Benchmarking trip of eight MPs to Europe and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week has drawn new attention to the organizer and financier, Muhammad Nsereko, the Kampala Central MP and former candidate for deputy speaker of parliament.
This particular trip was not funded by Parliament, but by Nsereko. On the trip, Nsereko went with seven MPs, David Kalwanga (Busujju), Paul Kato Lubwama (Lubaga South) and Johnson Muyanja Ssenyonga (Mukono South).
Others were Butebi Zaake (Mityana Municipality) Paul Ssemakula Luttamaguzi (Nakaseke), Cissy Diniozia Namujju (Lwengo Woman) and a man only identified as Charles.
The MPs’ first stop was Germany where they visited one of Europe’s oldest Catholic churches; the Dome cathedral, airports in Frankfurt and Duisburg as well as railway stations and markets.
“We also had a look at their education system, driving style and restaurants. You can’t be an MP when you don’t know what is happening elsewhere,” one MP who went on the trip told The Observer on Tuesday.
From Germany, they moved on to Italy where they visited the presidential palace and some historical sites before continuing to the Vatican and toured St Peter’s Basilica.
After the European leg of their seven-day trip, the MPs moved to Dubai, UAE. Here, they visited the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifah, JW Marriot hotel and Dubai business centre.
The Observer understands that Nsereko quietly mobilized the MPs for the trip and only alerted others about it when he posted their photos on Facebook as they checked-in at Entebbe airport.
Some MPs thought Parliament had facilitated the trip while others thought the ministry of finance picked the bill because, one of the senior opposition MPs met the ministry officials at the airport.
Most MPs who travelled declined to say much when interviewed on Tuesday. One of them claimed they had contributed about Shs 8m each while Nsereko said the group met all the costs.
Other sources pointed to Gen Salim Saleh who is said to be close to the Kampala Central MP. This narrative was confirmed by a source close to the president’s younger brother.
“There is nothing wrong with it; our views on development are not limited to Kampala, such trips will help them [the MPs] to change their mindset and resolve on development,” the source said.
The source also said that under the arrangement, about seven MPs had been given cars and some financial handouts.
“But it is not Gen Saleh who is making the payments because his main interest is in reconciliation, and after meeting [the politicians] and agreeing on the terms [of engagement], State House comes in to pay,” the source said.
Rumours of some MPs getting cars first circulated early in June when some of the new opposition MPs started driving Toyota V8 Land Cruisers.
“At the time it was easier for the old MPs to get a loan from any bank and very difficult for a new MP because we hadn’t got the first salary; so, where would [they] get money to buy such cars?” an MP wondered.
The Observer understands that the offers are not limited to MPs but to also KCCA councilors. In the past few weeks, the FDC leadership has been battling with its KCCA councilors, dissuading them from taking up a benchmarking trip to Dubai. While the FDC leaders are content that they convinced their councilors not to go to Dubai, The Observer has been told that the trip is still on.
“The Dubai trip is still on plan; it is only that the money has not been availed, and they [councilors] will also get cars,” a source said.
Nsereko is nearly worshipped by some MPs, majorly the newcomers who have recently bestowed on him the title of “supreme leader.” The title was coined after he lost the deputy speaker race to Jacob Oulanyah.
Nsereko has since kept in touch with majority of the 115 MPs who voted for him during the speakership elections. What is surprising is that though he pushed President Museveni to the extreme during the elections; the NRM appointed Nsereko to head the Equal Opportunities committee of Parliament.
Meanwhile, the other eight NRM candidates who bowed out of the race at the urging of the president in favour of Oulanyah with promises of some reward have been forgotten.
“Nsereko silently works for NRM and openly opposes it to confuse the opposition. That is what he did during the general elections in Kampala; appearing to be working with us yet he was in charge of delivering education institutions to Museveni,” an opposition MP said.
His group has membership from across the political divide and much as he appears youngest amongst them, they accord him a sort of a cult leader respect. For instance, during the botched Buganda caucus meeting early this month, Luttamaguzi had stood up to speak and when he saw Nsereko standing up, he [Luttamaguzi] resumed his seat saying that he could not speak when “the supreme leader also wanted to speak.”
Luttamaguzi, according to MPs loyal to Nsereko, is their group’s spokesman. Interviewed, Nsereko denied forming any group but said he is humbled that some MPs want to identify with him.
“It is maybe cohesion and wishing others well; we have friendly working relations with my colleagues, just that,” Nsereko said.
Asked about the trip, Nsereko said he went for a joint holiday with the MPs and visited agricultural markets and cottage industries.
“It was to benchmark on how we can help our constituencies and make them better, and also see what Uganda can export to the outside world,” Nsereko said.
He said he would use his position as chairman of the Equal Opportunities committee to organise more such trips for other MPs.