By Fred Siminyu, Mayuge
National—4, July 2020: According to reports by several online newspapers in Uganda, President Museveni has intervened and taken sides with his brother, Gen. Salim Saleh, the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) chief coordinator.
The president has gotten involved in the ongoing disagreement with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance who’s also the Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Keith Muhakanizi and Gen Saleh over Uganda shillings 5.3 trillion that has been identified by OWC budget review committee in the budget for fiscal year 2020/21 “as excess and recommended for reallocation” to wealth creation and food security.
According to the Nilepost, the president’s attention was attracted by a series of discussions that have been ongoing between the OWC chief and the minister.
Mr Museveni, who was handed a report from Gen. Saleh’s team, soon backed Gen. Saleh and tasked Keith Muhakanizi to find shs5.3 trillion off the already passed budget, State House source says.
The president has also instructed that this money be reallocated to food security programs and wealth creation.
These events are developing where after the reading of the budget, Gen. Salim Saleh put together a team from OWC together with economic policy analysts to conduct an independent assessment of the budget, sources inside OWC has revealed. R
This resolution was made after a team led by Gen Saleh discovered that the budget for fiscal year 2020/21 is not well aligned with National Development Plan III (NDP III). Gen Saleh soon called for a review of the budget to realign it with the country’s “medium-term strategic direction, development priorities and implementation strategies”.
The assessment committee of economic policy analysts reviewed the budget and wrote a report showing that they had “discovered a potential efficiency saving opportunity of shs5.3 trillion from consumptive expenditure”.
In a report signed by the OWC special committee of the shs5.3 trillion, the committee observes that shs1.85 trillion can be saved from counterpart funding, and shs3.47 trillion saved from consumptive funding.
The Ministry of Finance has since quashed the report from this special committee citing that “it’s non-critical” and now failure to agree on a mutual position of whether these shs5.3 trillion is available for relocation or not is what has caused the impasse.
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Sources say Gen. Saleh and Keith Muhakanizi and his team from the ministry have been engaged in a series of discussions about this report.
This has also been confirmed by Partick Ocailap, the deputy secretary to the treasury.
“Yes, we are still engaged in a series of meetings and we will soon let you know what the outcome is,” Ocailap told our reporter.
According to a rebuttal report from the Ministry of Finance, the line Permanent Secretary, Keith Muhakanizi has quashed the report.
In the report, it was indicated that in the budget, shs5.3 trillion for potential efficiency saving is not available.
In their response to the report written by the OWC special committee, the Finance Ministry argues that shs5.3 trillion identified for potential efficiency savings actually funds critical government projects like dams, transmission lines, water points, among other vital national projects.
In the same report, the special committee calls for a cut in consumptive items like allowances for civil servants, something that the Finance Ministry disagrees because it will lead to government projects stalling because workers cannot monitor ongoing projects because there are no allowances to cater for their travels upcountry and other places where these projects are happening.
Inside the report, the committee suggests that allowances for the Lands Ministry should be cut by 100 percent and this money relocated.
This however, Finance Ministry says would mean that work done by all government evaluators will stall because they are unable to travel and evaluate land, and this would in the end cause delay in government’s projects and yet government had already committed to big infrastructure projects.
In the same spirit, the report proposes a cut on allowances of MPs, but then the Ministry says such allowances are protected by the law.
The Ministry of Finance further says it will be “a very unfair way to cripple the work of MPs in their constituencies”.
Each of the 456 legislators earns between shs15 million to shs30 million ($4,011-$8,021) every month, depending on how far their constituency is from Parliament Building in Kampala.
In April 2019, MPs increased their allowances by 39 percent and that of parliamentary staff by 15 percent, citing rising costs of living.
Article 85 of the Constitution states that MPs are entitled to determine their emoluments, a privilege no other public officials enjoy.
The committee report also suggests that all monies allocated for national public celebrations should be cut and reallocated.
This would mean that national celebrations like Independence Day, International Women’s Day, among others, would not be held, as the norm has always been.
On January 27, 2020, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development issued policy guidelines on celebrations of the International Women’s Day in Uganda.
In this document, the Ministry says the national celebrations will be organized on a rotational basis among the 4 regions of the country.
However, districts are free to request for hosting the National Day Celebrations provided this is done in writing indicating the district’s willingness to contribute financially, materially and in kind five months before the actual date 8th March each year, reads part of the document.
Analysts have said that the rotational basis of events has a political connotation to it and therefore it can be hard to do away with such events, as the president is said to be using the same events to campaign.
In the rebuttal report by Finance Ministry as further reported by Nile Post, Keith Muhakanizi states that the Ministry can only find shs440 billion out of shs5.3 trillion but recommends that even out of the shs440 billions, shs155 billion should be retained under production and social service sectors, and the remaining shs285 billion should be used to reduce the projected revenue shortfall.
The report adds that more money from budget cuts could have been found, but some sectors are protected and therefore they can’t face budget cuts in this financial year 2020/21.
The protected institutions are under the sectors of legislature, security, presidency and judiciary and high priority areas under infrastructure and human resource development.
This means that even shs440 billion budget cut that has since been traced for relocation, still can’t be relocated as it will be used to offset part of the revenue shortfall Uganda expects, as a result of Covid-19 pandemic.
Sources have informed us that discussions are still ongoing between Gen. Salim Saleh and Keith Muhakanizis team throughout the entire weekend and both reports will be presented for discussion during a cabinet sitting on Monday, 6 July 2020.
What remains questionable to many is how does the OWC chief institute an independent committee to review a budget that has already been passed?