Was there ever a time since independence when Uganda’s presidency was as strong as it is today?
President Museveni’s longevity in power has enabled him to build a presidency that has overarching control over the country. The President has constitutional powers to appoint the vice president, ministers, judges, heads of agencies and heads of security organs, among others.
The leverage to appoint occupants of hundreds of top offices accords the President untold power of patronage, which is compounded by the ever-bulging packet for presidential donations.
According to the ministerial policy statement for the Office of the President for Financial Year 2014/2015, there were 826 employees directly under the Presidency, with 760 working as administrative support for the President and the rest staff assigned to the Office of the Vice President.
Apart from the Secretary to the Presidency and several officials, including Undersecretaries and Commissioners, the Office of the President also oversees the External Security Organisation (ESO), Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and facilitates 163 presidential advisors and assistants, who earn between Shs2.2m and Shs7m.
According to the policy statement for the presidency for the Financial Year 2017/2018, their annual wage bill stood at Shs29b.
The advisors and assistants, whose number first rose from four in 1994 to 71 in 2003, are also entitled to vehicles, mostly Mitsubishi Pajeros. The unit cost of a Pajero 2017 model is around Shs147.5m, meaning government spends at least Shs24b on their vehicles alone. They are also provided with security and drivers.
Under State House, the President has over the years put in place units to deal with almost all essential services that would, otherwise, be handled by established ministries or departments of government.
As early as 2000, for instance, the Poverty Alleviation Department was set up in State House to act “as a clearing house for pledges made by President Museveni,” according to the State House website. “In 2003, the department was mandated to develop wealth creation models.”
The other units under State House include the one on fighting corruption, drugs monitoring, land monitoring and youth desk.
A few months ago, the President set up a three-man secretariat to coordinate resident district commissioners (RDCs), who number 122 and 82 deputy RDCs.
An RDC earns a basic salary of Shs2.2m and Shs1.6m in allowances, consuming at least Shs8.5b a year. Each RDC is also entitled to a double-cabin pick-up truck, which costs at least Shs60m, meaning at least Shs7.3b is spent on their cars.
Article 203 of the 1995 Constitution spells out the roles of RDCs as monitoring implementation of central and local government services in their districts, chairing district security committees and carrying out other functions assigned to them by the President.
Article 71 of the Local Government Act 1997, says RDCs represent the President and government in the districts; coordinate government services, advise the district chairpersons on matters of national importance, particularly relations between the district and the central government.
The relevance of the RDCs has, however, often been called into question and sections of the public have been calling on government to scrap the job.
Dr Paul Ssemogerere, a former leader of the Democratic Party and presidential candidate, says the presence of RDCs distorts the working of the decentralisation system.
“You have the RDC in the district representing the President, but you also have an elected chairperson. Who takes precedence? The RDC chairs the security committee at the district, but there is a district police commander, how does that work?” Dr Ssemogerere says.
Scrapping the office of RDC has featured prominently in campaign proposals by Opposition politicians, in particular Dr Kizza Besigye. Critics say President Museveni uses them to further his politics in the districts.
Finance Minister Matia Kasaija said in Parliament on May 21, that maintaining the President does not come cheap.
“The President is very expensive. Any movements that he makes are very costly. He needs the advance team, fuel for the convoy, allowances for his entourage, food for his people and so many other demands,” Mr Kasaija told MPs on the Budget Committee. He had gone to defend supplementary expenditure of Shs1.6 trillion with only a month left to the end of the financial year. Out of this money, Shs17b was to cater for the President’s ongoing countrywide tour.
Critics have latched onto the expenses involving and around the presidency to criticise Mr Museveni, who at the beginning of his rule, preached frugality. His ministers rode in Toyota Laurels and senior military officers and Special District Administrators drove Land Rover Santanas.
When President Museveni took office in January 1986, there was need for a makeover at the President’s residence, for which reason allocations for the Office of the President took Shs22.91bn out of the Shs273b budget for financial year 1986/1987. This figure looked big because Uganda was still using the currency issued under Obote II and inflation was through the roof, at 161 per cent, according to the World Bank. The government has since adopted a policy to maintain single-digit inflation, currently standing at 3.3 per cent.
State House did not have a separate vote then, with its expenses catered for under the vote of the Office of the President.
In that year, the Office of the President spent on replacement of vehicles, which took up Shs300m, operation and maintenance of vehicles, accounting for Shs179m, and recreation and entertainment (Shs85m). Workers’ and group employees’ salaries and allowances took up Shs59.8m.
The following financial year, the allocation to the Office of the President dropped to Shs1.2b, but that was shortly after the currency reform in which two zeroes were knocked off the old note and then 30 per cent tax levied on the new one, meaning that for very Shs1m exchanged, one received Shs7,000 in return.
Spending on the Office of the President and State House has been on the upward trajectory then, reaching Shs204b in the Financial Fear 2012/2013, implying an average daily expenditure of Shs560m, up from Shs434.5m the year before.
