Ssenyonyi challenges Speaker Among on hefty per diem expenditure exposed on social media

Ssenyonyi challenges Speaker Among on hefty per diem expenditure exposed on social media

The Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP), Joel Ssenyonyi, has tasked Speaker Anita Among to respond to all the corruption allegations raised against Parliament if the institution is to live true to its vision of being people-centred as she has always claimed.

Chris Obore, Director, Communications and Public Affairs, Parliament of Uganda immediately rubished this call by the Opposition saying the Parliament does not account through the press.

Following weeks of social media allegations based on the ongoing “Uganda Parliament Exhibition”, the House has been thrown into public scrutiny over the way the top leadership, especially the Speaker’s Office and that of the Clerk to Parliament, spends money. The Parliamentary Commission has allocated almost a billion shillings in the 2024/25 financial year budget, and there is a public outcry that, if not checked, would abuse taxpayers’ money.

The Shadow Cabinet sitting on Monday resolved that the LOP write to the Speaker to come out in a week’s time to explain to the public the alleged corruption, nepotism, and abuse of office.

Parliament of Uganda, this institution gets to unequivocally explain to the people of Uganda all these various allegations of staff recruitments that are irregular, monies that are spent in manners that aren’t understandable, that as an institution, we get to see a proper explanation to the public. We are accountable to the people of Uganda, and no one should say it isn’t the business of the public; this is their money, so how do you say it isn’t their business? If we are to be a people-centred Parliament, we must account, Ssenyonyi explained.

Responding to this, Obore, the Parliament’s mouthpiece said what the Opposition are demanding in regard to recalling the House from recess is a case of playing politics.

As regards recalling of Parliament, which I have heard when Parliament is adjourned Sine Die, it means the House can resume when the presiding officer deems so. I am sure the Speaker will at the appropriate time, convene the House. Again, the ultimatum becomes political, and if it is politics, politics has a way of sorting itself. I cannot speak for politics, I speak for the institution that the Speaker has the powers given to her per the Rules of Procedure. So, when the House will be reconvened will be determined depending on the nature of the business available, said Obore.

The LOP also responded to criticism over his silence after some people accused the Opposition of being in cohorts with top leadership in Parliament, aiding in covering the corruption and abuse of office in Parliament.

Ssenyonyi told Journalists at Parliament on Monday that his silence was deliberate to allow him to gather all the information and respond to it, hence thanking the public for coming out to demand for accountability from Parliament.

We have been watching, and we have been deliberate about our silence so that we see all that unfolds and be able to capture everything that Ugandans are saying. Then, we get to speak out after we have captured all these things. The allegations range from things like travel per diem; we have been seeing figures fly around as the Speaker flies, and the per diem isn’t explainable. The Speaker’s per diem is $990, but the figures out there show the per diem is beyond $4000, it doesn’t make sense, he added.

Ssenyonyi also said that the Shadow Cabinet agreed to write to Speaker Among, to immediately convene a meeting with the Parliamentary Commission to address the allegations raised in public and this was after the Leader of Opposition, admitted that he has never been invited to any Commission meeting ever since he took over office as Leader of Opposition.

As a Shadow Cabinet, we agreed that I write to the Speaker asking her to convene a Commission meeting because there hasn’t been any Commission meeting, not one that I am aware of, at least since I got to office, so it is important that the Commission gets to sit, we get answers to all these various expenditures, plenty of money which can’t be explained legally or morally. And that Commission meeting gets to happen urgently within this week because the Commission okays all these expenditures, said Ssenyonyi.

The Opposition highlighted several allegations that Parliament needs to respond to including the billions of shillings that have been put on accounts of some staff of Parliament as payment for community outreach and donations by the Speaker.

Ssenyonyi said that there is need for Parliament to explain this practice saying that after a multi-billion corruption scandal that bit the office of the Prime Minister, the Government issued new guidelines barring any public institution from transferring more than Shs5M to accounts of civil servants.

