The newly elected Members of Parliament for the ruling NRM party have rejected the move by government to scrap foreign trips for its officials and MPs as a means of saving money spent on the same.
On Wednesday, as the retreat came to an end, the Ngora County MP-elect, Juliet Achayo Lodou read resolutions made at Kyankwanzi but the newly elected legislators protested when she mentioned scrapping of foreign trips.
“To fully support frugality and the review of expensive foreign travel by government officials and MPs as a means of cutting down government expenditure to save the much-needed funds that can be diverted to other development areas,”Lodou said.
However, before she could finish up with other resolutions, her fellow legislators went into murmurs prompting the party Secretary General, Justine Kasule Lumumba to intervene .
“Since March 2020 when the president closed schools and airports, the money that was meant for trips was used by the different sectors in government to strengthen areas that were falling under the underfunded priorities. I would request that with our permission we solve the issue of foreign trips,” Lumumba said as she tried to woo the new MPs into accepting the idea.
“We need to have a five-minute discussion so we can agree on it.”
However, the newly elected MPs stuck their ground and rejected the move to pass a resolution in that direction.
However, it took the intervention of President Museveni, who is also the party’s national chairman to calm down the new NRM MPs who were not determined to give up the fight.
“We shall have time to disagree but today is time for eating and relaxing. Of course, parliament is not the one that runs Uganda and we can put it to a referendum to put it away once and for all,” Museveni said.
The president however intimated to the new MPs that there will not be jokes about the matter but said it would be discussed by the party caucus at a later time.
“You can remove it(resolution) now not to disturb our digestion. We can discuss it in the caucus and if not, we can put it to a referendum,” he guided.
In June last year, the Ministry of Finance Permanent Secretary Keith Muhakanizi in a circular said foreign travel had been halted for this financial year while internal travels have been cut by 50 percent.
“COVID-19 has shown us that we can operate normally without traveling abroad. Travels abroad should be a reserve of highly inevitable circumstances of public interest,” the circular read in part.
The circular also insisted that travels internally should be minimized and operations by government institutions up-country be handled by their representatives locally situated in areas of interest.
“Upcountry projects that necessitate travels of headquarter staff should be managed by respective local government officials in districts of project operation to cut the unnecessary costs involved in moving to headquarter staff.”.
The government also furthermore projected to reduce expenses on fuel, cutting the budget by 50% due to the reduction of inland travel.
A report released in 2017, indicated that President Museveni and State House are the biggest spenders on foreign travels, followed closely by Parliament.
While Museveni’s travels abroad are sometimes called for, Parliament insists their members must benchmark with other members of parliament around the world.
State House spends over Shs56 billion on travel on average, while parliament spends over Shs21billion on average.
This is according to an ISO report released in the financial year 2016/17.
The same report indicated that the army spent Shs33billion on fueling cars and equipment.
Members of Parliament have been spending over Shs21billion on traveling abroad for several
reasons including a huge chunk of money to support their travel and stay in the USA to attend the UNAA Convention, a Uganda diaspora event for three days.
In 2016 alone, parliament bought tickets and paid per diem to 76 legislators who went to attend the UNAA convention in Boston, USA.
This number included two speakers, Kadaga and Oulanya who were earning at least Shs2 million per day in per diem.
The other foreign travel expenses for government include the Ministry of Health that has been taking away around Shs 20 billion and the Ministry of Education Shs16 billion.
Ministries; Water, Finance, Agriculture, OPM, and Judiciary are also some of the big spenders, taking Shs13b, Shs11b, Shs11b, and Shs10billion respectively.
Among other institutions, the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) which has been spending shs14 billion on travel abroad will now not have any travels.
According to the same report, the government in 2016 alone spent shs12billion on officials from the National Agricultural Research Organization to travel abroad.
Other agencies that have been spending highly on travel include the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) and Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) spending Shs16billion between them.
In 2018, President Museveni issued a directive to the Prime Minister, Dr.Ruhakana Rugunda putting in place tough travel restrictions against government officials intending to travel abroad.