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Sacrifice or privilege?

By Independent Team

Details of how much Museveni’s State House costs the taxpayer

During his inaugural Speech when he was being sworn in as President of Uganda on January 29th 1986, Yoweri Museveni mocked fellow African leaders. ‘We want our people to be able to afford shoes,’ he said as the crowd listened attentively. ‘The honourable excellence who is going to the United Nations in executive jets, but has a population at home of 90% walking on bare foot, is nothing but a pathetic spectacle.’

On March 12th 1986, Museveni gave yet another address in Gulu to ‘elders’ at Acholi Inn. ‘We have had all these Excellences: Obote, Amin, Okello and now Museveni!’ the President said, ‘These people have been flying our flag at the United Nations. While 90 percent of the people they represent have no shoes, a certain excellence like Okello is buying furniture worth 500,000 Pounds Sterling for one house. Unfortunately, our backward situation is now regarded as normal.’

Throughout his early years, President Museveni repeated this criticism of profligate spending by African leaders when their people are poor. Twenty years later, The Independent is taking audit of the extent to which the President has matched his words with practice. The primary source of this information is the national budget.

In 2007, Uganda spent over US$ 93m to renovate the residence of the President at State House Entebbe. Furniture alone cost the taxpayer US$ 12m ‘ making Tito Okello’s 500,000 Pounds Sterling a joke. Equally, while Museveni criticised African leaders’ appetite for travelling in executive jets, he has not been immune to the practice. In 1998, the government bought an executive jet for the President ‘ a Gulf Stream IV to replace the Gulf Stream III donated to Idi Amin by the government of Israel.

The Gulf Stream IV costs Uganda’s impoverished taxpayers Shs 40m per day (Shs 14.6 billion per year) to maintain. According to Ministry of Education estimates, it costs on average Shs 8m to build a classroom in Uganda. This means that since it was bought in 1998, the expenditure on the jet would have built over 20,000 classrooms for Museveni’s poor citizens who study under mango trees. A typical Ugandan primary school has seven classrooms with 50 pupils per class, so expenditures on the jet could have created space for over one million pupils. Last year, government agreed to buy Museveni a new jet at US$ 60m.

The Royal Kingdom of the Netherlands is a country with gross annual income (in economics parlance called the Gross Domestic Product ‘ GDP) of US$ 900 billion. The government of that country bought for its Prime Minister a second hand Gulf Stream IV for his travels. Museveni’s Uganda, on the other hand, is a country is a GDP of US$ 12 billion ‘ only 1.3% that of the Netherlands. Yet our President is buying a more expensive jet than a Prime Minister on whose country Uganda depends for handouts in form of foreign aid.

The President and the budget

Yet an expensive residence of the President and an expensive presidential jet are not the key problems. Over the last decade, the expenditure of State House has been growing at an alarming rate (see table below).

There are two votes in Uganda’s budget that relate to the President: one is the budget for the President’s Office which refers to the official office of the President, and the second is for State House, which refers to the official residence of the President but which also hosts his private office.

Ordinarily, the President’s Office should be bigger than State House, because it includes such institutions as the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), External Security Organisation (ESO), presidential advisors and many departments such as Headquarters, Information, Monitoring and Evaluation, Monitoring and Inspection, Economic Affairs and Policy Development, the Cabinet Secretariat and so forth. Yet over the years, the budget for State House has grown so rapidly as to eclipse that of the President’s Office.

For example, this financial year (2008/09), State House was allocated a budget Shs 77 billion. The budget year begins on July 1. By the end of 2008 (i.e. six months) State House had exhausted all of the money allocated to it and asked for supplementary funding. Parliament approved an extra Shs 21 billion, which is likely to be exhausted before the end of April.

Maintaining the President has become such an expensive endeavor that travel around the country alone costs Shs 7 billion per year, of which Shs 2.4 billion is the cost of fuel. Shs 2.4 billion can build 40 schools of seven classrooms each. Yet, the president’s convoy gets fuel from the Ministry of Defence.

According to the government budget, buying cars for the President cost Shs 5.4 billion in the 2005/06 budget, Shs 1.1 billion in the 2006/07 budget, Shs 1.8 billion in the 2007/08 budget and Shs 1.8 in the 2008/09 budget. This is on top of the aforementioned Shs 2.4 billion per year in fuel and lubricants and Shs 1.4 billion in maintenance costs alone. This may be an understatement given that we are quoting approved estimates of the budget. Given that State House always gets supplementary budgets in excess of 30% of the originally approved allocations, it is likely that the money spent on the President’s cars is much more.

The concern over growing presidential expenditure is not new. As early as 2002, the Ministry of Finance was getting increasingly worried about the growth in the budget for this area and equally with its constant spending above its budget and therefore necessitating supplementary budgets.

