Iron sheets: Ministers should not be Members of Parliament

By Denis Jjuuko

One of the reasons given by a minister for stealing or diverting iron sheets is the difficulty of running a parliamentary constituency. The expectations of the constituents are so high that they do everything they can to meet them albeit without enough resources to do so.

Yet the role of a Member of Parliament (MP) is legislation and not necessarily being the reserve bank, insurance scheme or pension fund for their electorate. In fact, the last parliament periodically ran adverts on radio trying to inform people that MPs aren’t responsible for building roads, hospitals, schools, and burying anyone who dies. Okay, they didn’t say the last part in their ads, but you get the drift!

However, MPs don’t help the cause themselves. During campaigns for the office, they not only promise stuff outside of their mandate, they start even to donate them. Almost all MP aspirants buy some ambulance and donate it to the constituency instead of using their offices when elected to demand that government provides them. so the electorate is wired to think that these are the roles of MPs and they simply keep on demanding for these services.

To meet the increasing demands by the electorate, MPs spend a lot of time lobbying to become ministers or being put on some ‘lucrative’ parliamentary committees or being appointed parliamentary commissioners.

A ministerial post comes with many benefits. A chauffer driven fueled state of the art Land Cruiser, fat salaries and allowances and other perks including, as we have now learnt, getting or diverting iron sheets from the Karamojongs.

Because politics in Uganda has been reduced to what is known as eating — the winner gets to earn a big salary and the constituents expect a road or school or employment of their unqualified kin and kith — it will take a generation or two for people to understand the role of their MPs. In fact, where a member of parliament becomes a minister, the expectations are even higher.

If running constituencies is very expensive, why not, for now, make some changes where ministers are not directly elected MPs? I know that some ministers are not directly elected MPs but some of them who got involved in getting themselves iron sheets are those who either lost parliamentary elections and are campaigning for 2026 or have their eyes on the next election.

So having ministers who aren’t burdened by the demands of parliamentary constituents would perhaps help in ensuring they don’t put their fingers in the public purse. Ideally, a minister would not have to steal or divert iron sheets to their community when they don’t have a constituency to please. And since they would be highly paid, one would think that they would be comfortable to meet their personal needs without stealing.

Also, ministers live under the fear of a reshuffle. Ministers spend half their time lobbying and playing politics so that they aren’t dropped. The president has powers to appoint and dismiss ministers whenever he wishes. And he does so without prior warning. That should change where ministers have five-year contracts lasting a presidential term. That way they would know that their jobs are secure and therefore try not to illegally amass wealth as soon as they got into office. Those who misbehave can be asked to resign or dismissed. Uncertainty for how long a minister will stay in office makes things worse. People love what is known as job security.

Obviously, those appointed need to be competent and not necessarily because they are popular in their constituencies. Those appointed should be beyond reproach when it comes to their professional conduct.

Of course, one could argue that public servants without constituencies still steal public funds to enrich themselves but I think that largely points to lack of systems, poor pay and some form of tolerance to corruption. In the private sector, people steal but they know that the consequences are dire. They know they would lose their highly paying jobs if caught and sometimes end up in prison. Professionally run private firms appoint their staff on merit and hold them to some standards.

In public office, it is not uncommon to see those who have stolen public funds being rewarded with other contracts. So government will need to be more intentional when it comes to fighting corruption. But if you want ministers who can work, unburden them from parliamentary constituencies and hold them to account.

The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.

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