Wednesday April 28 2010

High presidential expenditure will be an election issue

By Augustine Ruzindana

The major political parties have selected their candidates for 2011. The Observer April 26 – 28 identified what could turn out to be a major campaign issue, namely reduction of presidential expenditure. The Uganda presidency was identified as the most expensive office, in East Africa.

What The Observer did not reveal, however, is that the PGB, the numerous presidential advisers and presidential assistants are actually part of President’s Office budget, not the State House budget. Therefore, the presidency encroaches on the budgets of defence (PGB), education (scholarships) health (treatment abroad), Bank of Uganda and Ministry of Finance (support to favoured businesses) and many more departments.

All presidents the world over, have specific budgets and have security details. But not all presidents have guards of division (more than 10,000 soldiers) strength. Neither do many presidents dispense patronage through handing out envelopes of money in public events and meetings. The uncontrolled expenditure by the incumbent will no doubt form part of the election campaign because it is a major area which can be reduced and funds are directed to more socially deserving areas.

Health Monitoring Unit
Sometime back, I watched a BBC TV programme featuring a unit fighting counterfeit drugs and the stealing of drugs in public health facilities. I thought it was a wonderful thing and they seemed to be doing a useful job for the public. Recently I read an interview by the unit head, Dr. Atwine. On TV, she looked and sounded genuine and determined. So is her interview. I do not know the outcome of their efforts. However, I wish her and team all the encouragement.

When people are doing something socially useful, they should be commended. Indeed counterfeit drugs are very dangerous. So is theft of drugs. However, from Dr Atwine’s interview, I sensed that this is one of the numerous presidential ad hoc initiatives. It is not institutionalised and it may not be backed by any specific law. I doubt whether the unit has the legal powers to investigate, arrest and prosecute. This is the problem of this presidency, failure to build institutions and systems.

It is not enough that something is in the public interest; it must be backed by law. Activities of government must be backed by laws, regulations and rules and those who exercise public power must legally have it. In addition, it is not possible to fight such criminal activities just in one isolated sector while similar activities are the norm in other sectors.

Corruption is rampant in every sector of government. How do you isolate health, Naads and UPE and make them corruption-free? It is not possible. While, therefore, I commend the enthusiasm of the health unit, I can see that they are facing an impossible task because the environment is favourable to corruption not anti-corruption activities.
Harassment of presidential aspirants.

This being an election year, opposition supporters expect the worst than other times. To make matters worse, Parliament has refused to take on board opposition reform proposals even when some of them had been accepted by the NRM in the Inter Party Dialogue of the parties represented in Parliament. No surprise there as the NRM has no history of abiding with any agreement.

The NRM can’t countenance a level playing field, especially now when it is very unpopular in most parts of the country. I know they will respond by pointing at their numbers in elected bodies, but everyone knows how they procure those numbers. However, they should remember that in the final analysis, it is in their own interests to have a level playing field because they will be in the opposition some day.

Mr Ruzindana is the FDC deputy secretary general for policy and research