In 2015, during the presidential race, Candidate Museveni while campaigning in the Lango sub-region pledged that his government (if re-elected) would provide girls in primary school with sanitary pads. The government is yet to deliver on this promise – like many other promises made on the campaign trail.
While appearing before the Education Committee in Parliament, the education minister Janet Museveni, who is also the First Lady, revealed that it was not possible for the ministry to provide sanitary pads for girls in school. The ministry did not have the money to cater for the pledge, she said.
There is an entire history of presidential pledges under the Museveni administration.
A parliamentary committee on Government Assurances produced a report in 2013 on presidential pledges. This committee was set up to scrutinise the assurances, promises and undertakings given by ministers and other agents of government in Parliament. The Committee received lists of unfulfilled promises from different constituents and was to report on the extent to which those assurances, promises and undertakings have been implemented. At the time of writing this report, the committee was then chaired by MP Odongo Otto. This report has never been discussed in the August House. The report was dismissed during a plenary session in October 2016 in a ruling made by deputy speaker Jacob Oulanyah. The Deputy Speaker ruled that presidential pledges could only be verifies if and when the Prime Minister – who doubles as Leader of Government Business – seconds and speaks to the pledge.
This conversation was a matter of national importance and was raised because the nation should know when the president intends to fulfill his promises. And, can Parliament hold the office of the president accountable for the pledges he makes? If Parliament cannot, or does not, who can and will?
Ruhakana Rugunda, the prime minister, informed the House that there is a difference between a political statement and a presidential pledge.
According to the 2013 report from the Committee on Government Assurances, the President has not delivered on 817 pledges. There is little space for us to get into the different pledges so I will just try to highlight some of the outstanding issues from the report.
Pledges have increased with time, but some are almost as old as this government. There is a UGX250 million pledge made in 1990, to 93 Mashonga-Kyamuhunga tea plot owners. It remains unfulfilled, more than two decades later.
When unfulfilled pledges and government assurances are ranked per district, Kamuli district has the highest number of unkept promises – at 69. Kabarole follows with 52, Jinja 48, Nakasongola 45, Kasese 26, Bugiri 25, Busia 24 and Buyende 22.
As per the report, President Museveni has defaulted more on the promise of rehabilitating the different social service infrastructure, including dilapidated hospitals and agricultural schemes the list continues.
In that category, there are 156 promises that are yet to be delivered upon. Sixteen were made to Jinja; nine to Kasese, eight to Kamuli and Luuka each while six promises were each made to Sironko, Ibanda and Bukwo.
One of the most memorable lines to come out of the last presidential campaigns was “Let them touch these electricity wires.” Candidate Museveni said this in Busia when he was challenging rhetoric from the opposition regarding supply of electricity. The report shows that he has made 123 unfulfilled promises of electricity, with the most to Kamuli at 18 and 10 to Lwengo district.
There is more to this report, but it is currently collecting some dust even as we now engage in another debate on the pledge to provide sanitary pads to girls. The main issue, from all this, however, is the question: does a presidential pledge amount to policy?
When do we hold the president accountable for his pledges? And if the Prime Minister insists that a pledge is not a political statement then when does the president make a political statement and when does he make a pledge?