By Melina Platas, Obed K. Katureebe & John Njoroge
Shs 80 billion spent on cars every year
President Yoweri Museveni’s motorcade has not less than 40 vehicles, and every year the convoy grows a little longer. As the first citizen, Museveni’s convoy comprises an executive limousine, an executive 4WD off-roader, six military escort vehicles, a police escort car, at least four out-rider police motorbikes, an ambulance, a mobile toilet van, an electronic jamming vehicle, and several aides in up to 15-20 vehicles. Indeed Museveni’s convoy is said to be second only to that of maverick Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gadaffi in Africa.
Perhaps taking a cue from the head of state, the speaker of Parliament and his deputy each has a fleet of four vehicles comprising Mercedes Benz limousine for town running, 4WD Land Cruiser VX for upcountry travels and two escort 4WD double cabin pick-ups!
Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki has a similar fleet as does Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi. Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Aronda Nyakairima has not less than six vehicles. Inspector General of Police Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura has an even bigger convoy and like Museveni, moves with a police ambulance and his kitchen staff whenever he is travelling out of Kampala. The embattled (former?) IGG Faith Mwondha is said to have not less than six vehicles as well, some of which are allegedly used by her daughters.
Many ministers and senior civil servants have not less than three government vehicles in their stable; one (Land Cruiser VX or Pajero) for home-to-office run, another driven by their spouses and children, and a pick-up truck to do farm errands. The junior civil servants, following in the footsteps of their superiors too abuse any government vehicles they have access to. When one loses a relative, or a friend of a relative, a government car will be requisitioned complete with fuel and a driver to go upcountry for the funeral.
The return trip to the city demonstrates even more abuse. The vehicle ‘ usually a double-cabin pick-up truck ‘ will be laden with bags of charcoal, bunches of bananas, bundles of firewood, a goat or two, a few chickens, and a relative or two who have hitched a ride hanging onto this cargo. It is a spectacle that should cause immediate arrest but this never comes to be.
In the city suburbs, government-registered vehicles are a conspicuous sight outside bars, lodges and other places of entertainment, many of them remaining parked into the wee hours of the morning as civil servants go merry-making.
In the upcountry districts, the abuse is even worse with local government vehicles being used by district officials to fetch water, collect firewood, farm produce, etc.
Clearly, this amounts to abuse of public vehicles. According to a recent study on use of public vehicles, the number one department that misuses public vehicles is the Office of the President/State House, followed by Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Local Government and the Ministry of Water and Environment ‘ in that order. But what is the cost of this state of affairs to the taxpayer?
Cost of abuse
By 2005/2006 there were 8,090 government vehicles driving on Uganda’s roads, burning through Shs 29 billion on fuel and about Shs 29 billion on maintenance that fiscal year. The government also spent Shs 18 billion on buying new vehicles, bringing the aggregate expenditure to 76 billion. In 2006/2007 (according to a report by Uganda Debt Network), the fuel bill was approximately 24 billion while the maintenance bill and cost of new vehicles was an astronomical Shs 68 billion, bringing total expenditure to 92 billion. Compare that to the 2008/9 national budget allocation to the ministry of Education, including primary and secondary schooling of Shs 96 billion only.
The fleet of government vehicles may seem small and insignificant when considered as a fraction of the total number of registered vehicles in the country ‘ around 300,000 in 2003 and growing by the year ‘ but what are the thousands of 4WDs, motorcycles, trucks and other vehicles being used for exactly? And who is using them?
Apart from ministers and high-ranking government officials who are ‘entitled’ to government vehicles, there are thousands of other civil servants who use public cars to carry out their duties ‘ both official and personal. The Ministry of Health takes the largest share of the cake with 3,066 vehicles, 23% of the total number of government vehicles. Other ministries racking up the mileage are the Ministry of Education and Sports with 1,735 at 13% of the total vehicle count, Ministry of Agriculture with 1,620 at 12%, and the Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment with 1,424 at 11%.
Is it reasonable for government to spend close to US $15 million per year (Shs 31.5 billion, at the exchange rate of Shs 2,100 a dollar) on purchasing fuel for all of them?
This troubling expenditure is best understood in the context of its worth in terms of basic social services.
According to Ministry of Education estimates, it costs Shs 8 million to build a classroom. Therefore the Shs 76 billion spent on government vehicles in 2005/06 can construct 9,500 classrooms for the Universal Primary Education (UPE) pupils who are studying under trees. At an average of 50 pupils per classroom, the 9,500 classrooms would accommodate 475,000 pupils.
The government spends about Shs 507 on each UPE pupil every month. In a year this translates into Shs 3.6 million for a school of 800 pupils. It means that the Shs 76 billion would fund 21,000 UPE schools of 800 pupils each in a year. Therefore the amount would be enough to educate 17 million pupils in Uganda per year, which is more than twice the country’s entire primary school enrollment. The national UPE enrollment is 7.2 million pupils.
At an average of Shs 41,000 which government gives for every student in Universal Secondary Education (USE) per term, the total expenditure comes to Shs 32.8 million for a secondary school of 800 students per term, which translates into Shs 98.4 million in a year. The Shs 76 billion of taxpayers’ money spent on government vehicles annually would be enough to finance 772 secondary schools of 800 students each, for a whole year. This would educate 620,000 students a year. The same amount is sufficient to pay salaries for 380,000 UPE teachers at Shs 200,000 per teacher per month. In a year it would pay for 32,000 primary school teachers! Uganda has a shortfall of 72,000 primary school teachers.
In terms of health service delivery, government provides drugs worth about Shs 8.4 million to each Health Centre III in the country. In monetary terms, the Shs 76 billion spent on government vehicles is sufficient to buy drugs for 9000 Health Centre IIIs throughout the country for a whole year. Since there are 990 Health Centre IIIs in Uganda, it means the Shs 76 billion would provide drugs for all the health centres for nine years.
To its credit, the government has commissioned a series of studies with the goal of improving expenditure management, and examining the procurement, cost and use of government vehicles has been one area of major concern.
‘It’s true the government is spending lots of money on procuring and maintaining government vehicles. However, plans are underway to reduce all that. There is an ongoing study between the ministry of Public Service and the Ministry of Finance and all other stakeholders to come up with a cabinet paper which will be discussed at the cabinet level and, if adopted, will reduce all that unnecessary cost,’ Margaret Ojara, the undersecretary in the Ministry of Public Service told The Independent last month.
To curb this exorbitant and wasteful expenditure on public vehicles, the government, represented by the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, commissioned a study on ‘Vehicle Use in the Public Sector‘ funded by the Africa Development Bank and conducted by consultant Michael Sebalu.
Sebalu collected data and conducted interviews early 2006, and the report was published in November 2006.
A number of issues surfaced as a result of his work. In general, it was found that whereas policies and guidelines exist, they are often flagrantly disregarded or are completely unrealistic by expecting the abusive civil servants reporting on themselves.
The Ministry of Public Service has issued a standing instruction that vehicles over 3500cc should not be purchased, except for ministers, yet there are more than 1000 government-owned vehicles of over 4000cc.