Two MPs’ response to the minister of education’s failure to appear at a budgeting committee meeting was a bold call on her to resign.
Janet Museveni skipped an appearance before the parliamentary committee on education but delegated the minister of state for Higher Education John Chrysostom Muyingo to defend the ministry’s budget estimates, which are under scrutiny by MPs.
Currently parliament is handling budgets of government departments or agencies and ministers and technocrats are in for some tough questioning as they defend their budgets.
Parliamentary committees always demand that senior ministers together with their permanent secretaries and departmental heads lead the teams to parliament.
However, Ms Museveni did not appear and MPs Joseph Gonzaga Ssewungu (Kalungu West) and Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West) led the charge against her.
The two MPs suggested that the ministry’s budget be shelved. A big delegation of about 60 officials from the ministry appeared before the committee on January 27 but the meeting took some time to start. Minister Muyingo, who led the officials, spent some time receiving and making frantic calls.
When the meeting finally kicked off at about 11:30am, Ssewungu demanded to know what time Janet would arrive. He suggested that the committee handles other departmental budgets and shelve the education ministry’s budget until the minister turned up.
“We can’t see three ministers here; for sports [Charles Bakkabulindi], primary education [Rosemary Sseninde], and the full minister [Ms Museveni]. Now Mr Chairman, will he [Muyingo] really tell us that the team is fully constituted?” Ssewungu said.
Committee vice chairperson Jacob Opolot said it was important the MPs listen to Muyingo before asking questions. Muyingo told the MPs that he was standing in for Janet and his other two colleagues because they were attending to equally-important national duties.
“We had to agree who goes where, who disappoints who. That is why I am standing in for all my colleagues. Accept our apologies and be assured I will ably represent all my other colleagues,” Muyingo told the committee.
But Ssewungu and Ssewanyana protested and walked out of the committee. They said it was wrong to scrutinize the budget without the senior minister’s input.They said Janet’s ministry was dogged with many challenges such as the poor performance in Universal Primary Education schools, collapsing classroom blocks and inadequate supervision, among others.
“If you can’t allow us to have the senior minister before scrutinizing the ministry’s budget, I am leaving. They [ministers] lobby for jobs they cannot do, we have summoned her to over 30 meetings as the education committee, she never appears and we are here to pass her budget; what is this?”Ssewungu said.
“She has over 40 vehicles and a lot of bodyguards consuming the ministry resources but she cannot even come to know what is in the budget. Education is continuously going down because of poor remuneration of teachers. A lot of money is spent on her security using the ministry resources yet she can’t perform her roles as minister, Mr. Chairman, we cannot allow this,” Ssewungu further protested as he left the parliament conference hall.
Ssewanyana, who joined Ssewungu in the walkout, argued that it was time for Janet to resign her ministerial job because she has shown she can’t shoulder the heavy schedule of the two offices of first lady and minister.
“Since she was appointed minister for education, she has never appeared before this committee. Let her resign since she can’t be in two offices as first lady and minister. When the committee summons her, she has to come herself. Even if she is first lady, she accepted another office. Let her come to the committee,” Ssewanyana said.
MPs have previously complained about Janet not being available whenever needed. In December last year, Kibuku MP Herbert Kinobere asked Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda during “question time” to prevail on her to always be available to answer MPs’ queries on education issues in their constituencies and districts.
“I have tried several times in vain to reach the first lady. I have gone to her ministry and gone through all procedures, including writing, but not succeeded. We have so many education issues and we need her intervention but it is very difficult to reach her; so, right honorable prime minister, I am appealing to you to help us let her know that we need assistance,” Kinobere said.
Rugunda, in response, said all ministers are always available and ministries are public offices open to every Ugandan. He said he didn’t know of any minister who is not approachable.
Despite the two MPs’ departure, the committee proceeded to look at the ministry’ budget of Shs 308.2bn.