Diplomats stuck as budget cuts cripple embassies abroad

The Embassy of the Republic of Uganda in Washington, DC. Photo/ courtesy 

What you need to know:

  • On January 9, according to correspondences, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Mr Waiswa Bageya, forwarded the report to his Foreign Affairs counterpart for immediate action. Then everyone went quiet.

Uganda’s embassy building in Washington DC is under strain of leaky walls. The chimney section has been absorbing rain water for long, swelling, and has started cracking the outer walls.

The relief for now, it is summertime. Last year, the Ministry of Works dispatched civil engineers to study the structural integrity of the embassy building, with the resultant report, seen by Monitor, detailing cracks, rusty gas and water pipes, among others.

On January 9, according to correspondences, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Mr Waiswa Bageya, forwarded the report to his Foreign Affairs counterpart for immediate action. Then everyone went quiet.

The official residence of Uganda’s ambassador too has been leaking for months. The plumbing has hardly been fixed and the broken water pipes and soaked walls could implode anytime.

The respite is that the house occupant, ambassador designate Robbie Kakonge, along with several new ambassadors and accounting officers recently appointed, are stuck in Kampala over absence of finances to facilitate reporting to their duty stations.

President Museveni reshuffled ambassadors last December, designating Ms Kakonge to Washington, replacing Ambassador Mull Katende, who was redeployed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Kampala.

At Uganda’s High Commission in Canberra, Australia, diplomats are short on medical insurance. The Consulate in Guangzhou, China, is stuck with a utility van whose repair and maintenance costs they can’t pay, while plans to procure a new one have been winding.

At Uganda’s High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which also oversees Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos, in Far East Asia, out of the approved staff structure of five, only two are filled.

This state of affairs has sparked jitters in the corridors of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kampala, and at several diplomatic Missions abroad over the recent budgetary cuts that cut across all ministries, departments and agencies in an effort to tame the spiralling inflation.

Uganda has 37 Missions abroad, long bogged down by inadequate funding and the continued appointment of political appointees as heads and installed employees as a result of the systemic cronyism and nepotism.

The Missions abroad serve three main purposes, economic/commercial, consular services and political cooperation. Some serve only one, two or all the three, owing to their mission charters, location, size, and budgets.

However, the Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Ramathan Ggoobi’s cash cut back, has left, especially diplomats abroad, on the brink and others grumbling.

For this quarter, Mr Ggoobi told journalists last week that cash releases have been constrained by the state of the economy in an effort by the Treasury to realign fiscal policy with the monetary policy to contain inflationary pressure.

Traditionally, Missions abroad have been cushioned from the budget cuts because of their unique position and constant need to be credit worthy.

One diplomat abroad told this newspaper: “In his (Ggoobi’s) limited releases, how does he expect running of offices abroad which do not have the luxury of putting demands on hold?”

During the budget planning, another diplomat lamented that they were advised to leave out the vote for travel abroad, only to be shell-shocked later when the votes for inland and fuel were frozen as well.

For quarter one releases, the Missions abroad were allocated money for only salaries, rent, utilities, and health insurance. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kampala then asked accounting officers at the Missions to redistribute the same money to any other essential services.

“Does he expect payment of salaries for no work done? No stationary. No office equipment, nothing,” another diplomat wondered. “Even countries at war protect their embassies.”

Slashing of the budget for travel abroad started in the last quarter of FY2021/2022 and as such, Monitor has learnt that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been at pains to effect posting and recalling of staff abroad.

Asked about the imbroglio, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Vincent Bagire, promised to revert after sitting of the ministry’s committee last Thursday. Our reminder for a response[s] went unanswered.

While travel budget for diplomats has been frozen for months now, diplomats abroad and in Kampala are perplexed by the Ministry of Finance’s recent move to dispatch economists from the Treasury to train diplomats at their respective stations on programme-based budgeting in line with the National Development Plan III (NDP III).

In a June 7 circular to all heads of Missions abroad, Mr Ggoobi detailed a schedule for on-site training to enhance the ability of Missions to align their subsequent budgets to the NDP III.