A look at budgetary allocations for the period between the financial years 2010/2011 and 2018/2019 shows that between them, State House and the Office of the President got at least Shs2.2 trillion, about half of the Shs4.4 trillion, which on average, was spent on the education sector in the same period.
During the said period, State House got Shs1.7 trillion and the Office of the President Shs447.8b.
The two institutions have also been major beneficiaries from the Shs5.7 trillion issued in supplementary budgets between the financial year 2014/2015 and last financial year, triggering public furor.
One of the biggest criticisms against the expenditure of both State House and the Office of the President is the provision for classified expenditure budgets. Critics believe that such budgets should ideally reside with the ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs. The ministries have theirs, and the President’s Office and State House have theirs separately.
For example, Shs3.5 trillion, or 65 per cent of the Ministry of Defense’s 2019/2020 budget, is classified expenditure. Then another Shs4.9b is provided for the same purpose under the Office of the President, and another Shs68.11b under State House.
Col Shaban Bantariza, the deputy director of the government-run Uganda Media Centre, argues that those raising the matter do so out of ignorance.
“Those who are saying so don’t understand what classified expenditure is for. It is for the acquisition of assets that protect the State and other State security areas. State House is security area number one, that is why the President is not protected by an ordinary force,” Col Bantariza says.
The need to avail Shs47b for donations was one of the reasons for which State House tabled a request for supplementary funding to the tune of Shs138.2b in April 2013. That sent the total budget for presidential donations beyond Shs53.7b in the financial year 2013/2014.
Back then, Ms Nakyobe, defended the items, saying the money is spent on, among other things, medical treatment abroad for government officials and purchase of cars for religious and cultural leaders.
Demands for extra funding have been on the rise. It, for example, stood at 4 per cent of the budget in the Financial Year 2008/2009, rose to 7.2 per cent of the budget in the Financial Year 2009/2010 and 27.7 per cent in the Financial Year 2010/2011.
State House and the Office of the President nearly always need supplementary funding. We already cited the request for supplementary funding for President Museveni’s ongoing countrywide tour.
In March 2010, Shs12b out of the Shs456b that was requested as supplementary funding went to State House and the Office of the President. In the financial year 2011/2012, State House tabled three requests totaling Shs121.8b. In 2012/2013, State House tabled two requests for additional funds, starting with Shs58.5b and then asking for hs129 six months later. The State House budget increased by 38 per cent as a result of those requests.
Total expenditure on State House that year shot up to then an unprecedented Shs204.4b.
At the time the request for the Shs92b was submitted, the Ministry of Health had failed to convince the Ministry of Finance to release Shs7b to help victims of the nodding disease, inviting critics to weigh in on the issue.
Civil Society had been critical of the decision by government to seek supplementary funding. The executive director of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, Mr Julius Mukunda, described the move as abuse of the budget process and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“The law provides that a supplementary budget can only be sought if a situation was unforeseeable, absorbable and unavoidable. The tour doesn’t fall in any of those three. It was a case of poor planning. It denies funds to other ongoing budgetary implementation challenges,” Mr Mukunda argues.
But Mr Don Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, says critics are wrong on the matter.
“What was the right time (to apply for supplementary funding) according to civil society? Do they want him (Museveni) to sit in Entebbe and clasp his arms? He has a duty to the people. He promised to turn Uganda into a middle income status country and that can only happen when people are wealthy,” Mr Wanyama said.
Mr Mukunda argues that the money would have been better spent on the provision of social services like construction of schools.
Figures from the Ministry of Education’s construction unit indicates that constructing a seven-classroom school, with offices, a staffroom, kitchen and playing field, would cost between Shs2b and Shs2.5b, meaning that the Shs17b that is being spent on Mr Museveni’s current tour could have added between seven and nine primary schools.
Building Tomorrow, a non-governmental organisation, which has since 2008 constructed 81 schools across the country, says it costs it between Shs250m and Shs300m to construct a school of the above quoted size. That means that the Shs17b would have delivered anywhere between 56 and 68 additional primary schools.
Jets, cars and residences
Between the years 2000 and 2009, Shs148b was spent on the purchase of two presidential jets for the President.
The first jet, a Gulfstream IV, was purchased in 2000 at Shs60b. It replaced the Grumman Gulfstream, which had been purchased in 1973 by President Idi Amin. The jet was later reportedly sold to an American firm, Mike Ellis Associates at Shs20b.
The second jet, the Gulfstream V, was delivered early in 2009 at a cost of Shs88b. The Minister for the Presidency then, Mr Kirunda Kivenjinja, then defended the decision to acquire what critics called a luxurious jet on grounds that the old one had become expensive to main, requiring Shs639m per year.
Also available to the President for use for internal flights is a Mi-17 helicopter owned by the Uganda People’s Defense Air Force, which was delivered in 2016 at a cost of Shs11.3b.
However, Uganda is not the only African country with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of less than $1,000 whose leader flies an expensive luxury jet.
Neighbouring Rwanda, which is rated as poorer than Uganda, has its president flying a Gulfstream 650 executive jet valued at $65m (about Shs238b). The president of Burkina Faso has two aircraft, a Special Boeing 727, which the president uses for “important flights” and a Falcon 900.
