Parliament is spending over Shs 2 billion to facilitate the speaker, deputy speaker and a delegation of legislators attending the 28th Uganda North America Convention (UNAA) scheduled for September 2-4 in the United States.
UNAA is the largest community organisation for the Ugandan diaspora, often used as a platform to stimulate fellowship among members in North America, Europe and Uganda. The community, founded in 1988, boasts of over 120,000 members.
According to the UNAA website, the event this year runs from September 2-4 at the Boston Park Plaza hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. It will feature networking, business and education forums and political governance debates. Over 50 traders will also exhibit items portraying Ugandan culture, produce, art crafts, cuisine and textiles.
The Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah will both attend the convention alongside a team of 78 MPs, accompanied by several parliamentary support staff.
Another team headed by the Leader of Opposition (LoP) Winnie Kiiza is attending a parallel convention to be held in Los Angeles, California. Oulanyah left for the convention yesterday, August 30 while Kadaga set off today, August 31 together with the other MPs. They will return on September 6.
Each air ticket for each MP was quoted at $5,700 - approximately Shs 19 million. All legislators are flying business class by Emirates Airlines. The total cost on tickets is $456,000 (over Shs 1.5 billion).
The speakers are each entitled to per diem of $720 or Shs 2,401,950 per day while the MPs are entitled to $520 (Shs 1,734,740) per day. The total per diem cost for both speakers is $1,440 (Shs 4,803,900) per day totaling to $ 8,640 ( over 28 million) for the six days of the trip.
At least $41,600 (over 138 million) will be spent on MPs allowances per day amounting to $249,600 (over Shs 832 million) for the six days.
Some of the MPs on the Uganda delegation are Kato Lubwama, Mohammed Nsereko, Zaake Francis, Lyandro Komakech, Peter Ogwang, Felix Okot Ogong, Cissy Namujju, Johnson Muyanja Senyonga, Tusiime Michael, Alex Ruhunda and Godfrey Katushabe.
But Chris Obore, parliaments' director of communications insists that parliament is facilitating only seven legislators while all the others are meeting the cost of their travel and accommodation while in the United States. However documents seen by URN indicate that Parliament is footing all the bills.
Obore says that three other legislators; Peter Ogwang, Arinaitwe Rwakajara and Robinah Nabbanja, traveled in a separate capacity as parliamentary commissioners and are facilitated by the parliamentary commission.
Government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa is traveling to the same event as part of government delegation while the Clerk to Parliament Jane Kibirige is leading a team of six technical staff mainly from the PR department to run a stall at the convention and one legal person, to explain legal issues in parliament.
The technical staffs include Chris Obore, Hellen Kaweesa, Mohammed Katamba, Charles Bukuwa, Agnes Nabasumba and Guma Jackie.
The absence of both the speaker and deputy Speaker in parliament led to the suspension of sittings on Tuesday when legislators were expected to start debating a motion on a disputed private members' Bill seeking to amend sections of the 1995 Constitution.
The motion was tabled last week on Thursday by Nakifuma County MP Robert Kafeero Ssekitooleko. An email sent to all MPs, authored by the office of the Clerk to Parliament indicated that sittings were called off until further notice.
'Please be informed that there will be no plenary sessions today. Any inconveniences caused are highly regretted", a message sent to MPs read.
Ranny Ismail, parliament's assistant director for media and communications however told URN that the sitting was postponed because the speaker, who had been away in Mauritius needed to get a brief from her deputy who chaired previous sessions.
Another notice issued this afternoon indicates that there will be no sessions in parliament until September 9. The notice issued by the deputy clerk to parliament Paul Wabwire states that the suspension of sessions is based on a request by the prime minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, to allow cabinet time to accomplish certain activities.
Wabwire says, in the statement, that while the speaker accepted the request by government, she has accordingly directed that committees proceed with their planned activities.
Government is organising an induction for members of cabinet, to be held on September 1-2, and a retreat with all Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, and heads of government agencies on government annual performance report for FY 2015/16.