This week, the world came together to celebrate a very important day, International Women’s Day. The day is remarkable because we all are because of women. So, the day is marked to recognise the outstanding contribution of women on this planet, right from global women leaders like Christine Largade of European Central Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of World Trade Organisation, Winnie Byanyima of UNAIDS, to the ordinary mother on a market stall, who the Swahili call mama mboga.
However, one thing remains pathetic and an ugly scene in our country, and it greatly undignifies our mothers- the absence of ambulances at lower levels, to lift our mothers to health facilities especially during labour.
The absence of Government on this front has left a vacuum that has been shamelessly exploited by opportunistic politicians, the very ones charged with appropriating resources for this particular crisis, but have kept a closed eye, and instead opted to chip in with their knee jerk solutions. It is quite a common scene, to see a matatu, converted into a makeshift ambulance, branded with posters of a politician; their name and constituency.
These very politicians have powers over the budget of the country. If they want to allocate resources for an ambulance at every constituency, with a stroke of a pen, it can be achieved in one financial year. But in their demagoguery politics, they prefer to use part of their hefty allowances, to procure matatus and convert them into makeshift ambulances without the requisite facilities.
Whenever I see these makeshift structures, I wonder what the politicians think. How does one feel branding a matatu with their poster smiling, while inside this death trap, there is a mother dying in labour because the makeshift ambulance has no facilities or a trained nurse?
Another ugly reality is that these makeshift matatus cum ambulances perennially lack fuel. In this case, the patient will never be carried aboard unless they have money to fuel the matatu. Some constituencies don’t have a well-equipped health facility; say level IV, within a radius of 30 kilometres. Where does mama mboga find this money whenever they have a problem?
So, let’s confront the elephant in the room, which the President calls elite budgeting. The current rules and privileges allow the Honourable Members of Parliament to determine their emoluments, which they have done exhaustively since 2005. Before we entered multiparty politics, parliament was less coveted and attracted professors, professionals etc, who wanted to serve, and not to earn.
However, since 2005, the emoluments have been incremental, and this has become a money heist. People sell huge chunks of land, buildings, others get loans etc, to buy their way into Parliament and make some cash.
For the last three terms, Members of Parliament have been receiving hundreds of millions to procure themselves vehicles. One even wonders, where in the world, does a Government institution abdicate its role to individuals? What does the Procurement and Disposal Unit (PDU) of Parliament do? In the 10th Parliament, each MP allegedly received UGX 200 million.
I am lucky to work at Parliamentary Avenue, I see MPs enter and exit Parliament and their offices every day, very few of them spend this much on cars, most buy Toyota Harries, Toyota Krugers and some are embarrassingly driving Toyota Premios of UGX 20 million. There are rumours that the 11th Parliament will receive UGX 300 million for vehicles for every member.
Let us halve this money and serve the taxpayer; UGX 150 million goes to MPs and UGX 150 million procures an ambulance for every constituency. One even wonders why the Auditor General never queries this money. It isn’t a statutory allocation but spent at the discretion of the leadership of Parliament.
The writer is a Ugandan with an interest in East African Integration