At the time, Mr Kivejinja revealed that the Presidency required Shs5.55b for the purchase of vehicles that year. He did not delve into the makes, but in October 2012, during celebrations for the Golden Jubilee anniversary, two armoured Mercedes Benz cars that had been procured at a cost of Shs6b were unveiled. The then chairperson of the Presidential Affairs Committee, Mr Barnabas Tinkasiimire, quickly accused those in government of extravagance.
The official cars of the President have also changed. The Black Mercedes Benz car that he drove to Parliament when he was first sworn in was replaced by a white Mercedes Benz Cross Country at some point in the 1990s. Now there are the Land Cruisers and the armoured Mercedes Benz limousines.
The size of the fleet of the presidential motorcade has increased over the years. It was not possible to establish how big it is, but a source at State House indicated that there are at least 100 cars split into four different sets to allow for onward rapid deployment to any part of the country to which the President may fly by chopper. Others are left in Kampala and Entebbe for deployment to any point at which he may opt to land.
Between 16 and 20 out of that fleet are said to be Land Cruiser V8 cars, each of which goes for at least £120,000 (about Shs570m), bringing the total to Shs11.4b.
This makes the fleet available for use by President Museveni the biggest Uganda has had since independence.
In his book, State of Blood, Mr Henry Kyemba, a former minister under president Amin, says Obote moved with a convoy of not more than four vehicles, including a lead car. President Amin on occasions drove around unescorted, but he too would never have a motorcades of more than four vehicles.
Mr Aggrey Awori, a former minister under Mr Museveni, says president Obote’s convoy was not more than six cars.
The 2017/2018 policy statement for State House indicates that 192 other vehicles were bought at a cost of Shs21.7b in the period between 2010 and 2015. All these cars, of course, are not just for the President since there are many other officials under the office.
Like most costs associated with State House, the cost of maintaining State House Entebbe and nine stage lodges in Masaka, Kisoro, Mbarara, Fort Portal, Arua, Gulu, Masindi, Jinja and Mbale runs in billions.
In the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2007, government spent Shs96.4b on the refurbishment and furnishing of State House Entebbe. Another Shs7b was provided to renovate the same facility in the Financial Year 2016/2017.
Billions more have been spent on the renovations of Nakasero State House and the State lodges. There are also presidential ranches and demonstration farms that are maintained at the taxpayers’ expense, but whose real value is hard to put a finger to.
Food and entertainment
Budget allocation. Another expenditure item that usually causes debate is entertainment. In April 2013, Shs2.5b was provided for entertainment and provision of special meals. Appearing before MPs, the State House Comptroller, Ms Lucy Nakyobe said there was nothing luxurious about what was listed as “special meals and drinks”.
“We use this expenditure item to buy posho and beans for the staff. This is normal food and has nothing to do with burgers,” she said.
With a kilogramme of posho going for Shs2,500 and of beans Shs3,500, State House could have purchased 600 metric tonnes of posho for Shs1.5b and about 286 metric tonnes of beans for Shs1b.
Shs6b was also spent on maintenance of vehicles, which Ms Nakyobe defended thus: “The money (Shs6b) looks much but we have a big fleet of vehicles, of which 90 per cent is old and we have constant break-downs.”
The case of Kenya. The challenge of maintaining a big spending presidency is not limited to Uganda. Neighbouring Kenya has a similar headache. Last financial year, the Kenyan Presidency was allocated more than double what was allocated to the country’s constitutional commissions and offices. Whereas the presidency got KShs8.7b (approximately Shs322.9b), the commissions and offices were allocated only Shs3.7 (approximately Shs137.3b). This has led to calls for a return to fiscal and budgetary discipline and a possible review of the devolution system of government, but again Kenya is a much bigger economy than Uganda.
Shs148b: Amount spent on presidential jets.
163: The number of Presidential Advisors and Assistants.
Shs29b: Annual wage bill of presidential advisors and assistants.
122: The number of Resident District Commissioners (RDCs).
82: The number of Deputy RDCs
Shs8.491b: Annual wage bill of RDCs.
Shs7.3b: Approximate amount spent on procuring cars for RDCs.
Shs560m: Average daily expenditure on the Office of the President and State House.
What some of the key players say...
Matia Kasaija, Finance Minister. “The President is very expensive. Any movements that he makes are very costly. He needs the advance team, fuel for the convoy, allowances for his entourage, food for his people and so many other demands.”
Col Shaban Bantariza, deputy director, Uganda Media Centre. “[Classified expenditures of both State House] is for the acquisition of assets that protect the State and other State security areas. State House is security area number one, that is why the President is not protected by an ordinary force.”
Aggrey Awori, former minister. “The current State House is different from that of previous regimes. This State House is extremely powerful. It is a government within a government, you could say. That is why they have there certain facilities, which you don’t find elsewhere.”
Don Wanyama, senior presidential press secretary. “State House allocations are not in the trillions that they are talking about. The only thing which you can accuse the President of is visibility - that he is everywhere working, .... Mr Museveni is doing much more work with less money than many sectors.”