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Opposition insists on Shs44 trillion alternative budget

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Mr Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda and the Opposition say the Shs44.8 trillion alternative budget is sufficient to steer Uganda on.   Photo / File

Last Tuesday, Leader of Opposition Joel Ssenyonyi announced that his troops would boycott the 2024/25 National Budget speech to be officiated by President Museveni at the Kololo Independence Grounds today.

He reasoned that the Shs72.13 trillion 2024/25 budget not only carried contrary opinions to what would be a ‘realistic’ budget for the country but is also not reflective of the realities of majority of Ugandans. 

Like his Shadow Finance Minister Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, Mr Ssenyonyi said the budget has a litany of avoidable expenses.  “We [Opposition] have agreed not to attend the budget speech to protest what was captured in the Budget [while] disregarding critical issues of service delivery.” 

“We are saying this is not the budget for the people of Uganda; the kind that they would want. As Opposition, we have shared what the real concerns are. Where we need to put money,” he said. 

The Shs44.8 trillion alternative budget and what it offers 

Mr Ssenyonyi insists that the “alternative budget priorities for 2024/25 financial year” under the “fostering resilient communities by combating corruption and promoting efficient service delivery: A human rights-based approach to resource allocation,” as earlier unveiled be upheld for implementation. 

The alternative budget was unveiled in April in the Opposition’s Ministerial Policy Statement and Minority Report of the 2024/25 Annual Budget. It collapsed Uganda’s key areas into civil and political rights, economic rights and social and cultural rights.

Under civil and political rights, Justice and Constitutional Affairs was allocated Shs1.08 trillion, Defense and Veteran Affairs Shs1.98 trillion and Internal Affairs Shs1.47 trillion. 

Public Service and Local Government were allocated Shs1.14 trillion, Presidency Shs404.81b while the Kampala Capital City Authority was allocated Shs529.53b. 

On the other hand, under economic rights, Finance, Planning and Economic Development was allocated Shs10.69 trillion, Agriculture Shs3.03 trillion, Lands Shs529.23b, Works and Transport, Shs6.54 trillion, while Energy and Minerals was allocated Shs1.47 trillion.

Finally, under the social and cultural rights category Education and Sports was allocated Shs4.35 trillion, Health Shs5.94 trillion while Gender, Labour, and Social Development was allocated Shs1.58 trillion.

Thus, Mr Ssenyonyi reasons, it is a lean budget but looks out for the interest of all Ugandans. 

“By focusing on critical sectors such as justice, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and social protection, we provide the basis for long-term prosperity and equitable growth,” he says, noting that “it is a bold move towards promoting the well-being and empowerment of all individuals, regardless of their background”. 

What should be done?

Minutes after the House committee on budget tabled the Shs72.13 trillion budget on May 16, Mr Ssemujju attempted to woo Member of Parliament (MPs) to embrace his 170-page minority report, in which he indicated that Shs44.8 trillion would be sufficient to finance the 2024/25 budget only if certain measures were implemented, especially with Parliament taking the lead.

MPs, he said, should use their constitutional powers to suppress ‘unnecessary’ items and downsize government expenses on staff training, official ceremonies and state functions, workshops and consultancy services, and strike out donation budgets for state authorities, and costs on travel for public servants, staff welfare, entertainment, advertising, and public relations. 

“People were angry with the Speaker of Parliament, and they are right. But if there is money for donations, you can withdraw it the way you like. Prime Minister [Ms Robinah Nabbanja] has, government Chief Whip [Mr Hamson Denis Obua] has and very soon MPs [may ask] to get money for donations,” he told Daily Monitor in an interview.

The Opposition has also criticised government for “reckless borrowing” to finance the budget, ‘bloated’ public administration, and continued investment in ‘risky ventures.’

“In 2021 general elections, Uganda elected; 529 MPs, 146 district chairpersons, 43,202 councilors, 729,029 youth leaders, 405,010 PWD leaders, 405,010 old persons’ leaders, 418,855 women leaders, 811,140 village leaders bringing total elected leaders in the country to 2,865,667. Once [this] is downsized, then the “wage bill should be calculated against the total sums of money that remains after debt servicing,” he said. 

In support of the Opposition 

Like the Opposition, Mr Julius Mukunda, the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) executive director, believes that once sanity is deployed within government’s financial administration systems, the available resources can be sufficient to cushion Uganda’s growth. 

His views largely align with the Opposition, but fears that government has contracted too much debt, pressed taxes on businesses, and commits meagre resources to clear domestic arrears, which is stifling growth.  

Suppliers have had a bitter history with government. 

For instance, On May 11, 2022, contractors under Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors told Parliament that Uganda National Roads Authority owes them up to Shs500b, which formed then formed part of the more than Shs7 trillion held in domestic arrears. 

This, and others are part of the persistent fiscal indiscipline that civil society says is a problem to the larger economy. 

Ms Jane Nalunga, the Seatini executive director, says government should reconsider the annual revision of the tax measures and expand the period to at least three years to create tax certainty,” which is enough time to undertake a cost-benefit analysis for new taxes.  

“This will also boost investor confidence and facilitate investment decisions [that make] Uganda a potential investment destination,” she says and recommends that fresh taxes be premised on solid research to inform implementation and minimal resistance. 

“Government needs to invest more in research and undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed tax bills for revenue mobilisation, the taxpayers, and to the economy,” Ms Nalunga says adding that government should ensure that there is a linkage between tax and service, which will trigger tax compliance and check on tax apathy.

In his address at the Economic Talk on the National Budget 2024/25 national budget, Mr Mukunda said the tax burden was worsening with several tax bills, which have since been passed, placing a new burden on businesses. 

Instead, he said, Uganda Revenue Authority should moot measures to plug tax revenue leakages and also partner with local authorities, for instance those at the border districts to combat smuggling.

Opposition won’t give up

Whereas most of its opinions are ignored, Mr Ssemujju urges his colleagues in the Opposition to relent in the push for frugality. 

“The public has to be very angry and every day, maybe they [government] will change but otherwise it will become a ritual that you come here and make proposals, they [government side] listens to them and then continue,” he said.

On the other hand, Mityana Woman MP Joyce Bagala believes that desired change can only be registered through change in government.

“Ugandans should continue to worry unless there is a change of government. Before that happens, Ugandans have all the reasons to worry about taxes. This is because there is a lot of wastage and duplication of roles in government,” she says.