There are always a few jabs in the President’s State-of-the-Nation Address, but for the most part, this is a unifying, feel-good speech for a nation that needs hope.
After receiving the address that the Opposition dismissed as “the same old story”, Parliament will again convene on Thursday to hear the National Budget, highlighting the key government priorities in the coming financial year and plans to spur what appears to be a sluggish economy in the eyes of critics.
Finance minister Maria Kiwanuka is going to present her fourth budget on behalf of the President. She will use the Budget Day to detail what has been achieved so far, the challenges ahead, new tax measures and what the NRM government intends to achieve with Shs14 trillion in the coming Financial Year.
However, the President has consistently dismissed the Opposition narrative as an act of “envy” and that they have eyes but cannot see the progress the NRM government has made over the years. The NRM leader told the country on Thursday that the economy continues to be vibrant amidst economic challenges and reforms on the local, regional and International scene.
The President said composite growth for the whole economy has improved even before the structural bottlenecks have been removed.
For instance, the size of the economy is expected to increase to Shs63.329 trillion, equivalent to $25.3 billion. The size of the economy has increased by 5.7 per cent in the current financial year. The President said this rate is comparable to the 5.8 per cent growth achieved in Financial Year 2012/13, despite constraints outside government’s control.
Unlike in the previous speech, the President didn’t admit failure on his promises to the nation. He simply asked Ugandans to support him in resuscitating the agriculture sector which has been ruined by perpetual government underfunding and unprecedented levels of corruption.
The President dwelt on agriculture because it is the sector that is most easily accessible to the majority of Ugandans. He said even the ones without land can borrow or rent from the others.
While the President blames corruption especially in the Naads project, his critics said, the NRM government failed to prioritise the agriculture sector which employs more than 70 per cent of Ugandans in the National Budget.
After months of political combat within his political backyard, a jovial President on a luminous Thursday afternoon restated his promise to tackle economic disparity with a series of initiatives in the agriculture sector.
Mr Museveni, looking serene and poised, dwelled on the agriculture sector, highlighting the progress made during his 28-year reign. The President vowed to tackle economic disparity with a series of initiatives in the four priority sectors: agriculture, industry, services and ICT which he said are key to wealth creation and access to employment.
The President also criticised people damaging the environment through deforestation and cultivation on the shores of Lake Victoria and banks of River Nile. He tasked the Minister of Environment to make more efforts to ensure the protection of River Nile and Lake Victoria.
The NRM leader however, said with or without the Opposition, he will use his majority in the House to push through the necessary reforms. In the latest clearest indication that the President disregards the Opposition.
At the start of his address; whether deliberate or otherwise, he had not recognised the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Wafula Oguttu, as protocol demands and when the Opposition reminded him, he said he had covered him under the “distinguished gentlemen”.
Although this year’s speech was shorter than the previous address, some high-profile government officials and legislators were caught either sleeping or nodding. Some of the MPs who were alert poked holes in the President’s speech. Hassan Kaps Fungaroo, the shadow minister for Defence, said the President ignored the fact that the country is at war in South Sudan and that there was nothing on health sector which is critical to Ugandans.
However, the Minister for Presidency, Mr Frank Tumwebaze, said the President’s speech was spot on because the NRM chief articulated the livelihood realities of Ugandans.
Mr Tumwebaze and other NRM MPs said the emphasis on agriculture opportunities was timely given the unemployment problem in the country.