The government has launched what it has termed as Operation Wealth Creation (OWC). Trust President Museveni’s spin doctors to always come up with colourful phrases, from Modernization of Agriculture, to Prosperity for All, and now Wealth Creation!
OWC is led by soldiers who replaced the agricultural extension staff under the National agricultural Aisory Services (Naads). It is meant to ensure food and income security for Ugandans engaged in Agriculture. By bringing this OWC, 5,000 Ugandans lost their jobs, adding to the number of the unemployed. Meanwhile, Naads, an organization created by an act of Parliament has been strangled by illegalities.
Under this scheme, each MP has been entrusted with one ton of maize and thousands of coffee seedlings to distribute among farmers in our constituencies. This is the third time I am being given seeds. The first time the seeds were consumed by weevils just in two weeks before I could distribute them and the second time farmers told me the seeds didn’t germinate.
The guidelines for the scheme indicate that as MPs we are to identify farmers within our constituencies, spearhead social mobilization leading to the growing of more food and cash crops especially coffee. By implication, we are expected to supervise and monitor the scheme and sort out issues arising from the project. This is the typical work of the agricultural extension staffs that were rendered jobless.
To equip us to fit in our new role, a breakfast meeting was organized at Imperial Royale hotel recently. Just a handful of us attended this brief interaction where experts from Namulonge “lectured us on how to grow maize”. Hopefully we are to pass on this information to the farmers as we distribute the seeds.
On the other hand, our counterparts the UPDF soldiers are “highly educated” in these matters for they were awarded certificates in agriculture and extension services by Makerere University after a course that lasted 12 weeks.
The maize project is an example of the way we MPs are moving away from our core roles as national legislators.
During the breakfast meeting, I argued against this project, reasoning that under the Constitution, the implementation of schemes and programmes is the responsibility of the Executive.
The role of parliament is to oversee the programmes and working of the Executive. Parliament does these roles at the national level and the local councils at the district and sub-county level. The legislature holds the government accountable for implementing the schemes in an effective and efficient manner.
My reasoning was that if we MPs get directly involved in implementing programmes and schemes, the system of checks and balances will come under pressure. For example, we may find it difficult to question the executive why after Parliament passing a law that established Naads and allocating over 100bn shillings to the project, the executive decided to deploy soldiers who belong to another department to run the project.
We may also fail to check the minister of Agriculture on issue of seeds after being party to the implementation. I also questioned colleagues on our capacity as MPs to guide farmers in the growing of maize after a mere two-hour interaction with experts.
However, mine was a lone voice as colleagues wondered how I could preach against such a great opportunity given to us to “uplift our people out of poverty”. As we ended the meeting, the organisers from the Parliamentary Forum on Food Security announced that we shall be returning soon to study rice growing.
Having lost the debate at Imperial Royale, I appeal to the court of public opinion, and I wish to reiterate here that we MPs have neither the constitutional mandate nor expertise to implement local-level development projects.
This is on account of the structure of the administration. The chain of command for all local government officials goes up to the chief administrative officer (CAO), who is usually in charge of implementing all development schemes in the district. The CAO reports to the district council, and is not directly accountable to the MPs in the district.
It is easy to see how these schemes distract MPs from their main roles. Although we have mastered the art of being the givers and reducing our people to beggars, one thousand kilograms of maize seeds is barely a drop in the ocean. However, at the end of the day it’s wastage of taxpayers’ money to give 375 tons of maize seeds to MPs for distribution in an uncoordinated manner.
As we selfishly get involved in this approximately Shs 2.4bn maize project, we need to remember that one of the MPs expected to pick seeds is Muhammad Nsereko, the MP for Kampala Central where no maize can grow.
Instead of asking MPs to focus on schemes like this one, we would be looking at ways of making ourselves more effective in our roles under article 79 of the Constitution. How I wish that this particular interaction was to show us areas in the agriculture sector where we need a law or a policy.
Lastly, I feel that we must avoid distraction at this moment in time when we have a backlog of issues to solve including the constitutional amendments and electoral law reform.
I call upon honorable colleagues to heed a wise saying: you can’t solve all of the world’s problems leave some to others. We can leave local development to the local-level bodies and the technical people as we concentrate on our core mandate… .Hope somebody is listening.
The author is MP for Mukono municipality and shadow minister for local government.
Source : The Observer