Politics

Ugandans Give Input Ahead of Final Budget Announcement

 

Article Highlights

KAMPALA, UGANDA – Christine Kamukama, 34, teaches at Bweyogerere Primary School in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Like many teachers, she is disappointed that the national budget, which will be finalized in early September, did not increase teachers’ salaries as much as they had hoped.

“I wish the salaries for us school teachers would be doubled,” says Kamukama, who currently earns 250,000 Uganda shillings ($100) per month.

She says that a significant raise would enable teachers to better do their jobs and to support their families.

“We would be motivated to continue doing our work with enthusiasm,” she says. “I am personally disappointed that our salaries have not been increased. That means we shall continue to struggle having to put food on the table.”

Kamukama says that Ugandan teachers organized a nationwide strike last September over poor pay. They demanded a 100-percent salary increase.

“Striking was the only alternative available for us,” she says.

It lasted only two days, until the government intervened.

“We were threatened with dismissal if we did not go back to teach,” she says. “The president promised us that our salaries would be increased at least by 20 percent in the next financial year, which unfortunately has not been done.”

Kamukama says she participated in the negotiations with Ministry of Education officials, who promised the teachers a 15-percent raise in the 2012-2013 financial year, 20 percent in the following year and 15 percent for the year after.

“The minister of education, Honorable Jessica Alupo, had said that in the financial year 2015-2016, the teachers’ salaries will have been increased by 50 percent,” Kamukama says.

The budget, which officials plan to approve in the coming month, reflects these increments that the minister promised. But Kamukama says this raise is not sufficient to offset the increases in cost of living, which has nearly doubled during the past five years, according to the World Bank and inflation data from the Bank of Uganda. Yet teachers’ salaries have remained the same, making them unable to afford basic necessities.

“Prices for most commodities have increased,” Kamukama says. “Transport from one place to another has been increased. Food prices have been increased, even rent. What someone used to pay five years ago is now double, yet our salaries have not increased. How does the government expect us to provide for our families?”

As Parliament prepares to announce the final budget in the coming weeks, citizens are voicing their praise and concern regarding the plan. They thank the government for increasing civilian groups’ participation in the drafting process and commend a decrease in the tax burden on the poor. At the same time, they criticize the government’s allocation of resources, naming salary raises and infrastructure improvements as their top priorities. The government says that an increase in domestic funding is a positive step toward self-sufficiency for Uganda, though high inflation has led to a decrease in revenue.

Maria Kiwanuka, minister of finance, read the 2012-2013 budget in June. Since then, various committees of parliament and civilian groups have been scrutinizing it and offering their input. The recommendations are slated to go before the parliamentary Committee on Budget for final approval in early September.

Though the budget has drawn scrutiny, citizens also commend the government for various positive measures.

Paul Tentena, acting editor and senior business writer with East African Business Week, hailed the 2012-2013 budget for addressing the needs of poor Ugandans.

“In some areas, the budget addresses [the] needs of the poor,” he says. “For example, the idea of taxing more the rich and reducing taxation towards the poor people and raising the PAYE threshold from 130,000 shillings ($52) to 235,000 shillings ($93).”

With the increase in the threshold for the Pay As You Earn tax, more Ugandans who earn below the new monthly threshold will not have to pay the tax. For those who earn above the threshold, the percentage of the tax increases in accordance with one’s income. This and other measures aim to tax citizens proportionally to their income, which Tentena says has not always been the case.

“The Uganda Revenue Authority has announced that they have surpassed their target, but they may be doing so by overtaxing the poor through licenses,” he says, which are required to operate businesses. “Some of these agencies may close due to overtaxation.”

Citizens also welcome the opportunity to contribute their opinions on the budget to the government, a measure that began in 2010. The Civil Society Budget Working Group now screens the national budget to voice concerns raised by civil society. It also often receives invitations to present papers to the Committee on Budget.

