Taxpayers don’t gain from refunds
Posted Friday, January 11 2013 at 02:00
On Monday, the Irish government announced that the Uganda government had repaid it Euros4 million (Shs14b), which was part of the aid money misappropriated in the Office of the Prime Minister. However, the Republic of Ireland said it’s suspension of bilateral aid in Uganda is still in place until Irish officials are confident measures are in place to prevent more misappropriation.
The insistence by Ireland that government refunds the stolen aid and implement financial control measures is laudable. Continuing to withhold aid until the measures are in place also signifies that one development partner, at least, has had it with the repeat offender that Uganda is, and seeks more assurance than verbal utterances from regime officials.
Yet, the way the aid was refunded raises concerns. The Shs14 billion was withdrawn from the supplementary budget without parliamentary approval, despite a provision in the Constitution that says government has to seek the approval of the Auditor General and notify Parliament before undertaking such action.
Parliament’s Budget Committee chairman says the committee was not consulted. Government is relying on Article 154 in the 1995 Constitution – the same article it used to defend the decision to withdraw $740 million from the foreign exchange reserve two years ago for the purchase of fighter jets, with its resultant economic backlash – that says the President or line minister can spend public funds and later seek parliamentary approval. As it stands, Article 154 could potentially become an excuse for irresponsible and overreaching fiscal expenditure.
Certainly repaying the stolen money is not even close to the urgent solutions government should be undertaking. Despite its pledges to donors that it will finally get serious about tackling the vice, there are still reports of graft in the government. This points to still unaddressed flaws in government’s control mechanisms and to a lack of clarity and commitment in containing corruption.
So, while the Irish might have been appeased, taxpayers are still getting a raw deal; it’s them who have in effect repaid the aid since the money came from the Consolidated Fund, not from the few implicated politically well-connected officials. And, they still continue to get shortchanged as officials raid public coffers.
Therefore, instead of acting as a reassurance repaying the stolen aid is a reminder that things, even as they appear to change, are still very much the same.