the Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM) explored the relationship between money and voters’ choices. ACFIM advocates increased transparency in the practice of financing political parties and election campaigns in Uganda.
Approximately 146 MPs were chosen at random from among the 275 directly elected non-ministerial MPs. According to the findings, MPs spend an average of Shs 4.6 million per visit to their constituencies. Clustered in four regions, the survey found that MPs from western Uganda are the biggest spenders, at Shs 6.1m per constituency visit.
These are followed by MPs from the east (Shs 4.6m), central region (Shs 4.5m), and northern Uganda (Shs 2.4m). On the basis of political affiliation, members of the ruling NRM spend a lot more than their independent or opposition colleagues. NRM MPs average Shs 5.3m on each constituency visit, Shs 2.5m more than their opposition colleagues.
A veteran legislator was quoted as saying that MPs are judged in their constituencies by how much they give.
“People think that they should keep on milking you… And if you don’t do this, in the eyes of the voters, you have not performed,” the unnamed MP said.