The group held a public dialogue to react to the budget, steered by the Forum for Women in Democracy, a women’s organization that works with other civil society organizations to influence national policies and budgets from a pro-poor and gender-sensitive perspective.

Julius Mukunda, senior programs director at Forum for Women in Democracy, says he is grateful to the government for involving civil society organizations in budget development.

“We would like to appreciate the efforts of government in making the budget-making process more participatory,” he says. “CSOs have increased in number and have been given the platform to express their views.”

He also says that the budget institutes a number of reforms.

“We appreciate government efforts in implementing a number of budget reforms, including the output-oriented budgeting and gender budgeting,” he says. “We hope this will bring value for money.”

Mukunda also says civil society organizations commend the government for its role in fighting corruption to avoid the mismanagement of public resources. 

“We also applaud the efforts of government, especially [the] Parliament for its anti-corruption crusade and for the president to appoint the inspector general of government,” he says.

But other aspects of the budget drew criticism. The working group expressed dissatisfaction with resource allocation.

“Our major worry is that despite doctors’ and teachers’ demand for salary increment, government is still insisting that there is no money,” Mukunda says. “Yet we maintain a larger Cabinet, we have the ability to buy luxurious vehicles for our [members of Parliament] and make supplementary requests.”

Mukunda says that wages are the citizens’ top priority for the final budget.

“We are proposing that [the] government needs to address the issue of wages across the public sector, with special attention to teachers and doctors,” he says.

Farmers say their main priority is infrastructure. Ronald Katarikaawe, 40, a banana farmer in Isingiro district in western Uganda, is happy that the budget addresses the needs of farmers. 

“I am happy with the budget,” he says. “It has prioritized tarmacking the Isingiro-Mbarara road and improving access to water in our area.”

He worries, however, about execution of these plans.

“But I hope these will be implemented,” Katarikaawe says. “These same promises have been made about four times, but we still have bad roads.”

He says that infrastructure is crucial to farmers’ work.

“If we could have this Mbarara-Isingiro road tarmacked and we have boreholes,” he says, “if the budget addresses that, farmers like me would be happy.”

A critical analysis of the budget also shows a high share of administrative expenditure that does not translate into improved service delivery, the work group also notes. Mukunda emphasizes that the 28.8 billion shillings ($11.5 million) allocated for establishing 17 new districts could: build 203 outpatient health centers; provide 18.5 million doses of artemisinin-based combination therapies to treat malaria; drill 1,819 boreholes; recruit 107,865 primary school teachers or construct 41 bridges. Since the June reading of the budget, Parliament has increased the number of new districts to 20.

The working group also criticizes the declining investment in agriculture despite its major contribution to the economy. The budget allocates funding to social and productive sectors, but it concentrates the bulk of the funds to the central government ministries and agencies rather than to frontline service delivery points, which are mainly at local government levels.

Kenneth Mugambe, a commissioner in the Budget Policy and Evaluation Department in the Ministry of Finance, says that citizens must view the government strategy on agriculture from a broader perspective.

“Many aspects of agriculture are not directly under the agriculture sector,” he says, noting that funding to other ministries could benefit it. “For example, an irrigation project has been transferred from Agriculture to Water, which has reduced the budget allocation to Agriculture because water distribution is done by [the] Ministry of Water. In theory, it might have declined, but the project is contributing to water.”

Mugambe says that a decline in revenue for the 2011-2012 financial year because of high inflation partially accounts for limited salary increases in the 2012-2013 budget.

“There was a shortfall in revenue collected by the Uganda Revenue Authority from July 2011 to February 2012,” he says. “We had a shortfall of 71.5 billion ($28.7 million) decline in revenue. This partly explains why there may not be any substantive increases in teachers’ and doctors’ salaries.”

Still, Kiwanuka said that domestic funding would account for 75 percent of the budget, with development partners contributing only 25 percent. She called this a positive step in ensuring ownership and sustainability of government programs.

Parliament will unveil the final budget in the coming weeks.