During a Public Expenditure Review workshop on May 22, 2002, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MFPED) who is also Secretary of the Treasury, Chris Kassami, made this a central point of his presentation.

Kassami singled out Public Administration (largely referring to the cost of political appointments) as the most troublesome sector in the budget of which State House and President’s office are a major part. ‘We have significant concerns about the budgeting and expenditures of several institutions in this sector,’ he said. ‘In particular, the ministry feels that the budget for Public Administration has grown rapidly over the last few years. That the sector has consistently failed to fit within the budget, claiming a large share of expenditure of supplementary budgets approved by government and negatively affecting budget releases to other sectors.’

Kassami also said, ‘Public Administration claims the lion’s share of supplementary expenditures approved by government, averaging 70% of all supplementary budgets over the last few years.’

As we went to press, revenue collections by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) are below target by Shs 128 billion. Given that State House has been allocated a supplementary budget of Shs 21 billion, the ministry of Finance has had to cut the budgets of other ministries, including Health, in order to meet both the shortfall in revenue and the over-expenditure by State House.

Seven years later, therefore, the situation has gotten worse, not better. In order to avoid conflict with State House, the ministry of Finance stopped holding such expenditure review workshops.

The budget for State House has been growing at an alarming rate over the last ten years. The table below shows the budgets of ministries like agriculture and industry compared to State House and President’s Office. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 73% of Ugandans derive their livelihood from agriculture. Equally, President Museveni has always touted the importance of trade and industry as the key to economic transformation. How does the budget reflect the prioritisation of these ministries?

The table below shows both the budget allocation and the actual expenditure of these sectors over the last ten years.

The table above shows two trends: First that more resources are given to State House (the official residence of the President) than to President’s Office (his official workplace). Analysts say that the shift in budgetary bias from the office to the residence of the President only reflects the shift of power from formal institutions of state to informal ones, almost family rule.

The second trend is the allocation of resources to State House that far exceeds the allocation to the Ministry of Agriculture and to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Given the central role of these two latter ministries, the bias in the budget shows that the lifestyle of the President takes greater precedence in the national budget than agriculture, trade and industry.

Yet these facts only beg the question: What has happened over the years to turn the residence of the President into such a major expenditure area of the budget? Secondly, what has happened to the man, Museveni, to make him indulge in the very profligate lifestyles of other African leaders that he was critical of? A close confidante of the President who sought anonymity said Museveni suffers from ‘an exaggerated sense of entitlement.’

‘He thinks that because he fought in the bush and came to power, the country owes him and his family golden mountains of favours,’ the confidante said. ‘He disregards the contribution of everyone else; that is why he only cites his own and his brother’s [Salim Saleh] contribution when he is referring to any sacrifice done. You only need to read his letter in Sunday Vision where he justified the use of the presidential jet by his daughters to fly to Germany to deliver babies to know what I am talking about.’

Former Rukiga MP Jack Sabiti, currently Treasurer of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), says the budget is based on ‘the interests of an individual. As a result, the budgeting process for the country is equally self-centred and serves a small section of our society.’ He added that this skewed policy means that the country’s budgeting is geared to areas of consumption like purchase of motor vehicles, planes and choppers, allowances and wages for those who are not engaged in real productive work.

State House is allocated a lot of money to give the President a slush fund from which he can dish out patronage. Indeed, the practice has gotten so outrageous that the President himself has criticised his own practice during his current ‘poverty reduction’ tours around the country, when he carries with him cash which he dishes out arbitrarily to groups and individuals of his choice ‘ largely to win or reward their support.

‘This approach has destroyed the ability of the state to deliver public goods and services to the citizen as the President spends money on individual patronage,’ Sabiiti said.

From office to home

The shift in budgetary bias from President’s Office to State House also represents the shift from the official to informal centres of power ‘ from the state to the family. Dr Paul Omach, a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Makerere University says this phenomenon is characteristic of personal rule and afflicts many regimes in Africa.

‘It is a manifestation of personal rule where usually there are competing centres of power outside the official ones. President Hissene Habre in Chad created a duo regime of power; the official one and the one of his comrades brought together by their long march to power,’ said Dr Omach.

Bidandi Ssali, a former Minister of Local Government under Museveni who left cabinet after working with the President for 17 years, said all this revolves around the fact that Museveni does not believe in official institutions and he has never created any institution of the state since he came to power in 1986. He said that Museveni has destroyed even the state institutions he found in place, which had helped the country to hobble on despite the misrule.

‘Look at the public service, the police and the army,’ says the veteran politician who has since fallen out with his former boss and confidante. He says it’s easier for Museveni to use State House resources because State House expenditures are not exposed to strict accountability like the President’s Office, which is a state institution. He says State House expenditures are treated like those of security and the army, which are classified.

