UIRI official explains to URA and other visitors about the meat processed at the institute on Oct. 23Experts question Revenue body's initiative to visit public institutions to see how taxpayers' money is spent
On Oct. 23, top officials from the Uganda Revenue Authority, including the commissioner General Allen Kagina spent the whole day at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI). The officials explained the action, which is unprecedented, as an attempt to follow the money that is painfully collected by URA and appraise how it is being used.
"We have realized that it is not good to always give you figures in our boardroom (at URA head offices) without taking you to places where this money which we collect is spent," Kagina said. "Figures must mean something," she added.
Kagina said they chose UIRI first because it is vital in training entrepreneurs eying huge businesses, which would in turn become potential tax payers in the future.
UIRI is Uganda's lead agency for industrialization, established by an Act of Parliament of Uganda in 2002 under the auspices of the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC). It is the country's main vehicle for implementing strategies and measures aimed at transforming the industrial sector in Uganda. This financial year, it is to receive funding amounting to about Shs 14 billion for its development and recurrent expenditure, up from Shs 12.6 the year before.
In his presentation, Dick Kamugasha, the acting executive director of the institute, said in the past few years the institute's focus and mandate have metamorphosed as well as its organizational structure, and sense of purpose to address more effectively its mission and the country's industrial development strategies. A lot of training is ongoing in various fields including carpentry, food and beverages processing among many others.
Kamugasha said, over the years the institute has recorded many achievements since its restructuring in 2006. Staffing levels have grown to about 300 to date up from 44 in 2005, and the institute is a key centre for industrial research activities, enhanced business incubation and vaccine production.
They have also enhanced global collaboration with other research institutes across the world, deployed technologies outside Kampala in areas such as Kabale, Lira among others, food processing spearheaded through a food lab, ceramics processing, domestication of button mushroom and handmade paper production from natural fibers. The institute prides itself in hundreds of highly trained entrepreneurs who have ventured into personal businesses after acquiring skills from the institute.
The institute has established platforms for value addition and product development, further engaged in technology transfer, technology diffusion, technology development, and fabrication of machinery among other achievements.
The research institute has established a number of model value addition centers, which are operational for instance Kabale Potato Processing Facility, Lira Peanut and Research Center, Nabusanke Fruit Juice Processing Facility, Arua Mango Juice Processing Facility, Luweero Essential Oil Pilot Project, Kabale Mushroom Training and Research Center, Busia Meat Packers, Mbarara Winery Processing Facility among others.
These facilities aim to serve as demonstration of the benefits of value addition and hence widen awareness and interest in the public, reduce post-harvest loss of agricultural produce, act as hubs for knowledge and skills transfer, create employment hence discourage rural-urban migration, work with agricultural research institutions in developing and promoting crop varieties and animal breeds suitable for high value products and promoting crop varieties and animal breeds suitable for high value products.
From the visit it was not clear if the administrators had convinced the finance officials that they deserve more funding and not a reduction which is being proposed in the next budget. Kamugasha said they get very little money in relation to the value they can add to the economy by producing job creators instead of job seekers. "We are able to do much but we are underfunded," he said, adding, "We ask the government to consider raising our budget."
Kamugasha said already, they are faced with many challenges and that cutting their budget to Shs 8.9 billion as being proposed, would make the situation weaker and less efficient as inadequate funding impedes technology transfer and value addition.
Other challenges facing the institute are the inadequate pool of specialized scientists and engineers, failure by the national planning process to promote inter-institutional collaborations, limited skilled manpower and lack of entrepreneurial skills, infrastructure problems (for instance bad roads, unreliable energy), and inadequate facilities for research among others.
Kamugasha said, increased funding would help mitigate the challenges and would have immediate impact on Uganda's socio- economic transformation.
After the tour, Kagina sympathized with Kamugasha saying indeed more funding to the institute was necessary because there is potential for job creation through skills training in entrepreneurship development and value addition. "UIRI is holding the future of our economy," Kagina said.
However, some analysts objected to the decision by tax collectors to follow the money they collect saying "they are overstepping their mandate". Geofrey Okoboi, a former research fellow at the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) at Makerere University, told The Independent on Oct. 26 that URA's role is to collect money and then let responsible institutions like ministry of trade in this case of UIRI, finance and the Office of the Prime Minister do the monitoring.
"We have a budget monitoring unit at the ministry of finance, what is it supposed to do?" he asked. However, Okoboi said URA probably sees a gap that the monitoring system is supposed to fill and an indication that there is a need to strengthen government's monitoring framework to ensure that the money is used for the purpose for which it was sent.
It is not clear what the tax body's next destination will be but observers said they should prioritise to institutions or departments where the hundreds of billions they get per year are misused instead of the small ones that are using the little they get well.