With only 78 days left to the close of the financial year, State House is, in effect, going to spend Shs1.7 billion per day even as strategic sectors of the economy, including agriculture, health and education look set to see out another season of unfulfilled promise.
Across government departments, reports of “no money to fund activities” abound as austerity measures taken partly to absorb aid cuts triggered by the multi-billion theft scandal in the Office of the Prime Minister have kicked in.
In this environment of involuntary economies forced on the government against other reported shortfalls in revenue collections, figures in the Supplementary Schedule No.1 the government brought to Parliament this week provide telling insights into how State House plans to spend Shs138.2 billion requested for additional spending.
Although receiving less than Works and Education in over-all totals, the department again stands out compared to other sectors with more visible outputs.
From the Shs47.5 billion earmarked for “donations”, President Museveni budgets to dish out the equivalent of more than Shs609.9 million per day to unnamed beneficiaries for the remaining 78 days of the financial year. That expenditure would send the total budget for presidential donations this year beyond Shs53.7 billion (translating into Shs147.2 million daily).
But State House Comptroller Lucy Nakyobe yesterday defended the Shs138.2 billion as justified. She protested that breaking down the amount into what it translates for each day gives a “wrong picture” about State House spending.
The official also said Ministry of Finance already released the money to State House and that they have already spent “part of it”.
Complaining about underfunding and “rigid” ceilings, Ms Nakyobe said this Financial Year, State House had requested for Shs200 billion but was given Shs60 billion, leaving most of planned activities without funds.
“Sometimes there are emerging issues, for instance, you can plan for eight trips and the President travels 20 times. There are also unplanned-for activities and the intensity of the programmes require more than what we plan for,” Ms Nakyobe said.
The comptroller said: “This year, we had budgeted for Shs22 billion for capital development but they gave us only Shs1.6 billion. We allocated Shs1 billion to poverty alleviation yet we needed to buy security equipment and other items.”
Speaking about the donations’ budget line, Ms Nakyobe said State House accounts for every single penny they receive from Ministry of Finance, adding that the money is always spent on medical treatment abroad for ministers, MPs, and other Ugandans), buying vehicles for religious leaders, cash donations, building houses, buying animals.
She said the money listed for entertainment is spent on State guests and the promotion of diplomacy and meetings. A total of Shs2.5 billion has been provisioned for this expenditure, according to the Finance ministry’s schedule.
She also said the item ‘special meals and drinks’ is not for luxury. “We use this expenditure item to buy posho and beans for the staff. This is normal food and has nothing to do with the burgers,” she said.
As things stand, the annual expenditure at State House this year, including figures in the supplementary request, would stand at an unprecedented Shs204.4 billion. This would suggest that this Financial Year, State House would spend more than Shs560 million per day up from Shs434.5 million last year.
A senior official in Parliament’s Budget Office observed to the Daily Monitor that the money State House is going to spend in 78 days is enough to cover the Shs75 billion required to answer teachers’ unfulfilled demand for a 100 per cent salary increment.
Further unpacking of supplementary numbers reveals that this year will see State House spend more than Shs6 million daily on special meals and drinks; newspapers Shs340,000; printing and photocopying Shs860,000; welfare and entertainment Shs15.3 million; travel abroad Shs298.6 million; classified expenses Shs709.5 million; vehicle maintenance Shs26 million and allowances Shs45.2 million, among others.
Minister for Presidency Frank Tumwebaze yesterday remained steadfast in his defence of what he called President Museveni’s “benevolence”.
Mr Tumwebaze criticised the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Nandala Mafabi, who has suggested that the State House budget has gotten out of hand because it lavishes public money on “patronage” and “ruling party activities”.
“That Leader of the Opposition in Parliament has never supported anything to do with the President’s work. I am happy they are talking about donations not salary for President … Presidential donations are mainly initiatives to support household incomes. There are good results from these anti-poverty initiatives of the President and every part of Uganda has felt it.”
Minister speaks out
Mr Tumwebaze mentioned initiatives such as poverty alleviation programmes, school fees support to war orphans, model village concepts in Kabarole, cattle projects in Lira- Barlege, among so many areas where Mr Museveni donates money.
He said State House would issue a statement in the course of the week to put the record straight.
On the supplementary line for vehicle maintenance, Ms Nakyobe said: “The money (Shs6 billion) looks much but we have a big fleet of vehicles, of which 90 per cent is old and we have constant break-down.”
With Parliament yet to approve the request, there is no public indication that Ministry of Health has received Shs7 billion needed as emergency funding to help thousands of children stricken by nodding disease, a strange illness in northern Uganda.
Opposition legislators and some from the ruling party yesterday said they would oppose the supplementary budget request. They accused President Museveni of being insensitive and running a “bottomless pit” State House in the face of increased cost of public administration in the country.
When contacted President’s Spokesperson Tamale Mirundi challenged those complaining about President’s spending to show evidence that he spends the money on paying “bride price” for his children and friends.