Wednesday June 11 2014

Voters should demand budget that focuses on national priorities

By Venansius Baryamureeba

The national Budget, a fiscal instrument presenting proposed revenues and spending in the coming financial year, is normally our hope of solving myriad of challenges faced. The budget also shows us the priorities and scale of preferences in solving these problems. However, the determination of priorities has been affected by politicians’ interest in pleasing voters.

I hail from Ibanda in south western Uganda and I feel a great attachment to the development priorities of my district. On Saturday, May 31, I travelled from Kampala to Ibanda via Mbarara and the road is tarmacked. I travelled via the new Kaguta Road that passes via Kazo and joins Mbarara-Masaka road in Lyantonde; another tarmac road. In 90 minutes, I drove comfortably, on the tarmacked Kaguta road, from Ibanda to Lyantonde. I noted something unusual though!

All the way from Ibanda up to where the Kaguta road joins the Mbarara-Masaka road, there was neither a public transport vehicle (bus or omni-bus) nor a lorry carrying goods.

On this road, I only came across five cars! I found it intriguing that a first-class tarmac road would be underutilised. I inquired from businessmen. They said buses and omnibuses that travel from Kampala to Ibanda via Kaguta road would not carry passengers that stop in Mbarara and the neighborhood like Bushenyi.

So by using Kampala-Mbarara-Ibanda road they are able to carry passengers that drop off in Mbarara and then load new passengers and continue to Ibanda. They said Kampala to Ibanda via Kaguta road does not have enough passengers, and this applies to cargo vehicles. Most of the cargo vehicles use Kampala-Mbarara road as the majority of clients are from Mbarara and its neighbourhood.

Ibanda and its neighbourhood do not have a lot of goods for transportation to Kampala that would keep the Ibanda-Kazo-Lyantonde road busy. Also the Lyantonde-Kazo-Ibanda road links to the border of Rwanda and DRC through Kisoro and Kasese respectively, and thus the cargo and passenger vehicles to Rwanda and DRC from Kampala still opt to pass via Mbarara instead of Ibanda as it would take longer if they passed via Ibanda.

And then it dawned on me that this first-class road is underutilised and yet it cost a lot of taxpayer’s money. It is so common that politicians will promise to do the easy-to-see and highly-exciting things like roads, while the electorate misses out on priorities that would impact their lives better.

In the recent past, we have seen the number of districts grow like never before in history. We have also seen several health centres being built but without nurses and doctors, among others instead of strengthening those already in place because the voters in each locality demanded for their own health centre(s).

We are now hearing of voters’ demands for a technical institute per county/ district instead of strengthening the existing ones that are not yet equipped and utilised.

The same thing applies to rural electrification. Many villages in Ibanda are being connected to the electricity grid. However, health and education services in this region have not improved for the majority of the people. Ibanda hospital no longer has specialist doctors and most of the cases are being referred to Mulago hospital. The health centres in the area still lack sufficient qualified nurses and doctors. Most of the schools lack qualified teachers.

While politicians will gain more popularity and possibly get voted back into office because they have promised a district, electricity or tarmac road, in most cases their promises together with voters demands are at variance with the strategies in the National Development Plan. For example, while the idea of rural electrification may seem exciting to the voters in rural areas, what is its essence without clean water, quality health and education services to acceptable standards?

We need to educate the voters to lobby for a Budget that focuses on national priorities that may not include fulfilment of presidential or election pledges. This calls for stronger coordination of government programmes across the different sectors.

As we plan to become a middle-income country and then developed country, tarmac roads should cover the whole country. However, at our current stage of development we should be concise not to focus on infrastructure like roads at the expense of other critical sectors like education and health. For instance, we cannot address youth unemployment unless the youth have access to excellent health and education services.
Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, Vice Chancellor of Uganda Technology &Management University