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Ugandan MPs bumper payout raises eyebrows

By Reuters | July 28th 2015

Ugandan members of parliament have been awarded a one-off payment of four times their monthly pay to supplement their travel expenses, a move critics say is aimed at shoring up support before 2016 elections.

Parliament’s deputy spokesman, Moses Bwalatum, told Reuters yesterday that MPs were given the cash last week to help cover travel costs as fuel prices rise.

Opposition MPs will receive the payout as well as members of President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement, who hold nearly two thirds of the assembly’s 385 seats.

Critics say Museveni faces the biggest challenge of his three decades in power in the presidential and parliamentary elections, due in February or March, as former prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, plans to stand.

Power struggle

The government denies any link between the payment and the elections. Oil prices have tumbled in dollar terms in the past year but Uganda’s shilling has also weakened, partly on fears that the government is overspending before the vote, lifting fuel prices. “Elections are around the corner and President Museveni needs support,” Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda’s executive director, Cissy Kagaba, said. “It’s obvious it’s a political payment.”

Lawmakers already receive about 25 million shillings (Sh755,930) a month as salary and for fuel and other allowances.

Museveni has begun the official process to secure his party’s nomination to run again and is expected to win that.

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But Mbabazi, who was sacked as premier last year in what was seen as a power struggle, has said he is also seeking to run as the ruling party’s candidate.

He was briefly detained this month and police said he was illegally starting a campaign. Supporters said the detention was aimed at derailing his bid.

Critics have accused the ruling party of using its dominance to use public resources to ensure it holds on to power, saying government officials are often used to do party work. The government denies any such activities.

“I don’t think it’s fair to deny MPs what’s due to them simply because it will be misunderstood by some as a political bribe,” deputy government spokesman, Shaban Bantariza, said.

Critics have also accused security forces of harassing Museveni’s opponents after police arrested popular opposition leader Kizza Besigye and Mbabazi shortly before they launched their own campaigns to promote their candidacy.

Police accused them of not complying with electoral and public order management laws.

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