21 June 2012

Uganda: Stick to Budget Discipline for Equitable National Development


Listening to the national ambitions presented by Minister for Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Mrs Maria Kiwanuka on June 14, one is tempted to welcome the Government efforts to improve the plight of some Ugandans for example, through budget performance, output budgeting, quarterly reporting and reviews.

Nonetheless, the practice on ground continues to indicate shortfalls in budget implementation. Take for example, budget indiscipline, corruption and misuse of public funds and an increasing deficit in public accountability.

For instance, when sh219b is lost under the National Identity Card project and Ugandans are expected to be grateful through proposed co-funding of the same project, then there are issues. So is the gross inadequate budget allocation to Local Governments (LGs).

Ironically, the low absorption capacity by some LGs, including in Karamoja with the highest poverty levels and need in Uganda are still evident, but this can easily be dealt with. The credibility issues also continue to erode the essence of budgeting through the increasing supplementary budgets in Uganda that have escalated from 4% in 2008/2009, to 7.2% in 2009/2010 and about 38% in FY 2010/11 of the total approved annual budgets.

Yes, if these are directed to nodding disease, ebola, handling mischief of Sudan war over South Sudan and related paraphernalia that warrants emergency attention. Even then, this must be in respect to legislation on public finance management, not whims of the Executive. Else such Executive is put to question, given its culture of indiscriminate appetite for supplementary budgets.

Why then the annual and costly budget consultative processes where CAOs, Uganda Debt Network, CS Budget Advocacy Group and other agencies are paraded in hotels across Uganda, yet their input rare sees light of day?

Just this month, the Government is again seeking approval of sh517b supplementary budget before end of current FY 2011/12. This new request contravenes legislation where up to 3% maximum on total budget accorded for supplementary was surpassed already.

Ironically, it is the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) like Local Government, Works and Transport, Judiciary, KCCA and Uganda National Roads Authority to suffer this cut, to meet gaps in salaries and wages of counterpart MDAs. Yet they are some of the critical areas and points for direct delivery of services to majority Ugandans.

Parliamentarians should review with intent to removing the current provision for retrospective approval of supplementary spending, which increasingly seems abused. Before then, albeit, the Parliamentarians should account for funds they received early 2011 in the name of monitoring NAADS and give field reports on its implementation.

Otherwise, Mrs Kiwanuka's proposals for growing the Government resource envelope from sh9,630b in FY 2011/12 to sh11,157b in FY2012/13 will still suffer similar unprecedented budget indiscipline and abuse, to the detriment of majority Ugandans, for example those with greatest need in Karamoja, Lango, Acholi, Rwenzori and Teso recovering from the situation of war, nodding disease, etc.

Any supplementary budgets should also be in regard to spending on frontline service delivery centres, not the luxury of the few. Uganda is for Ugandans; let the public institutions respect public money and legislation to contribute to equitable national development.

Writer is a Development practitioner

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