Thought and Ideas
The 2013/2014 Budget is a mercenary dictatorship; Kizza Besigye
Posted Sunday, September 29 2013 at 01:00
Although the Budget process in Uganda is very elaborate and participatory, it’s nothing short of being just a ritual. This is because, like most other policies and laws, it’s hardly followed. State House’s approved annual budget is notoriously exhausted in the first three months. It ends up getting supplementary funding that is greater than the original approved budget!
Major unplanned (unbudgeted for) expenditures are undertaken in the middle of a budget cycle; even without the courtesy of “informing” Parliament. This is how nearly 20 per cent of 2011/12 approved budget was spent to buy fighter jets that hadn’t been planned or budgeted for and without prior approval (or information) of Parliament.
Huge dubious “compensations” are paid out annually at the expense of vital and planned-for activities. This is how Mr Basajjabalaba, Col Mugyenyi, and many others have taken tens or hundreds of billions of our tax money at the expense of vital services. This kind of budgetary indiscipline means that no government department is sure of getting any part of the approved budget until the money is actually released.
Apart from the problem of “fluid” priorities, it’s an established fact that 8 to 10 per cent of the budgeted money is actually stolen. Therefore, even when money has been budgeted for and actually released, it doesn’t mean that the planned activity will be done, or done to the expected standard. This is especially the case with large projects that have big procurement components.
The above violations, malpractices and crimes effectively negate the whole purpose of budgeting. All this notwithstanding, the government annual budget provides the official indication of its plans for raising money and priorities for expenditure. It offers an insight into the ideology of the ruling regime. If one examines the annual budgets (especially the actual expenditure at the end of year), it becomes clear that Uganda is in the hands of people who are inimical to its people.
In the current financial year, the Uganda government has budgeted to spend a total of Shs13.1 trillion. I haven’t seen the estimates just approved by Parliament but I have no reason to believe that there’s a significant difference from those presented by the Minister in June. Of the total budget, Shs2,447 billion has been promised by “Donors” for specific projects.
Payment of interest on the money we have already borrowed (locally and externally) will consume Shs2,695 billion. This means Shs8,027 billion is planned to be spent (discretionary) on all the government programs for the year.
Of the money government plans to spend this year, Shs1,040 billion (8 per cent of the budget) is going to be borrowed from local banks; adding onto the already huge debt of more than Shs7,000 billion! It also means that the story of Uganda financing 80 per cent of the budget is a lie. Most of this money will actually be borrowed from the foreign owned banks in Kampala!
On top of the borrowed money, government is going to spend money from our meagre National Reserves amounting to Shs708 billion; thereby further undermining the confidence in our economy.
It means that during the year, government plans to spend Shs1,748 billion beyond its means; constituting 13 per cent of the whole budget or 20 per cent of the domestically funded budget.
Government plans to collect Shs8,486 billion in taxes; up from Shs7,251 billion budgeted last year. The drastic increase in planned taxes was prompted by the sudden cut in “donor” funding, due to the rampant stealing of their money by government officials.
As usual, most of the additional taxes will be targeting ordinary poor Ugandans! The new taxes affect, among others are: kerosene (Shs200 per litre), domestic water 18 per cent, mobile money transfers 10 per cent, boda boda registration (from Shs70,000 to Shs130,000), Wheat flour – that makes Kikomandos- 18 per cent, etc.
So how does the government plan to spend all the money raised through steep tax increases, borrowing and draining of the meagre National Reserves?
Once again, the Budget is not very helpful in showing how our money will be spent, since re-allocations and supplementary budgets render the “approved budget” worthless.
However, since it is not possible to predict how much will be stolen; what Mr Museveni may determine as the priorities during the year; or how generous he will be with his “donations” to whomever; we resort to the published budget.
The following are some of the important allocations that demonstrate why NRM regime is a disaster for the country:
• Defence gets an allocation of Shs1,045.9 billion; equivalent to 11 per cent of the “resource envelope”. Of this money, Shs300 billion (3 per cent of budget) will be spent on classified (undisclosed) expenditure!
• Health will get Shs930 billion; equivalent to 9.7 per cent.
• District Administration and Local Governments get Shs636.4 Billion; equivalent to 6.7 per cent.
• Agriculture gets Shs394.4 billion; equivalent to 4.1 per cent. The vast majority of Ugandans depend on Agriculture for their livelihood!
• Water and environment get Shs395 billion; equivalent to 4.1 per cent.
• State House and President’s Office get Shs293.4 billion; equivalent to 3 per cent.
• Parliamentary Commission gets Shs237.6 billion; equivalent to 2.5 per cent.
• Tourism, Trade and Industry get Shs58.5 billion, equivalent to 0.6 per cent.
• Housing and Urban Development get Shs30.3 billion; equivalent to 0.3 per cent.
The role of any government is to provide public goods and services, which individuals would not be in position to provide. It’s for this purpose that we collect money through taxation.
In a democracy, peoples’ representatives allocate/approve the money required to deliver the required goods and services and monitor to make sure that the money is applied for the right causes. The debate among the different political groups/ parties would primarily concern the priority areas onto which public resources ought to be used.
It is possible for dictatorships to use public resources to provide public goods and services; thereby causing development and improving peoples’ lives.
Undesirable as it is, therefore, it’s possible to have a dictatorship that serves the national (public) interest. Without any oversight, however, all dictatorships eventually become decadent, corrupt and self-serving.
The brand of dictatorship we have in Uganda today is a mercenary one! It has no regard for public goods and services in any form. The main use of public money and other resources is “conversion to private property through theft” by regime cronies (and those coopted from time to time) and paying for a terror machine to silence the rest!
The size of the Ugandan revenues is embarrassingly small. This year (2013 to 14), the total revenue of Uganda (population about 34 million) is about $3.3 billion; while the revenue of Belgium (Population 11.5 million) is $220 billion; South Africa (population 52 million) is $130 billion; Botswana (population 2 million) is $ 2.5 billion.
Mr Museveni was correct to say, in 1986, that it was scandalously subversive for a president of a poor country like Uganda to ride in a private jet going to address the UN Assembly in New York. He has since been changing his private jet like shirts!
It’s from this tiny revenue purse that government officials steal about 10 per cent every year and squander most of the rest on things that do not deliver public goods and services. This plunder and abuse of public funds, under the NRM regime, has been going on for nearly 30 years. It’s not difficult, therefore, to see the source of the current socio-economic crisis in the country.
Some NRM parrots are fond of criticising Uganda’s political opposition as having no alternative programmes. What needs to be done urgently to rescue the country doesn’t require rocket science to work out. We have persistently advocated for the following measures:
1. Stop/ control stealing of public money.
2. Reduce size and cost of government.
3. Prioritise investment in four main areas:
a. People (Nutrition, Health and Education/skills).
d. Environmental protection/ restoration.
The starting point and most difficult of these measures is the first one above: Stopping the thieves. This requires a multi-pronged approach; the mainstay of which is establishment of a transparent and accountable government, underpinned by the rule of law. The decadent, corrupt and tyrannical regime must be removed.
This is not time to agonise; let us organise and defy the mercenary dictatorship now.
FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY (4GC).
Dr Besigye is the former president of Forum for Democratic Change party