Ugandan MPs continue to shock us with their shamefully unquenchable thirst for public cash. In a country where 67 per cent of the population is “vulnerable to poverty”, the legislators are awarding themselves nearly Sh. 68 million ($20,000) each to pay for their funerals. The peasant is expected to pay for this luxury of the dead.
This is vanity that thumbs its nose in the face of helpless mothers who face preventable death because health centers lack basic staff and equipment to assure safe delivery of their babies.
It is a bizarre obsession with self that blinds them to the millions of school-age children whose academic dysfunction would be partly relieved if they received school-funded lunch.
Schools desperate for computer and other IT facilities; health centres unable to offer basic surgery because they lack electricity and anaesthetic services; towns without public libraries; children and youth with no public sports facilities…. The list goes on. Yet the MPs think of luxury to accompany them on their exit from life.
In case you missed it, the MPs’ shopping list for their citizen-funded funerals looks like a comedian’s script, not something written by “representatives” of the people.
Uganda-made coffins are not good enough to contain the permanently dead remains of our friends. It will be an American coffin, thank you very much. You know, one of those things with comfortable white padding, smooth lining made of satin, with pillows that would please the most discriminating among the living in upper class Toronto.
Those things look more comfortable than the decrepit hospital beds on which sick Ugandans rest while patiently waiting for their underpaid doctors and nurses.
According to the Daily Monitor, the American coffin’s price of Sh. 6 million ($1,800) does not include its transportation (Sh. 1.45 million or $ 430), professional services (Sh. 400,000 or $120), pall bearers (Sh.150,000 or $44 per day), lowering machine (Sh.150,000 or $44) and a tent for the coffin (Sh. 250,000 or $74).
Add to that the construction of what they call a “VIP Grave” at Sh. 1,500,000 ($441), the “VIP grave” itself (Sh. 4 million or $1,200), 15 “VIP wreaths” (Sh.1.5 million or $441) and carnations (on stands, of course), at a VIP price of Sh. 4.3 million ($1,265), and the dead honourable will be ready for a comfortable voyage.
We are not done yet, for the living must be taken care of as well. Video coverage & still photos, to ensure that the world does not forget, will cost the peasants Sh. 1.2 million ($352).
The cost of the church choir adds another Sh.400, 000 ($120). That does not include 1,500 Order of Service books, priced at a sinful Sh. 4.5 million ($1,325), a public address system at Sh.1.8 million ($530), 15 tents for the mourners at Sh. 3.6 million ($1,060) and 4000 chairs for 2 days at a cost of Sh. 4 million ($1,180).
A hired power generator adds Sh.1.6 million ($470) and mobile toilets add another Sh.600, 000 ($177). Of course the mourners, spectators and opportunists must be fed, with a price tag of Sh.15 million ($4,411) and given water worth Sh.1 million ($294.)
The entire thing has to be advertised on TV and radio at a cost of Sh.800, 000 ($235) and secured by police for a fee of Sh. 7.536 million ($2,216).
Asked to explain this madness, an unnamed MP told the BBC last week: “When you die serving the country, they have to take care of you.” It is as though teachers, nurses, doctors, veterinarians, laborers and others doe not serve their country.
The MPs’ madness was highlighted by the news of Valentine Ntandayarwo’s death on Saturday September 17.
Born on August 31, 1939, Ntandayarwo served Uganda as a statistician in the ministry of labour before joining the OAU Secretariat in 1971. He rose to the rank of African Union Director for Labour before retiring in 1999.
His service to Uganda, Africa and humanity surpasses that of most of the MPs whose exact contribution to Uganda’s development is an enigma.
Though Ntandayarwo died at his home in Muyumbu, about five kilometers from Kabale, his body is now in Mbarara. Why? There is not a single facility for embalming and cold storage of the dead in the whole of Kigezi. Yet it is necessary to await the arrival of his children who live and work in Britain and the United States. (His wife died on Christmas eve last year.)
While our MPs are eager to be sent off with carnations and VIP wreaths, they do not seem to care that there are no decent public facilities for safe examination and care for the dead. They hire power generators instead of focusing on provision of reliable electricity for all. They want VIP graves instead of good and accessible health care for all.
What most sensible people care about is what happens to them when they take ill while in their villages and upcountry towns. This is what ought to engage the efforts of the rulers and their subjects. We recall the death of Dr. Stephen Malinga, a former minister of health, whose failing heart might well have been successfully managed had there been a good emergency department at the hospital in Pallisa. He was only 69.
Unfortunately, the MPs are united in this parasitic madness. So far, not a single opposition MP has rejected this sucking of blood from the citizens. There is bipartisan unity when it comes to their inflated salaries, allowances and other freebies. One gets a feeling that they live in a world far removed from the reality of the wretched of the Earth, whom they hope to impress even after they are dead. Ugandans should say no to the madness.