On eve of Budget reading (June 10), the Secretary to Treasury, Mr Keith Muhakanizi, invited accounting officers for an abrupt Budget review meeting on Monday. He attached details of proposed Budget cuts in which he proposes to take away Shs1.2b from water and environment, Shs156.15b from health, Shs618.73b from agriculture, Shs121.64 from education and Shs55.66 from science, technology and innovation, etc.
Slashing health spending to cater for emerging government spending pressures while the deadly coronavirus is spreading is cruel, inhumane and unacceptable. The sector cannot suffer cuts at a time when the country is scrambling to provide test kits, personal protective equipment (PPEs) for frontline health workers and beds for the sick.
Health workers are grumbling over pay and some hospitals have already run out of space for patients. They have resorted to tents. The available intensive care beds at national and regional referral hospitals across the country can’t match the numbers.
We note slackness on the part of government officials in charge of the Budget. The government communicated Budget cuts 48 days after Parliament approved the Budget for the FY 2020/2021 and one day to the Budget reading. He cited the need to re-align the Budget in order to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 and other disasters yet the first case of the virus was confirmed during the budgeting process (March 21) and they did not bother to review the priorities.
The fact that the budget process is never based on complete and perfect information as there might be a need for government to do adjustments, cannot clutter our judgement at a time when household incomes are declining, people are losing jobs; food insecurity looms and the economy took the knee. Why should government propose cuts for sectors with unfunded priorities?
Parliament must ensure that the Budget allocations for the frontline sectors in the fight against the pandemic are protected. Instead of cutting their money, let them make switches (re-allocations), also known as virement. Or else, the proposed cuts, if not handled with utmost care, will kill all the government efforts in the fight against Covid-19. Our view is that cutting funds allocated to health, water, agriculture, science and technology etc. is suicidal, absurd and catastrophic.
These sectors should not in any way suffer Budget cuts. Internally, the accounting officers can do virement. This option is viable and acceptable. In effect, unlike painful Budget cuts, under virement option, the accounting officers, with permission from Secretary to Treasury, will have leeway to re-allocate funds from workshops, special meals, travel abroad, entertainment etc. to other priority areas within his or her sector budget.