Did the opposition legislative agenda fall on rocky soil?
On August 27th 2021, the Opposition in Parliament through the office of the Leader of the Opposition under the stewardship of Hon. Mathias Mpuuga unveiled a comprehensive legislative agenda. The agenda sought to improve governance and service delivery in Uganda through constitutional and electoral reforms, curbing wasteful expenditure, run away corruption, fiscal reforms, pushing for respect of human rights and improving performance of Opposition members.
It’s now nine months down the road since the legislative agenda was unveiled; SecretsKnown in this article tracks its progress to establish whether the agenda has been fruitful.
Early electoral reforms are among the issues the opposition intends to achieve before the 2026 general elections. SecretsKnown has learnt that opposition members have compiled key reforms which Ugandans had been pushing for in the past but were not considered like the 2014 Citizens Compact that detailed the citizens’ aspiration for free and fair elections.
Some of the reforms the opposition plan to push for through private members bills include registration of Ugandans in the Diaspora and prisons, competitive recruitment of leaders of constitutional bodies, fixing terms of office for commissioners in the Independent Electoral Commission, reduction of the size of Parliament, reduction of special interest groups, restrictions of supplementary expenditures during election periods, role of security organs in elections, relinquishing public assets during campaigns, media coverage of candidates and transmission of election results. Ugandans are yet to see private members’ bills developed to this effect.
Curbing wasteful expenditure and Run-away Corruption
Corruption in Uganda has become an epidemic and according to a survey conducted by the Inspectorate of Government, Uganda loses UGX 20 trillion every year through corruption. The current leadership of opposition has so far demonstrated the willingness to walk the talk against corruption by investigating and raising issues that would have been neglected and stimulate debate within the public domain. For example, the Finance Minister, Hon. Matia Kasaija while being grilled by Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities, and State Enterprises (COSASE) admitted that the UGX 10.5 billion that was released to compensate land claimants was done in error.
Another scandalous deal that was exposed to the public was the Lubowa hospital project. It must be recalled that in 2019, the 10th Parliament approved a loan guarantee of Shs1.4 trillion to Finasi/Roko, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for the construction of the hospital. Hitherto the hospital construction progress is wanting and Members of Parliament have questioned why the hospital is not complete yet funds have been injected. Some are of the view of halting the construction since its wasting tax payer’s money.
Push for the respect of human rights.
Uganda’s Human rights track record of recent paints a bad picture of the country and several rallying calls have been made by human right activists from within and outside the country for improvement. For instance, during the general elections of 2021, Ugandans witnessed inhumane incidences where the security forces used repressive tactics to violate the fundamental freedoms and human rights of citizens with dissenting views against the regime. These tactics include but not limited to; harassment, threats, arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, and torture of human rights activists and political opponents.
The Leader of Opposition upon being appointed promised Ugandans to always be calling on the government in power when rights and freedoms of Uganda will be violated. On August 4, 2021, the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Mathias Mpuuga presented a detailed response to President Yoweri Museveni’s State of the Nation Address, faulting him for ignoring human rights violations, especially against opposition supporters, and journalists by security forces. On November 24, 2021, the Leader of the Opposition also presented a statement to Parliament on the shrinking civic space in which he condemned government for curtailing the civil liberties of NGOs, the media and political actors.
Despite the efforts by the Opposition pushing for the ruling government to respect human rights, this is not being given the attention it deserves and detention and arrests of individuals with dissenting voices against the regime are still being witnessed.
Alternative fiscal budget policy
The Leader of the Opposition together with his Shadow Cabinet offered alternative fiscal budget policy to government. For instance, on May 3, 2022, Hon. Mathias Mpuuga presented a detailed statement in response to revise budget estimates for the 2022/22023 national budget. He argued that the proposed UGX 47.2 trillion national budget is unrealistic and not properly allocated since UGX 33.5 trillion will be spent on recurrent expenditures and only UGX 13.7 trillion on development expenditure.
He also raised a concern that unspent funds for previous financial years are never reflected in the budget for the new financial year as balance is carried forward. The Leader of the Opposition called for a special audit on how unspent balances are utilized in the course of the new financial year. He also called for government to stop the practice of renting offices yet government has huge chunks of land where offices for government entities can be constructed. In the last five years government has spent UGX 677.9 billion on rent for government entities.
It’s important for us to note that section 6E of the Administration of Parliament (Amendment) Act empowers the Leader of Opposition with support of the Shadow Cabinet to keep the ruling government in check and offer credible alternatives to its policies. SecretsKnown would like to applaud the members of opposition for what they have demonstrated so far and encourages them not to relent in keeping the government in check and continue offering alternative policies.