Sunday April 20 2014

It is budgeting time again

Finance minister Maria Kiwanuka at the Budget

Finance minister Maria Kiwanuka at the Budget reading last year. Photo by Geoffrey Sseruyange 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

It was a busy week in Parliament. It’s the budgeting period, the busiest time of the year. It’s time for ministries to account for more than Shs13 trillion they received in June last year. The various sectors of the economy will also present their budget requirements ahead of the 2014/14 budget reading in June.

Why is this season important? Well, the politics in the budgeting process notwithstanding, the Budget is the most important economic policy tool of the government and provides a comprehensive statement of the nation’s priorities. As the representative of the people, the institution of Parliament, its flaws aside, is the appropriate place to ensure that the Budget best matches the nation’s needs with available resources.

What makes this year’s Budget interesting is not so much about the glaring shortfalls in the face of aid cuts not even the amounts involved; it’s about the government desire to change the budget calendar in order to expedite the process. The government wants to repeal the Budget Act, 2001 and the Public Finance and Accountability Act, 2003 under the controversial Public Finance Bill, 2012 before parliament. The PFB provides the Charter of Fiscal Responsibility, focusing on sound fiscal policy and macroeconomic management.

Although the government hopes that by the time the Finance minister reads the Budget in June, Parliament would have completed the budget scrutiny. However, it remains unclear whether time will allow this to happen. There is also another problem: The MPs have rejected the draft legislation, for fear that it attempts to erase the role of Parliament in budgeting process.

NRM politics
This year’s Budget period, however, coincides with the turbulence within the ruling party backyard over allegations of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s undeclared presidential ambitions. Following the Kyankwanzi endorsement of Museveni’s sole candidature in 2016, the party leadership has since agreed to facilitate NRM MPs to explain the resolution to constituents.

Last week, the MPs received cash (Shs4 million per sub-county) for this activity. The argument of the NRM MPs is that President Museveni, also the ruling party chairman, should not be antagonised because of his visionary leadership. Mbabazi has since denied the accusations of standing against Museveni although he told journalists last week that habouring presidential ambitions is not a crime.
Again on this matter, last week, Opposition leaders met at Parliament where former FDC president Kizza Besigye, talking about the bickering within the ruling party, claimed that he had allies in security and NRM who share Mbabazi’s sentiments. He also invited Mbabazi to the Opposition.

But Mr Frank Tumwebaze, the minister for presidency, was quick to hit back at Besigye, reminding him that in 2000, Besigye said he enjoyed 90 per cent support of the military, but later he claimed that the same military was harassing him, “what happened?” Mr Tumwebaze reminded Besigye that Mbabazi is a member of NRM and that he can speak for himself. He said this confirms loss of political direction on the part of FDC and that they are desperate to join any “bandwagon” they deem anti-Museveni.

Judiciary Bill
Felix Okot Ogong on Wednesday tabled a motion seeking leave of Parliament to introduce a private members’ Bill - The Judiciary (Administration) Bill, 2014. The deputy Attorney General, Mr Fred Ruhindi, attempted to block the Bill but without success. He told the House that the government was in the process of tabling a similar Bill, but his explanation was rejected. Mr Ruhindi was advised to go and work with Mr Ogong. The Bill seeks to ensure that the Judiciary is independent, corrupt-free, and financially stable. The MPs pushing for the Bill, told Parliament that the current judicial system has delayed justice and that there is need to transform the “temple of justice” in real sense.

Umeme on the spot again
Again last week, the House committee on Natural Resources demanded that government tables the audited accounts of the Escrow Account. The MPs heard that the Escrow Account was created to protect Umeme from making losses. The lawmakers currently scrutinising the Energy sector budget were dumbfounded to learn that the Escrow Account, whose minimum balance must not be less than $20 million, is now at zero balance.

They want Umeme and government officials to explain who took the money. The Energy ministry officials led by State minister Simon D’Ujanga admitted that there was zero balance on the Escrow account and failed to provide answers on who took the money. The minister and his team return to the Committee this week.