A few years ago when government rolled out the Youth Livelihood Programme (YLP) as well as the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP), both projects were fronted as wheels to take Uganda to middle income status by 2020.
However, events in the last few days have only served to show how far the middle income dream may be. Last week, parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), basing on the Auditor General's report of 2016/2017 financial year, accused the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development of giving out funds to nonexistent youth groups and for failure to appropriate Shs 11bn under UWEP.
On the issue of ghosts, however, a top ministry official who preferred anonymity because he is not the official spokesperson says they have the names and contacts of all beneficiaries of each project. "We know who signed the financing agreement with CAO, we know who opened the bank accounts through which the money was disbursed and we know who withdrew the money from the bank account," she told The Observer.
"What is being referred to as a ghost by some people are projects which may have changed location, changed project type or have had implementation challenges due to various reasons including drought, pests, or internal conflicts sometimes leading to disintegration of groups... but these do make them ghosts."
Meanwhile, documents submitted by the ministry officials indicate that UWEP money was spent on getting capital assets and institutional support for the programme. Emphasizing the need to create structures because the programme was still in its infancy, the ministry procured necessities for the focal point persons.
"Some of the areas where the ministry applied part of the funds included (procurement of) motorcycles for all focal point persons in the funds' beneficiary Districts, computers and office stationery," notes Pius Bigirimana, the ministry permanent secretary. He further maintains it took these steps to avoid maladministration.
He, however, says deficiencies in release of the funds by the Finance ministry also hindered the progress of the programme. Bigirimana revealed that the Programme had budgeted for Shs 43 billion that financial year but the Finance ministry released only Shs 24bn, thereby creating a shortfall of 43 per cent.
"With the shortfall, the ministry [of Gender] had the ultimate duty to strike a balance between expenditure in terms of actual funds' releases to the implementing districts and institutional support expenditure. This is the reason why, notwithstanding that there was a shortfall of 43 per cent, the ministry's funding coverage to the implementing districts fell short, only by 40 per cent," he explains.
Before any women/youth group can access funding for a project, it has to go through the processed of identification at village level. After passing that stage, the group has to undergo four vetting processes at sub-county and district level.
These include the Sub-county Technical Planning Committee (STPC), Sub-county Executive Committee (SEC), District Technical Planning Committee (DTPC) and the District Executive Committee (DEC) for final approval.
On the other hand, all these projects have to be signed off by the district chief administrative officers, district youth councils and the district chief financial officer, among others. It is after passing these tests that the group's file is sent to the ministry for funding.
According to economy experts, whereas the ministry says this process aims to build ownership and ensure that money is sent to the rightful people, the delay caused by this toilsome process may harm any developmental projects for the women and youth groups.