Covid-19: Parliament bends rules to beat budget deadline

Thursday March 26 2020

Alternative space.  Members of Parliament

Alternative space. Members of Parliament during a plenary session at the Parliament conference hall on Tuesday. PHOTO BY ALEX ESAGALA. 

By Moses Kyeyune

The coronavirus pandemic has forced authorities at Parliament to bend rules of procedure in order to beat the statutory budget deadline.
Under the new arrangement, the Parliamentary Commission, chaired by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, has also agreed to cut the process from two and a half months to only two weeks.

The Public Finance Management Act 2015, requires Parliament to process the Budget and have final estimates adopted by May 31, of every year.
However, the Commission during its sitting on Wednesday, agreed to have the timeline shortened and have the Budget completed by April.

This implies only the Budget Committee will scrutinise the Budget as opposed to the standard practice where all members go through the budget and raise concerns on the floor of Parliament.

“The Budget Committee is going to sit and scrutinise the entire Budget process because all the chairpersons of the sectoral committees belong to the sectorial committees,” Dr Sulaiman Kiggundu, the director of budget at Parliament, said.

Only when necessary, there will be physical interactions of about four people to offer further explanation.
The Commission also resolved to use the electronic system where ministries will be sending in their documents via the Internet to the MPs who will analyse the budget estimates and allocations.

Following the confirmation of the 14 deadly coronavirus cases in Uganda by yesterday, Parliament has since downsized, living only the core areas relating to the Budget, to operate.

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Most of the interactions by members will be online.
“The downsizing of staff is aimed at decongesting the Parliament precincts to ensure the safety of MPs and staff while at the same time ensuring that Parliament business continues smoothly,” Mr Arinaitwe Rwakajara (NRM, Workers) a commissioner of Parliament, said.
Mr Francis Mwijukye (FDC, Buhweju County) said the current measures have been undertaken to ensure that the government continues running.

“Just like medical workers or security forces, the Parliament cannot run away from certain obligations; it is like in times of war, you see people going to camps but the security forces remain on ground. In this pandemic, the Ministry of Health needs money, the government needs money to run, so if we don’t finish this budget process, at a certain stage, the government will not be able to run,” added Mr Mwijukye.

Budget Process

September 15: Finance ministry issues First Budget Call Circular to MDAs.
December 31: Finance ministry presents Budget Framework Paper to Parliament
February 1: Parliament approves Budget Framework Paper.
March 1: Finance ministry issues Second Budget Call Circular with final ceilings.
March 15: MDAs present Annual Policy Statements to Parliament under Rule 145(1).
April 1: Finance ministry presents First Draft of Annual Budget Estimates under Rule 147 (1)
April 20: Committees Consider Ministerial Policy Statements under Rule 148 (1).
April 30: Parliament Consider Committee Reports on Policy Statements under Rule 148(2)
May 15: Budget Committee Reports to Parliament under Rule 148 (3).
May 31: Parliament approves annual National Budget.
July 1: New Budget comes into effect.

mkyeyune@ug.nationmedia.com

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