Reuters International

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) - A plan by the Ugandan parliament to spend 50 million shillings each on the funerals of lawmakers has angered critics, who say it exposes the waste of taxpayer money and the legislature's sense of entitlement in a poor nation.

The allocation comes after a proposal to offer each of Uganda's 427 lawmakers 150 million shillings (£34,256) to buy tax-free vehicles, another plan that has drawn strong criticism.

The funeral cash will give each lawmaker a state-of-the-art casket, preparation of the grave, police to provide security and food and drink for mourners. Each funeral will probably last three days, including a period for lying in state.

Even in a country where corruption is widespread, punishment for stealing public funds is rare and politicians are often viewed with cynicism, that strikes citizens as outrageous. A Ugandan lawmaker already makes about $5,900 a month; the average Ugandan earns around $670 (£517) - a year.

"MPs have not told us how they are growing our economy, instead all we see is how they are sucking from it," Jackie Asiimwe, a women's rights activist, told Reuters. "The amounts are obscene."

Chris Obore, the spokesman for parliament, said public anger against the proposed funeral plans was misplaced, adding that the lawmakers were being "targeted unfairly."

"It's popular to be seen to be concerned about alleged government wastage," he said.

Under the proposal, five deaths will be budgeted for each financial year. If no lawmaker dies in a given financial year, money will be returned to the Treasury, Obore said. A procurement process for a funeral provider is under way.

Criticism of lawmakers is not new in East Africa. Kenyan legislators have also earned the wrath of citizens for their cavalier attitude to public funds. At more than $10,000 a month, they are among the best paid parliamentarians in the world.

Previously, some Ugandan MPs have joined the public in criticising President Yoweri Museveni, whose private jet, long motorcades, outsized presidential villas, and large security detail were often depicted as symbols of government extravagance and waste. Now the criticism is being directed at lawmakers.

Last week, in a apparent insult to the legislators, two members of a youth pressure group arrived at the entrance to parliament's premises with piglets concealed in sacks, local media reported.

The piglets, with protest notes carrying words like MPIGS glued on their bodies, were then let loose before they were picked up by police, who also arrested the youths.

A similar protest against legislators, using pigs, was staged at the Kenyan parliament by activists in 2013.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa, Larry King)


 Reuters International