How the ‘election period’ is affecting the Budget Process ( A Parliament Context)

Published 5 years ago -

Uganda Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija displays a briefcase carrying national budget before presenting it to the nation during a budget speech in Uganda's capital Kampala, June 11, 2015.  REUTERS/James Akena
The Minister of Finance Uganda – Hon Matia Kasaija. The Budget process will begin in November. But what will take precedence: Elections or the Budget?

With 3 months to 2016, the country is already in the midst of a tight political schedule. The general elections are around the corner and a lot of Parliament work has hit a deadlock.  Majorly, the issue of lack of quorum during on going parliament business has become more apparent and inevitable. It has become the order of business to adjourn parliament so as to rally members to come through to discuss bills and debate issues as presented on the Order Paper as most members are seeking another term in office, making the legislative role far from their priority now.

Regardless of this absence of members in the House, Parliament is expected to come forth with results, key among them is the 2016/2017 National Budget, whose work commences this November. The Budget period is one of the major events on the Parliamentary calendar, unfortunately, it coincides with this election period.  When Parliament of Uganda passed the 2015/2016 budget on 31st May this year, a number of CSOs and the public decried the move saying the required scrutiny wasn’t dully exercised. This is because they thought the budget was passed hastily but was what the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) 2015 prescribed.

In reference to the PFMA 2015, Hon. Matia Kasaija, the Minister of Finance Planning and Economic Development noted that “It [was] the maiden budget after passing the law,” and they thought that “they [would] do better” With time. He further argued that the disorganization stemmed from the transition from old laws [1] to the new law and pledged to rectify the shortfalls in the next budgetary process. Well, now that another budget cycle is fast closing in, the idea of Parliament passing it any differently is quite far fetched.

Many MPs are contesting for a re-election, therefore a number have taken leave and this has heavily strained Parliamentary work especially that of accountability committees.[2] These play a key role in the budget process because they deal with Auditor General’s reports. The current political space is dominated by issues of Party primaries geared towards nominations of party flag bearers in the coming elections—a position that promises financial support for the successful candidate. Therefore, it is much more worrying as most parties continue to schedule and prioritize party interests at the expense of national political agendas and interests.

Parliamentary Committees lose about 40% of their membership during primaries and this affects not only accountability committees but also sectoral committees. The bigger question to interrogate now is who would not lose interest in the legislative role if it was standing in their way to re-election? Or if it was merely cleaning house for an opponent to take over, I would!

Parliamentary Committees continue to struggle to raise numbers for a sitting. During a recent PAC meeting, only two committee members were present to question witnesses from the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs on the loss of UGX 50 billion as reported by the Auditor General in his 2013/14 reported. Similarly, it has been evidenced that even where some members attend the proceedings, the level of concentration is low consequently leading to a shallow interrogation off issues and a wanting level of scrutiny.

The PFMA, 2015 which is key in the passing of the budget has a clause, good for the law but rather ambitious on the expectations from parliament. Section 13 (11) (b) provides that;

The Minister shall present with the annual budget, a treasure memorandum indicating measures taken by the Ministry (in this case Finance) to implement the recommendations of parliament in respect to the report of the Auditor General of the preceding financial year on the management of the treasury.

One can hardly remember when a treasure memorandum came to Parliament. According to the hansard, Public Accounts Committee last had theirs tabled in 2012 and those treasure memorandums were dating back to the 2008/09 financial years; Local Government Accounts had 6 tabled earlier this year on 1st April, but dating as far back as 2010. As for the Committee on Commissions, State Authorities and State Enterprises, it’s unclear when.

These accountability committees have only recently commenced considering the audit queries of the 2013/14. With the preceding year nowhere near the considering batch. Not to mention the fact that the committees have halted all committee proceedings until further notice. Accountability committees have more than a thousand audited Ministries, Departments and Agencies and local governments to deal with, therefore it is quite impossible to have all to peruse through and scrutinize the audit queries, produce reports and have them adopted in time for finance to release a treasure memorandum.

At the end of the day, Parliament must come up with creative ways to work around the Budget and other business without contradicting the existing laws. Parliament either considers MP Ekanya’s suggestion of an aide per MP to relieve them of the ‘burden’ or have the staff of Parliament thoroughly scrutinize the budget on their behalf or something, but then again what would be the role of an MP?

[1] Public Finance and Accountability Act and Budget Act

[2] The Public Accounts committee (PAC), Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) and Local Government Accounts Committee.



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