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

By: WIN­NIE WA­T­ERA

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.