By Andrew M. Mwenda & Eriasa mukiibi sserunjogi
President asks for more money for State House, Defence, Police
On Dec. 8 President Yoweri Museveni and his cabinet met. On the agenda was one item; passing a request for supplementary budgets for State House, Ministry of Defense, Uganda Police and President’s Office. The four institutions – all closely linked to the president – are asking for Shs 380 billion in supplementary spending in the middle of the election campaign.
State House specifically asked that the approvals be done “immediately” and, sources told The Independent, it was agreed that the request for the supplementary budget money be tabled before parliament on Dec. 17 for approval. Officials in the ministry of Finance worked round the clock to have the budget requests finalised. These supplementary budgets may have serious implications on the campaign
Interestingly, this financial year’s budget was only passed in November. So State House has been relying on what is called “Vote on Account” i.e. spending before approval by parliament. The new revelations show that State House exhausted its budget before it was even approved by parliament. With over six months left to the end of the financial year, it is possible it will ask for more before June 30, 2011.
Already, opposition politicians are crying foul. They say the supplementary budgets are aimed not at financing state expenditure but increasing Museveni’s campaign war chest.
“That the President can go on using public resources to campaign and even ask for more is a demonstration of what is wrong with the country,” Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) Secretary General, Joseph Bbosa, told The Independent.
“Museveni has no financial discipline; he always uses public money as he pleases,” said Wafula Oguttu, Spokesperson of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). He said he was neither surprised nor bothered, adding that FDC prefers to take the case of Museveni’s misuse of resources “to the court of public opinion that will sit on February 18, 2011”.
Highly placed sources told The Independent that President Museveni had held a meeting with Finance Minister Syda Bbumba at State House two weeks earlier. During the meeting, the president made a request for Shs 92 billion in supplementary spending. This is a 142 percent increase on State House’s original Shs 64 billion budget. The Independent has done research on all State House supplementary budgets for the last ten years and found this to be the highest ever.
During the meeting, Museveni also asked Bumba for another Shs 108 billion for the ministry of Defense, Shs 82 billion for the Police, Shs 83 billion for the Electoral Commission and Shs 8.4 billion for President’s Office.
Of the President’s office budget, the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) will take Shs 3.5 billion, External Security Organisation (ESO) Shs 1.8 billion, and the office of the Security Minister, Amama Mbabazi who is also Secretary General of the ruling National Resistance Movement, will take Shs 5 billion.
Parliament had already approved Shs 624 billion for Defense, Shs 253 billion for Police and Shs 120 billion for the Electoral Commission.
The Independent has learnt that when the matter was laid before cabinet, State House supplementary budget had grown by Shs 2 billion to Shs 94 billion showing the rapid growth in State House’s financial appetite. The new money State House wants is about twice its original allocation and will bring its allocation to Shs 158 billion.
Tamale Mirundi, political assistant to President Museveni, admitted that State House experienced financial problems leading to delayed payment of employees’ salaries for October, but added that that is nothing unusual. “You have heard of UPE (Universal Primary Education) salaries delaying,” he argued, saying that State House’s case is not special because it is also run by civil servants. He added that it is run on a budget, “unlike those of Amin and other governments which were unaccountable”. Mirundi says supplementary expenditures at State House have arisen even in nonelection years.
Although technical experts say it is a sign of budgetary indiscipline, coming at the time of elections it seems an attempt to use state resources to finance the president’s campaign. State House has been undisciplined for many years in using the budget. In the late 1990s, its supplementary budget requests used to go above 100 percent. In 2003, the ministry of finance decided to double their budget in order to end this indiscipline. Over the last five years, State House supplementary budgets came about 30 percent of its original allocations in supplementary funding – the highest being 34 percent in 2007/08 and the lowest being 17 percent in 2005/06.
However, State House has lately been involved in a spending binge so much so that of late it has experienced serious lack of money to the extent that workers there failed to get their October salaries on time. October salary was paid together with the end of November salary, something that had never happened before.
