Kampala. Government has brought forward the procurement of 18 million hoes from next financial year to this year as President Museveni puts in a last-minute attempt to win over the crucial rural vote.
Confronted by biting poverty in Uganda’s rural areas as he launched his campaign for a fifth term in November last year, Mr Museveni reacted by directing Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to include the procurement of 18 million hoes for six million households in the 2016/2017 Budget. The financial year commences in June.
Mr Museveni argued that the hoes would boost food security and incomes for small land owners and gradually transform Uganda from an agrarian to industrial economy by 2040.
The Agriculture ministry had, however, warned that it had no Shs140b to bankroll the procurement of the hoes, insisting that the President’s pledge can only be implemented in phases beginning with a Shs50b allocation in the 2016/17 financial year.
With retail price of a hoe standing at Shs10,000 per piece, 18 million hoes would cost Shs180 billion, which is about 30 per cent of the Agriculture ministry’s budget for this fiscal year.
But as Mr Museveni’s pledge was coming under fire from the Opposition, Premier Rugunda on Monday started distributing hoes in Terego County of West Nile sub-region and rallied the recipients to vote the ruling NRM.
“We are pleased to be rolling out this national programme of providing this key farm implement today, starting from Terego in Arua District. Without a doubt, come February 18, all votes from here should go to President Museveni and the NRM flag bearers to ensure that the country continues on the path of steady progress,” Dr Rugunda said.
The decision to draw back the distribution of hoes to coincide with the home stretch of the campaigns, with just eight days to the polls, has attracted skepticism from Opposition politicians who insist it amounts to voter bribery.
The Opposition has challenged the government to abide by the African Union 2003 Maputo Declaration, and allocate 10 per cent of the Budget to agriculture, if it genuinely harbours ambitions to turn around the fortunes of Uganda’s agriculture.
Only 2 per cent of the 1015/16 Budget went to agriculture, with the bulk allocated to roads, electricity and defence.
The FDC flag bearer Dr Kizza Besigye, has promised to increase agriculture’s share to 15 per cent of the Budget.
Terego County MP Kasiano Wadri, whose backyard was used as a launch pad for the hoes campaign, yesterday said the Electoral Commission should rein in Mr Museveni and the NRM for engaging in voter bribery. “What they are doing is an illegality. What kind of presidential pledges can be implemented at this time? Even me, I cannot give anything to any group because of the guidelines in the law. If I give anything right now, it would be misconstrued as bribery,” Mr Wadri said.
Mr Henry Muguzi, the national coordinator, Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring, a coalition of civil society organisations advocating for transparency in election campaigns, said: “If that is the case and the hoes were given out as campaign material, it is a clear indication of voter bribery and we strongly condemn it. We regard voter bribery as cash or any items given out to induce voters to vote a particular candidate.”
Asked whether the Electoral Commission (EC) would interest itself in calls to sanction Mr Museveni’s distribution of hoes, as demanded by the Opposition, EC spokesman Jotham Taremwa said the NRM flag bearer was executing his presidential duties. “ Museveni remains President of Uganda until after elections and a new president is sworn in. While he is a candidate, he has duties to execute as President,” Mr Taremwa said.