Revelations that taxpayers funded President Museveni’s re-election bid expose unfairness of 2016 elections
The recent confession by State House and some Presidency ministry officials that they exhausted their allotted funds for the 2015/16 financial year on recent presidential campaigns has come under fire from several political and civil society actors, who describe it as ‘total abuse of public funds with impunity.’
As parliament’s budget committee tussled with an avalanche of supplementary budget requests late last week, which totalled Shs 1.04 trillion, some officials confessed that they emptied their initial budget allocations in order to sustain President Museveni’s campaign expenditure.
State House comptroller, Lucy Nakyobe, whose office tabled a supplementary budget request of Shs 49.7 billion, told the parliamentary budget committee on April 1 that her coffers were depleted by the so many inland travels of President Museveni, who addressed four campaign rallies daily on average for the campaign period.
Four rallies, she said, meant more fuel for the 18-vehicle standard presidential motorcade and facilitation for the entourage. According to Nakyobe, Museveni also spent a large chunk of the money initially allocated to State House to fulfil presidential donations he had made across the country.
A number of top government officials led by the minister of state for Planning, David Bahati, appeared before the budget committee last week chaired by MP Amos Lugoloobi (Ntengeru North) to defend their supplementary budget requests.
Defence permanent secretary Rosette Byengoma told the committee that her ministry spent more money than originally allocated to them on wages for UPDF officers and men who worked during campaigns, elections and post-election period.
The minister of state for Agriculture, Vincent Sempijja, and the officer in-charge of Planning and Agricultural Development, Sam Semanda, told the committee that their sector is in dire need of Shs 6bn to procure hoes for the people of West Nile.
The duo, however, found a hard time. MPs argued that they need to investigate the claim because there is evidence that all MPs from West Nile got hoes during campaigns to distribute to their people.
Other requests for additional funding before the current financial year ends in May 2016 came from the ministries of Defence (Shs 253bn), Local Government (Shs 23bn), Energy (Shs 24.4bn) and Agriculture (Shs 6bn), as well as the parliamentary commission (Shs 66.6bn) and Police (Shs 56.3bn).
ABUSE OF FUNDS
However, corruption watchdogs such as Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), say the confessions by the public servants is tantamount to an admission that they wasted public funds to serve the interests of an individual.
“It is not surprising that the Public Finance Management Act was quickly amended to remove that whole component of supplementary budgets.”
Ahead of the 2016 general elections, the government hastily tabled before parliament and enforced the passing of amendments to the Public Finance Management Act which, among other things, to allow officials spend money and seek parliamentary approval later.
The opposition chief whip, Cecilia Atim Ogwal, argued that unless the State House budget included buying food for people reportedly dying from hunger in Karamoja and Teso, the supplementary budget is uncalled for.
“The Public Finance Management Act states that the supplementary budget must be on matters that are unavoidable and emergencies. Go back and reconsider fixing those demands in the coming budget,” Ogwal said, arguing that inland travels had been taken care of in the current financial year’s budget.
Kagaba told The Observer that the claim by State House’s Nakyobe that some of the money went into donations to fulfill the president’s promises was a sign of the breakdown of systems within the Museveni-led government.
“It shows that the system has failed because; how do you donate taxpayers’ money? What are the criteria you use to donate this money? We don’t even know what is inside those envelopes; so, one can come and say it was Shs 200,000 and yet it was Shs 100,000. You only donate that which belongs to you but you don’t donate taxpayers’ money because how do you come and account for it?”
MPs Ephraim Biraaro and Fox Odoi argued that it was embarrassing for State House to expect a supplementary budget to take care of donations instead of unforeseen emergencies.
“Poverty is foreseen and everyone knows Ugandans are poor. Donations should be given to deserving cases and if not paid, the promise erodes and should not fall under supplementary budgets,” Odoi (West Budama North) said.
The coordinator for the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (Ccedu), Crispy Kaheru, said the issue of an incumbent running for re-election poses a challenge to attempts to level the playing field, especially where the incumbent has the capacity to use public funds during campaigns without the need to account to anyone.
“There is that grey area between President Museveni and candidate Museveni during the election period. It is costing the country very heavily,” he said. “Lawmakers must rein in on the spending of security agencies and State House by reforming the question of incumbency, which even the [Supreme court] judges talked about in their ruling.”
Kaheru suggested that the reforms should include the incumbent handing over his office to the next in the hierarchy in the event that he intends to run again for office, as well as setting benchmarks on what presidential privileges he or she retains as a candidate.
But MPs Col Fred Mwesigye (Nyabushozi), Peter Ogwang (Youth Eastern) and Joseph Kiregheya Matte (Bughendera) said it was necessary to approve the supplementary budgets to enable the president and State House to work.
The minister for the Presidency, Frank Tumwebaze, said there is nothing unusual or illegal in the move by State House to fund the president’s movements and other activities during the elections. He described the outcry as part of “their usual reckless allegations.”
He also welcomed the proposal to amend the constitution such that a sitting president enjoys fewer privileges but said the government would not deny the president his entitlements simply because of complaints that are not backed by law.
“Whether you like it or not, he is the president of Uganda; so, you are not going to expose him to risks simply because he is seeking re-election,” he said.
SPECIAL PLENARY SESSION
The supplementary budget requests of more than Shs 1 trillion come barely six months after the national budget of Shs 24 trillion was presented and approved in May 2015.
Parliament has now summoned MPs for a special plenary session on Wednesday to approve the supplementary budget requests despite an adjournment last week (March, 29) until April 26.
MPs have been spending the time scrutinising ministerial policy statements from sector ministries and statutory bodies for financial year 2016/2017. A source on the budget committee, who declined to be named so as to be able to speak freely, said most of the money the ministries and statutory bodies are asking for was diverted and spent on presidential campaigns.
“Those ministries and agencies had enough funds but decided to divert it for presidential campaigns. They are now pretending that there’s an outstanding shortfall on wages and so on,” the source said.
Other entities asking for more money include the Electoral Commission, which wants Shs 47.2bn to cover shortfalls incurred in the acquisition of the electronic results transmission system. External partners who were supposed to provide additional funding pulled out at a critical stage.
The EC will also use some of that money to pay up the balance on the Biometric Voter Verification system. The External Security Organisation (ESO) wants Shs 2bn to run its counterterrorism operations against the Al Shabaab, ADF, and monitoring the Albertine region. Shs 14.9bn is for missions abroad and Shs 7.2bn for the ministry of East African Community Affairs.