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Budget trouble

By Dicta Asiimwe

MPs allege forgery of reports but Speaker raises no objection

Parliament approved the budget figures this week with, at one point at 6 pm, 21 members in attendance.

Presided over by Speaker Edward Sekandi, by six o’clock, with over one hundred votes not yet passed, those present included front benchers Daudi Migereko, who is the Chief Whip, Minister of Education Namirembe Bitamazire, and Minister of Finance and Economic Development (Investment) Fred Omach. Only five opposition MPs were present.

The rules of procedure require that for any vote to take place, a third of the 327 MPs should be present.

Sekandi was brooking no debate. The budget had to be passed in exactly four hours. MPs soon realised that the only contribution required of them was shout ‘aye’ as the figures were read. Most of them walked out. As a result important issues were missed.

At one point, when Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Chief Whip, Kasiano Wadri, pointed out that the National Drug Authority had no development budget (government departments spend development budgets on activities that are not annual), Finance minister Omach said they had not been providing a development budget to NDA. This was disputed by the Minister for General Duties in the ministry of Health, Richard Nduhura, who asked how the department will deliver drugs to all of districts with no vehicles. Government put the procurement and distribution of drugs under NDA to reduce drug stock-outs in district hospitals and health centres.

Sekandi offered a quick option: Approve this budget and look for money to give to NDA later during the Appropriations Bill ‘” never mind that money approved in the budget cannot be re-allocated to another area.

Ngora MP Francis Epatait said he had expected such re-allocations during approval. He said the Uganda AIDS Commission had consistently received money late because it is taken through the ministry of Health instead of through President’s Office where it was established by law. Epatait later walked out on the proceedings saying he could not stay to pass what he called a ‘kangaroo budget’.

Some MPs, including Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum Woman) wanted to block the ministry of Water and Environment from receiving money until the ban on polythene bags Kaveera, which the Minister of Finance Syda Bbumba introduced in the 2009/2010 budget is implemented. Sekandi told Aywar that she could only reduce the money by Shs 10,000.

‘If you are dissatisfied with what is going on in the ministry, and the budget is proposed, the figures called out, the only weapon you have is to move a motion to reduce the figure by Shs 10,000. That is the maximum measure you have on the vote,’ Sekandi said.

The MPs also wanted to reallocate the Shs 7,048,000 given to the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration. John Arimadri said the money was given to the department so that they could train people who would use the biometric data equipment for national identity cards but the people to use the equipment had been trained during the Electoral Commission registration process and they, therefore, did not need the money.

‘Wait for the year to end and allow the auditor general to ask the department what they had used the money for at the end of the financial year,’ Sekandi quipped.

Under the Budget Act, Parliament is expected not to just pass the budget but to make help the Finance ministry make optimal allocations. Sekandi made this point last financial year. ‘The budgeting process is now controlled by the Budget Act, which we enacted some years ago,’ when Parliament was debating the budget, ‘The intention was to involve Parliament in that process rather than using it to rubberstamp.’

At the time, debate on the budget appeared rushed. MPs would debate for 12 hour a day starting at 10am and finishing at night. Yet each MP who had a contribution was allowed to make a pitch. Not this time. Even the period between the tabling of a Committee Report was longer. The report of the Committee on Natural Resources was first presented on August 26, 2009; it was adopted on Sept. 7, 2009. Not this time.

Instead, this process has led to allegations of forgery of reports.

Makindye West MP Hussein Kyanjo, a member of Internal Affairs Committee, said Vice Chairperson Milton Muwuma forged the report as members were never invited to write it.

He wanted the Internal Affairs budget, which dealt with the controversial National ID project, debated because the figures were contradictory and some allocations had not been planned.

Sekandi allowed the report to be tabled and adopted and, merely, promised Kyanjo that he would investigate the allegations that there were no committee meetings to write that report.

Sekandi says he needed to pass the budget in a hurry since parliament is by law expected to pass the budget figures by Aug. 31 although.

He was backed by Finance Minister Omach who said everyone had a chance to debate the budget speech and the opposition had given a detailed response to it. He, inaccurately, said the Speaker could only vary the dates from Aug. 31 by a maximum of two weeks. The Budget Act allows the Speaker unlimited discretion to increase the days.

In fact, Sekandi stopped debating of the budget when he adjourned for three weeks on Aug. 19 as a result of consistent failure to have quorum.

Most MPs were in their constituencies campaigning for the National Resistance Movement (NRM) primaries. The Committee Chairperson on National Economy, Steven Mukitale, praised Sekandi’s decision as ‘prudent’. His only wish; harmonise parliament activity to suit party activity.

He praised the rush. Government can only plan to spend money if it has it on its account because government procurement takes long and therefore money has to be delivered before the Oct. 31 allocation gets finished.

But Parliament’s Accounts Committee Chairman Nandala Mafabi rebutted that Government has not stopped operating because the budget, which was presented in June had not been passed. ‘We always pass a third of the Vote-on-Account and I do not agree to this issue of saying that we cannot get salaries because we have not passed the entire budget,’ Mafabi said.

 

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