18 August 2014

Uganda: Security Budget Soars Even As Insecurity Drops

Photo: Stuart Price/UN
Uganda troop on Mogadishu's Frontline (file photo).

A review of four national budgets shows that in the five years of President Museveni's current term, government will spend at least Shs 6 trillion on security.

The Observer can reveal that this figure is three times more than what the NRM government will spend on sectors such as Agriculture and Health over the same period. However, the security budget still lags behind that of ministry of Works and Transport as well as ministry of Education and Sports.

Over the same period, the road sector in particular has received Shs 7.7 trillion, having risen from Shs 1.2 trillion in 2011 to Shs 2.3 trillion this financial year. On the other hand, over the last four financial years, the education sector has received Shs 6.6 trillion. What may be significant, though, is that the security budget has continued to rise, even as Uganda's major security threats have dwindled.

Official figures show that since Museveni's inauguration in 2011, taxpayers have spent Shs 5.2 trillion on the army, police and intelligence agencies. And by the time President Museveni's term ends in 2016, the figure will have risen to Shs 6.671 trillion. Of that, the ministry of Defence (where the army falls) takes the lion's share of Shs 5.171 trillion.

It means that the Defence budget for the five years of Museveni's current term is two times bigger than what was spent in his last term, yet Uganda has faced no serious internal rebellion. For instance, the Defence budget swelled from Shs 974bn in 2011 to Shs 1.048 trillion in the 2013/14 financial year. The police budget also rose from Shs 231bn in 2011 to Shs 412bn this year, and is projected to rise to Shs 455bn in 2015/16.

The huge defence spending comes despite the diminished threat from the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda over the last eight years. Before the current trend, the biggest Defence allocation had been Shs 307bn in the 2003/04 financial year. While reading this year's budget, Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka justified the huge security budget on grounds that national peace and stability remained the cornerstone of socio-economic transformation.

"Under the strong leadership of H.E the president, we have built a strong professional, well-equipped and pro-people army and other security forces. This has provided a peaceful, secure and politically-stable environment that gives confidence and assurance to both foreign and local investors to consider Uganda a viable investment destination," she said, adding, that in the last financial year government continued to strengthen the capabilities of the armed forces by acquiring modern security and defence equipment, and training of soldiers.

Kiwanuka's argument augments the 2013/14 National Budget Framework Paper's justification for the increased funding to the defence sector.

"The National Development Plan suggests that the security sector should provide and ensure internal security by strengthening early warning mechanisms and joint border security coordination," the paper notes.

However, Godber Tumushabe, a former executive director of the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (Acode), a policy think tank, argues that the expenditure trend shows an inevitable consequence of regime survival and longevity.

"This trend is synonymous with most regimes that have overstayed in power. When someone overstays in power, they spend more time on equipping the military because it is the only guarantee to power consolidation," Tumushabe said.

In April this year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released a report showing that Algeria and Angola had the biggest military expenditure. Coincidentally, the two countries have leaders who have been in power for more than two decades. SIPRI further estimates that African aerial weapons deals doubled in volume in the six years from 2008 to 2013, compared to 2002 to 2007. Sudan, Angola, Ethiopia, Algeria and Uganda were leading this air defence revolution.

Last year, Uganda acquired Su-30 fighter jets from Russia, in addition to the $740m (Shs 1.7 trillion) fighter jets acquired in 2011. The 2011 acquisition deal raised controversy after government spent hundreds of millions of dollars without Parliament's approval. Tumushabe says that when civil legitimacy cannot be won, military might and patronage become the alternative.

"That is the reason why court has continuously indicted the security organs for malpractices during elections," he said.

Although some critics look at government's increased expenditure on the military and security as Museveni's individual agenda, Dr Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, an independent researcher, told The Observer that this expenditure could be justified considering Uganda's potential security needs.

"It is possible that this money could be used to counter possible attacks...It is possible that we have survived terror attacks because of this good facilitation to the army," Golooba-Mutebi noted, but added that his view was speculative. "I don't know the security assessment but if the government security assessment requires that, then any sensible government will be spending more on defence."

According to Golooba-Mutebi, one possible explanation could be UPDF's deployment in Somalia and South Sudan: "Although the Somalia deployment is facilitated by our foreign allies, Uganda can't be spending zero shillings on it."

Prudent budget spending requires focus on the priority areas but over time, defence has become a critical sector that short-changes other national priorities, according to an analyst in Parliament's Budget Office. This analyst, who declined to be named, concurred with Golooba-Mutebi, that the Defence budget is increased based on the country's security assessment.

Before Parliament approves the budget, it is supposed to get details of possible security threats. However, officials say that the explanations given are often insufficient.

"Most explanations are taken at face value because when you interrogate further, the privilege of classified expenditure is raised," the official said.

Ignoring priority areas:

Our review shows that whereas security organs appear to be better funded, key sectors such as agriculture and health lag behind. For instance, the four-year budget expenditure on the security organs is three times more than what has been spent on the agricultural sector or close to what will be spent on both the agriculture and health sectors combined.

"This shows how much this government is not getting the priorities right. It spends more on power consolidation than social services which benefit the majority," said Geoffrey Ekanya, the shadow minister for Finance.

Although agriculture remains the main source of livelihood for at least 70 per cent of the population, its budget share has dwindled from Shs 433 billion in 2011 to Shs 352 billion this financial year.

Linkages missed:

But in an interview with The Observer, Ofwono Opondo, the government spokesman, accused critics of government's expenditure on security of having a shallow understanding of public spending.

"Peace is a requirement to development, everyone needs a stable nation to carry on with whatever work they want including agriculture," Opondo said recently.

"Agriculture has not been ignored as some people think. I think that is the traditional way of analysing the budget, when we spent money to construct roads it is indirect funding to the agricultural sector. It is intended to connect the farmers to the market. This is the same case with most sectors; they are inter-connected."

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