For winning the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly, Uganda will pay billions of shillings, The Observer has established.
To maintain Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa in the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly, taxpayers will this financial year spend at least Shs 2.6bn. This figure came to light recently, when the Parliamentary committee on Foreign Affairs queried a sudden jump in the Foreign ministry's non-wage budget for missions abroad. The budget rose from Shs 58.253bn in the FY 2013/14 to Shs 64.939bn in 2014/15.
In response, Foreign ministry officials said part of the surge in expenditure was brought on by the extra costs required to run the UNGA presidency, opening a mission in Kuala Lumpur as well as opening a consulate in Mombasa. According to the ministry of Foreign Affairs policy statement, the budget requirement is for the "successful implementation of Uganda's priorities during the presidency of UNGA 2014/2015."
Though there is no clear budget breakdown of how the Shs 2.6bn will be spent, the policy statement indicates that some of the planned activities include, coordinating with relevant stakeholders in supporting the president (Kutesa) execute his mandate as well as capacity building to develop a "cutting edge in UNGA dynamics and related matters to ensure Uganda's maximum benefit" from the presidency.
"So, to this end, at least Shs 102 million (will be spent) on air tickets, Shs 137 million on per diem, Shs 32 million on publicity, Shs 20 million on welfare and Shs 8 million shillings for stationery."
Asked about this expenditure on Monday, James Mugume, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the budget was in line with established practice.
"Normally the budget for the UNGA presidency is funded by the country holding the presidency... UN contributes only 300,000 dollars and the balance is mobilised by the country holding the seat," he said.
Mugume said the Shs 2.6bn would facilitate Kutesa's temporally residence in New York during his term as UNGA presidency.
"It also includes his travel-abroad expenses, meetings, allowances, funds to organise events and money to facilitate his 24 staff," he said.
Whereas MPs eventually approved the budget allocation, they expressed some reservations. They noted that the Kutesa budget impedes facilitation of other budget demands.
"While we recognise the importance of running the UNGA presidency, we would like to recommend that the ministry considers reallocating part of this money to cater for more pressing needs at foreign missions including the settlement of Shs 158,679,788 debt owed to the Cairo mission," the committee report says.
Mugume said the latter recmmendation by the MPs was unfair because they approved the budget.
"When we met the committee, they even congratulated us. Why are they questioning it now?" he asked, adding, that the allocation was passed by cabinet after thorough consideration of all the priorities.
"If we don't fund our presidency, it will be abused by those who will fund it, we need to own it, what we can only do is to get funds from well- wishers."
In an interview with The Observer on Tuesday, Vurra MP Sam Okuonzi, the committee chairman, said, "There was a lot of debate in the committee but we decided to approve because of the urgency of the need."
Funding of the presidency of the UN General Assembly has always been controversial because it is expensive. The former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic came under attack for the lavish spending during his presidency in 2012.