Sunday 19 June 2011

A Picket at Parliament - When it comes to money there is no opposition

By Charles A. O. Makmot
On Monday May 31, 2011, I delivered a letter of notification to the Police Headquarters on Parliament Avenue for a picket that we, as Concerned Citizens, intended to hold at Parliament on Thursday June 2, 2011. The letter was duly received by the Inspector General of Police’s office. I later received a call from the Director/Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Operations and he expressed his interest in meeting me and getting to know who these “Concerned Citizens” were.
After taking into advisement, it was agreed that I attend this meeting alone. It was a cordial and professionally handled meeting, a stark contrast from the “meetings” that several Ugandans have had with the Police on the streets of Kampala City and several towns in the countryside. The most heartbreaking of these stories is the one of Julian Nalwanga, a two-and-a-half year old beautiful little girl that met her untimely death at the hands of this very same now “professional” police force that I was sharing smiles and cordial discussions with.
In the end, they informed me that the Speaker of Parliament’s “blessing” was required for us to hold such an event within the precincts of Parliament. If that “blessing” was forthcoming, then his office would be more than willing to police the event. I left his office a little irked because this was information that I could have been told over the phone. Of course, their intent to know who these “Concerned Citizens” who dare to notify them rather than seek permission was not lost on me. It made me realize that when you request for permission, they actually realize that you are ignorant of your rights and give you a big, “NO!” However, when you indicate that you are only notifying them, then the entire ball game changes. It becomes a game of ping-pong (in this case with Her Majesty the Speaker’s Chambers) with you as the ball.
With the full knowledge that I was the unfortunate ball in their sarcastic game, I also wrote to the Speaker of Parliament and delivered the letter the next day, Wednesday June 1, 2011. It was received by the Speaker’s Chambers and I was promised a response when the Speaker could pull herself away from the Appointments’ Committee proceedings where the vetting of “His Excellency” Tibuhaburwa’s  “appointees was taking place all day. I specifically informed them that time was of the essence since our Picket was to take place the next day.
Having not received any objection, my team and I descended on Parliament at the appointed time. While I waited outside one of the gates for some of them to arrive, I received a call from the Speaker’s Chambers that my response was ready. I promptly entered Parliament and made my way to the Speaker’s Chambers. I sat in the waiting room and tried to digest the gist of her words to me.
It is difficult to describe the feeling that I felt when I read the words in the Speaker’s letter! She not only informed me that Parliament was on recess, but that all the information reported in the Press was untrue. That MPs were not, repeat NOT, seeking:
  1. Softer loans and tax free luxury vehicles for themselves;
  2. Advance payments of up to UGX 50 million each to cushion themselves from high interest rates that the rest of us pay to get a bank loan and;
  3. An increase in their pay checks to buffer themselves from double digit inflation.
That, and I quote, “The closed meeting was a mentoring session to the Members of the 9th Parliament on financial discipline, conning tricks by members of the public, unplanned and multiple indebtedness, conning tricks via the internet, e.t.c.” She goes on to write, and I quote, “A number of Members in the 7th and 8th Parliament were conned of money via the internet whereby messages were sent to Members informing them that a dead person had left a fortune of USD 40,000,000 (forty million dollars) and that if they supplied their bank accounts, they could receive part of that money. Several lost money through that channel.”

It really got me thinking: What kind of caliber of Members of Parliament do we have in our country? Is it possible that such basic orientation for students joining a Secondary School or University is what the taxpayers’ money is being wasted on? It sickened me when I thought that several of our MPs were as na├»ve enough as to get duped by internet con-artists! Nevertheless, I exited the Speaker’s Chambers but not before noting to the Speaker’s Secretary that the letter didn’t mention my Picket at all!

I returned to the agreed meeting place and found that my other colleagues had arrived. Our banner, a blown-up version, of the petition was safely tucked away in a handbag of one of the ladies (Thank God that large handbags are now fashionable). We were only 8 people there but we would have to do. After a short briefing, we decided to enter Parliament one by one. Given our experience the Monday before when we were nearly arrested outside Parliament for delivering copies of the petition to our MPs, we didn’t want to create attention from the Police by going in a crowd.

Once inside, we sought guidance from Hon. Beatrice Anywar who advised us, in light of the Speaker’s noncommittal response, to hand over the petition to the Opposition Chief Whip, who was in office. We managed to get the press into Ms. Winnie Kiiza’s office and she graciously received our petition, even though we had not given her prior notice.

It is critical to note that several MPs shunned us when they saw the contents of our petition. Most notable among these was Hon. Fungaroo Kaps Hassan, MP for Obongi Constituency. He was quick to say, “I’m not party to that” and walked away. It was after seeing this that one of my colleagues remarked, When it comes to money, there is no opposition.”

It is our intent to hold our Picket at Parliament in the near future because the issues we are raising are extremely fundamental and need to be addressed. Uganda has the largest Parliament per capita in the entire world, the Second largest cabinet in Afrika and the third largest in the world. This is unsustainable for a poor country and needs to be addressed as a matter of national importance.

For God and My Country,

Activist For Change

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