Maize cash mystery: Govt must match word, action

Wednesday July 31 2019

High yields. Maize grain supplied to World Food

High yields. Maize grain supplied to World Food Programme is weighed in Yumbe District following a bumper harvest last year. photo by rachel mabala 

By Editor

The August 2018 government declaration to inject Shs100b to stabilise maize prices that had dramatically plummeted that year has turned out a phantom. Tracking the flow of public resources is an important element of accountability journalism and Daily Monitor’s inquiries into the disbursement and use of the Shs100b yielded a surprising result: A paper tiger proclamation.

The Shs100b, according to Finance Minister Matia Kasaija, who made the proclamation, was supposed to be disbursed to participating commercial banks from which maize traders would borrow cash to buy produce from farmers.

The simple economics: Make cheap credit available for middlemen to buy maize above then prevailing market prices of Shs200 per kilogramme. It is irresistible to cast that the elaborate notice designed as a political charade from the outset to calm restless maize farmers that the government they elected cared. It turns out that it did not.

Why? There was no Shs100b from the inception.
Mr Kasaija made the proclamation in August 2018 aware that the National Budget he read a two months earlier had no provision for the slush fund. He never tasked technocrats in the ministry that he superintends to originate supplementary budget. And there is no evidence of a virement request and authorisation to make the Shs100b available through internal allocation of budgeted funds.

What was provided was the annual vote to the Agricultural Credit Facility, which sits at the Bank of Uganda. The Central Bank has, since 2015, disbursed more than Shs111b to lift up agricultural production and value chain improvement. The enduring question, as this newspaper asked in the splash in yesterday’s edition: Where is Shs100b maize money?

It was interesting that minister Kasaija only learned from his ministry Permanent Secretary Keith Muhakanizi on Monday, July 29, and upon our reporter’s inquiries, that the Treasury released no single coin out of the presumed Shs100b maize cash!
“Sure?” Mr Kasaija asked.

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We argue that the maize cash conundrum underlines dysfunction in government that deprives citizens of opportunities. Throwing cash at farmers at moments of low prices is a knee-jerk reaction. We restate our demand that the government establishes silos in different parts of the country. This will serve two purposes: Hold stock for release to the market in times of scarcity or store surplus farm output to stabilise prices.

Whereas the market forces of supply and demand corrected the imperfections that prompted maize price slump, it is no justification for the government to have imbibed the Bretton Woods Institutions-imposed liberalisation policy hook, line and sinker.

Let the government reset itself to the basics and match its word with action if it is to be trusted.

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