29 December 2012

Uganda: MPs Oppose Finance Bill

Photo: New Vision
Uganda parliament in session (file photo).

Members of Parliament and the civil society have expressed fears over the Public Finance Bill, 2012, which they think undermines the oversight role of Parliament in regulating and monitoring Uganda's public funds.

The MPs and the civil society groups expressed their fears during a consultative workshop in theparliamentary conference hall on Tuesday.

During the heated debate, Kasirivu Atwoki told the finance minister, Maria Kiwanuka, and her technical team over the Bill and advised them to withdraw it.

"Nobody should deceive you that the finance ministry has been comfortable with the Budget Act. My proposal is that we don't need this Bill. We should only improve the budget Act," Atwoki said.

Parliament left out?

The finance ministry intends to outlaw the Budget Act 2001 and the Public Finance and Accountability Act 2003, and replace the two with the Public Finance Bill 2012.

The Budget Act provides for the establishment of a Parliament budget committee and budget office, which regulate budget allocations but in the new proposed law the two establishments are not included.

Representing the civil society, Julius Mukunda from the Civil Society Advocacy Group (CSBAG), highlighted that the Bill does not have any single provision to ensure equitable distribution of Uganda's public funds among all Ugandans from the various tribes and regions.

They also noted with concern that the Bill leaves out other stakeholders like the civil society and the public in tracking how public funds are being utilised.

Draft form:

Kiwanuka tried to allay everyone's fears arguing that the key policy objective is to strengthen Parliament's oversight in the mobilisation, allocation, utilization resources.

Kiwanuka promised that since the Bill is still in its draft form, the ministry will make it a priority to consider and adopt proposals from the public to close any gaps in it, making it more acceptable. Kiwanuka further explained that the Bill also seeks to stop funding of activities that are outside the budget and have not been approved of by Parliament.

She said the Bill will also enhance the timeliness and relevance of Audit reports so that accounting officers are held to account for any adverse reports before more resources are appropriated to them by Parliament.

The Bill seeks to ensure that the national budget is approved by Parliament at the beginning of the fiscal year to reduce implementation delays.

In the current arrangement, the process of approving the budget has been delaying until September and October. Because of this, many ministries complain that they are unable to fully implement their planned activities for each financial year.

Most of the reforms contained in the Bill resulted from the Cabinet retreat held in December last year which discussed various interventions for better public sector management and effective service delivery.

Buliisa MP, Stephen Mukitale, appealed to the ministry to ensure that the content in Budget Act is incorporated in the Bill.

The shadow finance minister, Geoffrey Ekanya, said the Bill should introduce a provision to allow Parliament to be involved in the national investment plan.

He advised the ministry not to repeal the two Acts and instead put focus on improving them.

Nambia's example:

He also advised the ministry to borrow a leaf from Namibia, whose national planning authority has the mandate to determine allocations of the national resources.

Ekanya also suggested that a provision to give Parliament powers to determine and regulate grants and donations the country be included.

Nebbi woman MP, Christine Acayo said there must be ill motives behind the attempt to repeal the Budget Act.

"I recently went for a continental conference on the budgetary process and Uganda stood out as a model because we have a budget office and a budget committee. Let us not undo what we are being praised for," she argued.

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