Confusion and suspicion were mounting in parliament last week after MPs failed to receive their emoluments for July and August.
By press time, it was not yet clear why the MPs had not been duly paid, with parliament and the finance minister each denying responsibility. Keith Muhakanizi, the Finance ministry permanent secretary and secretary to the Treasury, told us last week that he released money for MPs in July; but in separate interviews the parliamentary, administration contradicted that assertion.
“Money is released on a quarterly basis, I gave them the money for this quarter at 100 percent, there is nothing they are asking from me,” Muhakanizi said by telephone on Friday.
The MPs, The Observer has learnt, were last paid full salary and allowances in June, and since then, the Parliamentary Commission, the administrative body of Parliament, has been dodgy on the issue of salaries. Several MPs who spoke to The Observer last week said they had tried and failed to get answers for their missed pay.
“A smaller part of it, which is salaries has been paid but the emoluments have been withheld,” an MP who declined to be named said on August 28.
Each MP earns a monthly salary of Shs 2.6m but the entire monthly package, including allowances tops Shs 20m (for each MP).
“I think it’s abnormal because under normal circumstances, we would have been paid [at the beginning of the month], but September is setting in without the arrears being cleared,” said Kalungu Woman MP, Florence Kintu.
What made MPs more suspicious was that the parliamentary staff had been duly paid.
“It could be a tactic by President Museveni to get the MPs on their knees given the disagreements he has had with his NRM MPs over the new districts, but at the same time this being an electioneering time, he could be thinking that by withholding our payments, MPs will go to him to beg for some handouts,” said an opposition MP.
By last week, parliament’s accounts department had failed to satisfactorily explain the delayed pay. The accountants claimed the ministry of Finance was yet to release the salaries, a claim Muhakanizi rejected.
Wakiso Woman MP Rosemary Sseninde, a Parliamentary Commissioner, said: “We are waiting for Finance to release the money, they haven’t made the releases to Parliament.”
Prodded further, Sseninde referred this writer to clerk to parliament Jane Kibirige, who is the accounting officer. With Muhakanizi sticking to his guns, the MPs could wait until October for the second quarter releases from Finance.
But Parliament public relations manager Helen Kawesa said the MPs salaries were delayed by a technical hitch she declined to explain.
“They [payments] are being worked on; the [MPs] will be paid as soon as possible,” Kawesa said.
Many MPs, however, believe their pay cheques are held owing to an ongoing quarrel between Parliament and the Finance ministry following the discovery that some MPs were being cheated on their fuel allowances.
Late last month, Parliament paid out close to Shs 40bn to legislators in accumulated fuel allowances to avoid litigation by three MPs who discovered that they were losing about Shs 700 per kilometer in fuel allowances.
The mileage (fuel) allowances are calculated on kilometers each MP travels from Parliament to the farthest point in their respective constituencies. For every three-kilometres, an MP is entitled to one litre of fuel, which was calculated at Shs 2,500. But some MPs were being paid at Shs 1,800. The discovery sparked an angry response from MPs.
“There are elements within Parliament who were working with others in the treasury to cheat us, and when it was discovered, the Parliamentary Commission agreed with the litigants on a payment schedule,” one MP said.
The least-paid MP, Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central), had lost at least Shs 190m, while others had lost as much as Shs 300m over the past four years. The Parliamentary Commission agreed to pay the accumulated fuel arrears within three financial years, beginning this financial year.