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Where MPs can do some good

By Andrew M. Mwenda

The biggest problem with our budget is the growth of political patronage in form of districts, parliament, cabinet, presidential advisors etc

In 2006, I joined the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) to do research on the budget for Public Administration and Public Sector Management (PA/PSM). In 2002 this included state house, the office of the president, vice president, prime minister and parliament, the ministries of finance, local government, foreign affairs, public service, and cabinet secretariat; the Public Service Commission, Human Rights Commission, Electoral Commission and Local Government Finance Commission; then missions abroad, the Uganda Revenue Authority, Mass Mobilization and unconditional grants to districts and urban authorities.


Most of this is the stuff that political patronage is made of. In 2001 President Yoweri Museveni had appointed a committee of experts to study the rapid growth of the PA budget. The committee found that: “There has been a proliferation of expenditures on activities that escape the full rigors of discipline through the annual budgeting exercise. Whereas spending on the core civil service has been restrained, there has been an undisciplined growth in spending on commissions, semi autonomous agencies and political appointments.”

By 2000/01, PA alone accounted for 20.2 percent of the total budget outturn (excluding donor aid). This was considerably more than health (7.3 percent). Government expenditure on PA as a percentage of GDP rose from 2.7 percent in 1998/99 to 3.7 percent in 2001/02 then to 5% in 2006. If real spending on PA from 1997/98 had been kept in line with population growth (3 percent per year), then more than Shs 200 billion would have been available in 2005/06 alone for additional spending on economic and social activities.

Earlier, on May 21, 2002, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of finance, also Secretary to the Treasury, Chris Kasami presented a paper in which he argued that that there has been “rapid growth” and “persistent and substantial overspending on PA relative to its budget” i.e. demand of supplementary budgets. “The Public Administration sector is currently the second largest sector in the government budget, at Shs 320 billion this financial year,” Kasami said on May 21, 2002, “This is equivalent to a fifth of total government spending. The budget for Public Administration has grown rapidly over the years at an average annual rate of 16 percent.”

Over the previous four to five years, PA “spending had consistently exceeded its budget allocation.” It has also claimed the lion’s share of supplementary expenditures approved by government, averaging 70 percent of all supplementary expenditures. These internal assessments did not change the trend. Had it grown at the same pace (3 percent) as the population, today it would have been Shs 740 billion. However, the budget for PA/PSM has ballooned from Shs 550 billion in 2002/03 to Shs 1.25 trillion in 2012/13 budget. This year alone, Shs 500 billion would have been saved for other vital sectors had the budget for PA/PSM i.e. patronage, not grown exponentially.

I had imagined government had neglected core sectors like roads, health, education and agriculture. Actually the opposite was the case. For instance, between 1997/98 and 2002/2003, the health budget increased from Shs 53 billion to Shs 338 billion. Meanwhile, infant mortality worsened from 81 to 88 deaths per 1,000 births and under-five mortality increased from 147 to 152 deaths per 1,000 births over the same period.

The budget for education increased from Shs 445 billion in 2000/01 to Shs 750 billion in 2007/08. Yet a study of government expenditure on primary education in 2006 by the World Bank found that 4 percent of the money went to “ghost teachers”, 4 percent to “administrative waste” while 16 percent simply “leaked”. More telling, the World Bank found teacher absenteeism very high: teachers were away from school 19.2 percent of the time, were at school but not teaching in 34.2 percent of the time, official breaks took 17.6 percent of their time, administrative work 8.1 percent and only 18.2 percent of the time was devoted to teaching. The study also found that waste in the primary education sub-sector amounted to Shs 70 billion (0.4 percent of GDP).

Uganda’s infrastructure spending at that time stood at US$ 19 per person. This was far below that of its neighbors – Kenya and Tanzania – who were spending US$ 44 and 31 respectively. According to the World Bank, Uganda was allocating only US$ 400 per kilometre for road maintenance per year yet the average normative unit maintenance cost is US$ 2,200.

So, I agreed with the ACODE executive director, the indefatigable Godbar Tumushabe, to focus our advocacy campaign to increase spending on public investments especially roads. We organised seminars where we invited government, donors, civil society and private sector people to attend – one in November 2006, another in May 2007. To our gratitude, everyone we invited turned up – ministers, ambassadors, heads of IMF and World Bank, corporate executives – name it.

After the seminar, the deputy PS for Finance, Keith Muhakanizi, told me that I was wrong about infrastructure. The problem is not money but using the money appropriately, he warned. That year, government doubled the road budget. At ACODE we celebrated our victory. It showed that you can engage government in meaningful dialogue about policy and budgetary priorities and get positive response.  However, it turned out that the ministry of works lacked road designs. So the money could not be spent. I also learnt a few weeks later that out of US$ 280 million donors were giving to Uganda for roads, the ministry of works was able to utilise only 27% per year.

I realised we were fighting the wrong battle: the primary problem for public spending is not one of allocation of resources but actually getting government institutions to do the work. If there is a problem, it is not with allocation of resources. It is with government spending on political patronage through PA/PSM budgets. Yet this is the budget where politicians are the biggest beneficiaries.

Since 2005, the number of districts has increased from 56 to 150 today; parliament grown from 275 to 400 by end of this year and presidential advisors from 114 to over 170. To expect MPs to correct this trend would be asking hyenas to close down the meat market. Quarreling over Shs 39 billion for the Health ministry, when PA/PSM patronage has a surplus of Shs 500 billion is an insult to Ugandans.

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