Sources also say that State House has already exhausted its tax credit budget for this financial year. When government buys something like a car, it pays URA taxes on it. However, this payment is not in money but in a book entry. Lately, State House has been indulging in high capital expenditure and therefore consuming their tax credit in the budget at a rapid pace.
The Independent has learnt that the inability of State House to pay October salaries is because Museveni’s campaigns are eating most of the budget. Meanwhile, the rundown of State House’s tax credit has been because the president has been buying motor vehicles for chiefs, kings, queens, sheiks, bishops etc in an effort to secure their loyalty and support in the election campaign.
Sources say that the Ministry of Defense is almost directly controlled by the president. Now that it is asking for supplementary funding to the tune of Shs 108 billion will raise eyebrows. Sources in defense told The Independent that the ministry sends Shs 6 billion per month to State House. Sources inside State House claim this money is actually used as top-up for the salaries of the 12,000-strong Presidential Guard Brigade. However, others say that part of this goes directly into the president’s political slash-fund to service his patronage.
Meanwhile Police wants Shs 82 billion. Currently under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, a long time auxiliary of the president who served has his Military Assistant for many years, the police is seen as another arm of the president. Observers accuse Kayihura of playing a quiet campaign role for the president. So the police supplementary may also be part of the president’s war chest.
The role of Syda Bbumba has also raised many questions especially because she has been appointed the deputy chief of the NRM Election Coordination Committee. When he launched his manifesto on Nov. 1, Museveni announced a taskforce comprising the NRM’s 27-member Central Executive Committee, the party’s top decision, to be headed by party Vice Chairman Al Hajj Moses Kigongo.
Former Vice President Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, who also heads the Microfinance Support Center that the government set up to distribute money to selected citizens for small economic ventures, was named head of the Election Coordination Committee. At the time, the appointments appeared to be a duplication of roles with the taskforce. But it also shows the strategy of using public resources to bolster the president’s electoral fortunes.
Significantly at the time, however, Museveni warned: “We don’t want campaigns which are just floating at the district, sub-county and parish. There are no people there. People are in the villages.” The appointment of Kazibwe and Bbumba, two people that President Museveni has already entrusted with the national coffers, to the Coordinating Committee appears to show his determination to ensure that public funds are used in his campaign.
The Independent was told that Museveni only selected Kazibwe and Bbumba on the Coordinating Committee and left the task of choosing the rest of the members to a team led by NRM party Secretary General Amama Mbabazi. The team and officials of the NRM executive have held several meetings on the campaign strategy and the composition of the campaign team.
However, the composition of the coordinating committee was still a tightly guarded secret. Party officials who attended the meetings remained tight-lipped on the composition of the team and direction of the campaign, referring the issue to Mbabazi, who they said was to make an announcement on the matter soon.
Mbabazi didn’t respond to repeated phone calls by The Independent. His Deputy, Dorothy Hyuha, said she was with Museveni on the campaign trail. “I am not going to talk about that yet,” said Kazibwe. Museveni, whom insiders say is unusually confident than in past elections, is keen on running his own campaign.
All the NRM parliamentary and local council candidates will be doing is to distribute Museveni’s campaign paraphernalia and arguing for his re-election as they canvass their own votes. The game-changing master strokes, which some even in NRM predict will be necessary for Museveni to win next February, will be preserved to Museveni himself.
The problem appears to be money. Museveni and NRM’s campaign purse, according to insiders, was considerably diminished by two mega party conferences and elaborate party primary elections just months to the start of campaigns. It is also constrained by the lack of significant inflow of campaign funds from his former fundraisers like Libyan leader, Muhammad Gaddafi.
It has also coincided with an increase in foreign funding for opposition candidates, notably Museveni’s main challenger for the presidency in 2011, retired Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye who is carrying the banner for a coalition of opposition parties called the Inter Party Cooperation (IPC).
