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Passed budget failed on priorities

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Parliament approved a Shs 10.3 trillion budget, up from the Shs 9.8 trillion minister of finance announced in June. The revised budget has been criticised as unbalanced. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to Felix Okot Ogong, a legislator who sits on Parliament’s Committee on Budget.

What necessitated the upward revision of this financial year’s budget?

This budget does not address the challenges that we have in the economy. It is basically a consumptive budget. It does not deal with tradable goods which you can export and get revenue. Our problem now is balancing the trade deficit we need to get more inflow of dollars. We need to do more import substitution and create more exports. That will ease the problem that we have today. We should have put more money in production so that we keep on producing more cotton, coffee, tea, and other exported crops.

In your opinion why was this not the case?

It is because the Uganda budget focuses on a welfare state. It is giving more attention to non-tradable goods like public administration, education, roads, and gives very little to agriculture. We should be dealing with tradable goods, those that we can exchange where you have comparative advantage. If you are producing coffee and it is doing well as an export, we should multiply its production at least five times. We should put more money in agricultural research to double cotton, tea exports.

Why did it take parliament this long time to approve this budget?

It was because the budget was not addressing the real challenges at hand and we usually bring the budget debate at the wrong time, there was not enough time to debate it and it was just passed. The executive and cabinet should have reviewed the budget. Because of the hard economic situation we are experiencing now, it needs total review.

But all the same the budget committee on which you sit went ahead to approve the budget?

Yes, but there was nothing much we could do because it was already done. To do a total review required goodwill from all sides, government and parliament. If government had said look this is the problem we are facing on the ground and this is what we think is the direction to solve it then parliament would have helped it.  They instead went ahead to ask for approval of what they had asked for. So they have not changed the policy. I don’t think they will even do much in this current economic crisis.

In your opinion what should government be doing under the current economic challenges?

They should be thinking strategically to address the current problem we have. We need to accept that things are bad and we behave accordingly. We have to come up with ideas to address the problem. We need to sit down and rethink how we are operating. This is the time we reviewed the budget cycle. It should not really take us all this long to approve the budget read in June. If we started the process earlier in July, it would help a lot. If government gives the budget draft in April why don’t we start reviewing it early?

Given that the approved budget increased by close to Shs 500 billion from original budget how will it be funded?

Funding comes from revenue collections and the resources that we have. The donors, grants and loans will help in this area.

The budget is being described as the biggest ever in this government but there is not much for the lowly paid civil servants like teachers who had asked for pay rises.

That is where the problem lies. This is a budget that we need to review because we are increasing allocation in other areas yet we ignore others. There are areas that we should not close our eyes to like the teachers. Our comparative advantage lies in the production of raw materials and this is where we sometimes stray when we begin talking of industrilaising when we cannot produce enough even to export. It is like giving a child a mug of milk but before the child finishes the milk she asks for another cup.  Yet the right thing would be to first finish one mug and get another later. Today we are for example exporting less than 500,000 bales of cotton but if we can increase this to one million or more we would be fetching more dollars instead of going in circles industrialising. That is diverting people. It should be one step at a time.

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