How popular sentiments have undermined our journalism and blinded our intellectuals from reality
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | It has become increasingly trendy and fashionable within certain sections of social media in Uganda to denounce President Yoweri Museveni. It does not matter what arguments one makes or evidence they adduce to back up their case or the values they stand for. It is just cool to accuse Museveni of looting and destroying Uganda.
Many Ugandan journalists, intellectuals and pundits seeking popular validation of their ideas, afraid to be “misunderstood”, desperate for approval, or plainly emotional and ignorant, pander to popular sentiments in complete disregard of the facts.
For instance, Godbar Tumushabe recently sent me a clip of my 2007 TED talk decrying the rising cost of Public Administration on the budget. He asked what had happened to me now that I no longer denounce Museveni’s excessive expenditure on political patronage.
I replied telling him that nothing had happened to me; something fundamental had happened to the budget (or Museveni): the cost of Public Administration on the budget had been shrinking in relative terms even though it had grown in absolute terms. I added that Godbar and me should share part of the praise for this change in our nation’s budget because we played a part.
On May 22, 2002, then Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, also Secretary to the Treasury, Chris Kasami, gave a profound talk at a public expenditure workshop in Kampala. He argued that there was need for “stronger control over the expenditures of Public Administration.”
Public administration at the time included State House, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Public Service, Uganda Revenue Authority, Parliament, Electoral Commission, and the Ministry of Finance.
Kasami made two critical points: first that the budget for Public Administration had grown too rapidly. Second that the sector had consistently failed to fit within its budget, thereby claiming a large share of supplementary budget approvals, which negatively affected budget releases of other sectors. He said that Public Administration was “currently the second largest sector in the government budget, taking 20% of the total government spending.
He revealed that it had been growing at an annual average rate of 16%, claiming an increasing share of GDP i.e. rising from 2.9% of GDP in the 1997/98 budget to 3.6% of GDP in the 2001/02 budget.
Kasami argued that if the cost of public administration had grown in tandem with the growth in population, the country would have saved over Shs80 billion for other sectors that were critical. He argued that the reasons for the ballooning cost of Public Administration was the growth of semi autonomous government agencies, missions abroad and the cost of “the political system” i.e. patronage. Here he mentioned 62 ministers, 35 presidential advisors, 56 RDCs, 56 districts, 305 MPs and the growing size of the EC.
Godbar and I launched an advocacy program at ACODE where we campaigned against this development. We raised money from the Netherlands government and in 2006 and 2007 held a series of high profile seminars.
I presented papers on how, since 2002, things had gone from bad to worse. I demonstrated that there had been negligible investment in roads and electricity, sectors that are fundamental to future growth prospects. I even presented tables comparing Uganda’s spending on energy and transport infrastructure with other Sub Sahara African countries – and we were below average. Public officials; especially from the Ministry of Finance, and donors attended.