The NRM secretariat’s internal intelligence has reportedly revealed that Besigye seems to be making inroads into NRM strongholds like Toro, Buganda, Bunyoro and Busoga, while NRM’s gains in northern Uganda do not seem to be as robust as had been anticipated. This has thrown NRM strategists into a panic.
“There is need to infuse a sense of newness and energy in Mzee’s (Museveni’s) campaigns, otherwise Besigye could force a re-run,” said a party official who declined to be named. But sources close to the president have told The Independent that Museveni is this time more careful with how his money is spent than in the previous campaigns.
Observers have noted that wherever he has campaigned, he has personally been handling most of the business involving money. His personal guards have been putting in place public address systems and taking care of other requirements that require money and were often delegated to the campaign taskforce in previous elections.
Museveni, insiders say, was unhappy that the organisers would procure dysfunctional public address systems or mishandle the preparations. The change in Museveni’s approach to handling money, observers say, could also be partly the result of Amelia Kyambadde’s exit as principal private secretary to the president. Museveni has been left with no one he can trust completely with his money.
NRM campaigners have perennially complained that top party officials misappropriate campaign funds. Museveni’s two recent campaigns, in 2001 and 2006, are said to have run into problems mid-way due to resource constraints. Officials running campaigns had turned them into money-making machines.
Another break with the past is with regards to how Museveni has raised money for his and the NRM campaigns. Sources claim the NRM has put aside a war-chest of Shs 30 million for each of its official candidate. However, even some carefully selected rebel NRM members running as independents will get the money.
New fundraising style
But sources have confirmed to The Independent that unlike in previous campaigns, Museveni has this time not personally approached members of the business community for money. Those who will or have already contributed money to his campaign, the sources say, are doing it of their own volition.
Observers say this could have been the reason Katongole Singh, a Ugandan of Asian descent with wide business contacts, was made party deputy treasurer. He could help with fundraising. But Museveni has reportedly grown weary of businessmen who fund his campaigns and later turn around to demand favours like land allocations, tax holidays, and other business advantages. This may explain why the president is now digging deep into the public till for his campaign cash.
It is too early to tell how Museveni’s new approach to campaigning could affect his electoral fortunes, but some NRM mobilisers expressed worry. “We don’t have any money to move around yet every time we come to the secretariat they tell us a few things changed and that money will be coming soon,” a concerned mobilser from Mubende told The Independent at the party’s headquarters.
However, NRM vice chairperson for eastern Uganda, Mike Mukula, believes issues of money and how Museveni organises his campaigns are peripheral. He says that the NRM is very popular and can win even if they used only volunteers. He said the change in campaign strategy is better because it hinges on the participation of people at the grassroots.
However, top NRM party insiders told The Independent that there is a lingering feeling among the party faithful that the NRM/Museveni campaign is “this time short on energy” and that “a spark is needed sooner than later”. NRM Electoral Commission deputy chairperson Prof. Elijah Mushemeza was part of the team that spent sleepless nights discussing campaign strategy with Mbabazi.
He told The Independent that “there is need to invigorate the campaigns”. The presence of defiant NRM members running as independents despite their party’s pleas to step down is also a major headache for Mbabazi’s team. It wants to craft a campaign strategy that will advantage their party flag-bearers without necessarily causing further ruptures in parliamentary campaigns starting December 16.
A source privy to Mbabazi’s strategy towards independents said that the secretary general suggested to his team that the official party strategy should be to ignore the independents and campaign on the basis of the NRM’s record and how the country could be shattered by an “unplanned” change of leadership.
The Independent has learnt; however, that Mbabazi’s team and the campaign coordination committee will be more focused on managing parliamentary and local council campaigns. But Museveni also has to deal with an opposition which appears better funded than before. Every shilling counts.
Additional reporting by Haggai Matsiko.