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Budget reading is just a ritual

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

Nothing new. Same promises. Little will be implemented

Leader of Opposition Nandala Mafabi shared his views about the budget the new finance minister Maria Kiwanuka presented on June 8 at the Kampala Serena Hotel with The Independent’s Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi.

What struck you most about the budget?

There was really nothing striking, the budget was the same as the one for last year. Same promises, fixing specific roads that were made last year, were made again. In fact the budget has now become just a ritual.

The Minister said she is bringing a law to regulate oil exploitation. Don’t you think this is new and it could address the concerns you earlier presented?

I don’t think so. In fact I thought that law was already in Parliament but I was surprised to learn from the minister that she is just going to bring it. It is long overdue but I am not optimistic that under the current arrangement it will improve anything.

The minister has also waived the tax on kerosene. Doesn’t that address your Walk-to-Work demands?

We have always been arguing for this tax waiver, it should have been done long ago. But the minister erred by waiving the tax on kerosene and doing nothing about the tax on diesel. She should have been advised that unscrupulous people will most likely start mixing diesel with kerosene which is now tax-free. It is easy and we have seen it before. The minister made another mistake by waiving value added tax on solar energy and not hydro electricity. What is the difference? If she meant to make power cheaper to protect the environment and support production, she should have done the same across all power sources.

The minister also proposed cost cutting measures in public office by cutting expenditure on advertising, newspapers, vehicle repairs and procurement of new vehicles. Do you see this solving the problem of waste?

Did she carry out research before taking those steps? Why does she target easy areas like newspapers? We support the proposal that was made long ago that ministers and other public servants shouldn’t be given vehicles but a travel allowance to cut costs. The minister just needs to shop around for useful ideas on how waste in public office can be cut drastically before she comes up with such measures.

The minister also said she will make permanent secretaries and other accounting officers personally liable for funds that are released to them. Do you think this measure will help the anti-graft war and improve value for money?

That is what the law says and Ugandans should put the government to task to explain why they didn’t enforce this measure earlier. There is nothing new there.

What in your view did the budget miss out?

The budget didn’t move on the issue of making borrowing cheaper. The most important thing holding business behind in this country is interest rates. I would have been pleased if the minister had suggested measures to bring down interest rates to make loans more affordable.

What is your prediction for the coming financial year?

I wish it were positive. I can tell you here that very little of what you have heard the minister say will be implemented. Tomorrow, those people will come to Parliament with supplementary budgets and channel the money to what pleases them. That is why the minister told you that most of the money the government collects will go to consumption.

So how have your first days as the Leader of Opposition been?

Ah, many challenges already, but interesting. I believe we shall manage to check government with all the resources we can get.

You officially started off by leading your members in a walk out against the President. Should we expect more of such actions?

Well, it depends on what happens next. The President made a mistake by claiming that he has an impeccable record in fighting corruption. We couldn’t allow that. We know this government as one that condones corruption and we couldn’t allow the President to fool us. Even if he had repeated it on budget day, we would still have walked out on him. That is why he strategically brought it at the end of his speech.

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