But why have Parliament and other oversight institutions of state and civil society not made the shift in budgetary allocations to State House an issue? Bidandi Ssali says that it’s because State House has been treated as a no-go area in the same way ISO or ESO are treated. So its expenditures attract minimum questioning by the oversight organs of the government.

Bidandi says creation and reliance on informal centres of power parallel to the established institutions usually breeds undesirable consequences. ‘Museveni is making mistakes like many other leaders have done in the past. Mobutu Sese Sseko, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, Daniel Arap Moi tried it but they disastrously failed,’ he said.

Why is the President taking this path? Bidandi thinks Museveni has undergone a complete metamorphosis since 1986. ‘This is a President who has lost direction. Everything is now too personal to him. If what he wants is not in the constitutional provisions, it will justify whatever means he uses to achieve that. Museveni, who took oath of office in 1986, is definitely the opposite of the Museveni who is the President today. He has taken a complete 360-degree turn from a nationalist to an inward looking leader, from a person who used to detest corruption to one who is aiding it. That’s why his old colleagues have left him and he has remained with those who want to hang on him like bats,’ Bidandi says.

With State House expenditure running out of control, President Museveni told the BBC on March 9, 2009 that he is living a life of sacrifice, not privilege. Woman MP for Soroti and Secretary General of FDC party, Alice Alaso, said that is ridiculous. She says the President, who moves in a 36-vehicle convoy whilehis wife and son also move in big convoys, cannot be deemed to be leading a life of sacrifice. She says that this year there is a budget allocation of about Shs 100 million every month to maintain the State House premises at the level of a five-star hotel.

CORRECTION

In our stories: Museveni Family Rule part I & II, there were errors we wish to correct.

President Yoweri Museveni‘s Principal Private Secretary, Ms Amelia Kyambadde is a niece of Maj. Murari Kafureka. Her mother is his sister.

Ms Jolly Sabune, Executive Director  of Cotton  Development Authority, Hope Nyakairu, undersecretary for finance and administration at State House and Mr Hannington Karuhanga, chairman of UGACOF, are nieces and nephew to the First Lady, Ms Janet Museveni.

The commander of PGB, Sabiiti Magyenyi, is related to Ms Janet Museveni not the president.

Mr Hannington Karuhanga’s wife  is not a sister to Gen. Aronda  Nyakairima.

‘I don’t know what level of sacrifice he is stalking about. This is a clear case of Animal Farm where sacrifice is [disguised] when the pigs were enjoying everything at the expense of the rest of the animals on the farm. Honestly, maintaining State House has been one of the biggest burdens on us. If it’s sacrifice, we shall be watching whether Janet Museveni will be going to Karamoja. With  those dusty roads, she will need a chopper or presidential jet,’ she said.

 Timothy Kalyegira, a social critic, says,  ‘There is something almost vindictive in the way Museveni runs Uganda, something that goes beyond dictatorship and corruption. He appears to know what he is doing and understands full well how much his mismanagement of national resources hurts millions of Ugandans, but he does it anyway. Museveni might know something that most Ugandans don’t know he knows. He might know that Ugandans withdrew support from him long ago and the rented crowds at his rallies and public events are all that is left to keep up appearances.’

Right to the end, Kalyegira says, Milton Obote and Idi Amin continued to deliver public services to the Ugandan population because they were convinced that, western and Ugandan exile propaganda aside, they were popular with the people. From this, there can be a suggestion that Museveni sensed or recognised long ago that he had been rejected by Ugandans and so decided not to bother with them.

 After the 1996 elections, Museveni made it clear that his government would focus its resources only on the areas of Uganda that had voted for him. ‘Seeing now that the bulk of these resources and privileges are being enjoyed by his immediate and extended family, there is an implicit signal that his support all over Uganda might have dried up and been reduced to his family,’ Kalyegira argued. ‘The appalling state of affairs in Uganda begs the question of what truly Ugandan head of state would act so consistently to the detriment of his people.’

President Museveni has been championing modernisation of agriculture. But in 2006/07, agriculture was allocated a paltry Shs 16bn, yet State House spent Shs 64bn. What explains this contradiction? A senior cabinet minister who did not want to be named said that since the President depends on personal handouts to win the support of major elites in the country, he has little incentive to invest in policies and institutions that can increase returns to agriculture. The more Museveni’s support comes from personalised patronage, the more the President will not focus on agricultural growth.

Prof. Omach says, ‘There is too much patronage because it’s important for maintaining power. Resources are not used to reward those who work; rather they are used to reward those who can help keep him in power. ‘This approach has destroyed the public service and the productive sector. They have sacrificed the country to achieve a short-term political goal ‘ regime maintenance. In Africa, the state is used for lining the pockets of supporters and patriotism is being a praise-singer.’

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