We are seeing plenty of money. Being put on accounts of different members of the Speaker’s staff. It is important that there is an explanation about this money. What exactly did it do? How come it is being transmitted through accounts of staff members? noted Ssenyonyi.

According to the LOP, there is a need for the Parliamentary Commission to explain the criteria used to award members of the Commission service awards saying his predecessor, Mathias Mpuuga was asked about this matter at the National Unity Platform (NUP) senior leaders’ meeting , he attributed his award to his negotiation skills.

When we were asking our colleague Mpuuga and we asked how exactly this happen, what happens to whoever becomes LoP after you?, and the response was every LOP gets to negotiate their own benefit, that is problematic. Assuming a new LoP and behaving well, does it mean I can ask for Shs2Bn? It isn’t right, said Ssenyonyi.

Obore said that the Speaker will not issue a statement on the expenditures in Parliament based on the ultimatum issued by Ssenyonyi, adding that even the exhibitors on X are not providing evidence to back up their allegations.

On the issue of money, in fact, I think the exhibitors are becoming uncomfortable that the Speaker is not speaking, but the Speaker does not have to talk about every rumour. She is a Speaker, for heaven’s sake. If a Speaker picks any rumour and begins to talk, that is not the role of the number three ( order of precedence). In any case, when you have a German Shepherd at home, it is the German Shepherd that barks. If you also back when your dog is barking, you will confuse the public. So, the Speaker gave me power to speak on her behalf; the Clerk to Parliament also gave me powers to speak on his behalf, added Obore.

The other matter that the Opposition wants the top leadership of Parliament to respond to is the rot unearthed in the recruitment of staff to the Parliament of Uganda. Ssenyonyi wondered why his request to have the staff that was working under Mpuuga be given new contracts was rejected under the pretext that Parliament had no money, only for reports to emerge that new recruitments were taking place.

As the Office of the Leader of Opposition, we have lost staff whose contracts run out at the end of January 2024, I did engage the leadership that these people have been working here for two and half years, doing good work. Normally, the process has been that the new leader gets a new team, but I said, I have no problem with those working there, let us renew their contracts, the Speaker of Parliament, together with the Clerk, told me, there is no money. That the wage bill ceiling had been hit so contracts can’t be renewed, but as that was happening, at the Office of the Leader of Opposition, then you hear there is recruitment that is happening. There is a need for proper explanation to all these different issues, charged Ssenyonyi.

The Opposition is also seeking an explanation of the circumstances under which Parliament awarded a UGX 3.12 billion contract to Mama Bukedea FM, a radio station owned by the Speaker, and why it was a staff of Parliament attached to her office that signed off that contract.

They rely on information that Parliament’s procurement system might have been skipped, which would totally disregard the procurement regulations.

Concerning this alleged contract awarded to the Speaker’s radio station and other procurements, Obore told journalists that there are over 100 prequalified media houses to provide services to the Parliament of Uganda.

I have a list of over 100 prequalified media houses, but we only contract them when there is a need, and we pay them for the work in their contract. Why did they pick the framework contract of Mama Bukedea FM? Again, it speaks to the aim of smearing the image of the Speaker. Public [should] take it from me, no UGX 3.1b was paid to the Radio station of the Speaker, it is not true, he added.

Obore also played down the allegations of nepotism in recruitment within Parliament, saying that the Commission by law has powers to recruit and every recruitment goes through the proven Human Resource manual.

He said that the Human Resource Department of Parliament has recently concluded the recruitment of former NTV Reporter Ali Mivule to work as the Press Secretary for LOP Ssenyonyi.

In fact he began work on the 1st of March 2024. Is that an illegality? If it is an illegality, why did LOP allow it? So, all these recruitments cannot be illegal because it is the Parliamentary Commission, a body given power by law to recruit staff. It can’t be illegal, he said.

Source: Parliament Watch

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