Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group writes to President Museveni over Ugx 10 bn for MPs

335
Should Accounting Officers be blamed for dropping alignment of Budget Framework Papers?

OPEN LETTER TO H.E THE PRESIDENT ABOUT THE UGX10BN FOR PARLIAMENT COVID-19 RESPONSE

Dated: 17th April 2020

His Excellency, 

The President of the Republic of Uganda

State House Uganda, 

P.O. Box 25497,

Entebbe – Uganda 

RE: RECALL THE UGX10BN MP CASH FOR COVID -19 RESPONSE

Your Excellency, we the Civil Society Organizations commend you and your team for the continuous work done for our country, especially during the COVID – 19 pandemic. We are extremely grateful for the swift way in which Government COVID-19 has been handled to reduce its spread in the country. 

Your Excellency, on 2nd April 2020, Parliament of Uganda during plenary debate requested that the Members of Parliament should be facilitated to help in the COVID-19 fight. In fact, the mover of the motion wondered why Parliament is being sidelined when RDCs and other officials were being facilitated. This debate took place during the time Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development had presented to the House, for approval, a Ugx 1.7 trillion loan request, to provide sufficient financial support to mitigate the negative effects on the economy by the COVID-19 Pandemic. In their argument, Members of Parliament (MPs) are essential in sensitizing their communities, in a Press Statement issued by Office of the Clerk to Parliament on the 16th April 2020, stated “It is important to note, at this point, that the Constitution of Uganda, under Article 164(3) gives Parliament the mandate to oversee/monitor expenditure of all public funds. As such after the approval of the Supplementary budget for COVD-19 response, it was only automatic that oversight is provided because the large amount of funds is to be expended in a short time span” (emphasis added). While some members claim they have not received the monies or not aware, Parliamentary Commission has confirmed the money, perhaps only the details of disbursements being worked out.

a) The Oversight role of Parliament

We do agree that Parliament plays an important role of oversight of the Executive functions as mandated by the constitution. We also agree that in the fight against the COVID-19, sensitization of people by their leaders is much needed. The voices of the MPs are therefore crucial. What we contend is the manner in which Parliament handled this matter especially at the time when Government seems resource constrained in its response to the Pandemic. This can be evidenced by Government request to borrow from World Bank and other sources. The procedure adopted by Parliament of Uganda in this instance is contrary to prudent public finance management dictates in our laws as we point out below.

b) The Function of Appropriation 

Under Article 156 of the Constitution, Parliament has the power to appropriate funds presented to it in an Appropriation or Supplementary Appropriation Bills which are prepared by the Executive branch. This is operationalized by Sections 14 and 25 of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) of 2015. The premise of these provisions is that the Executive initiates the Appropriation or Supplementary appropriation Bills. Parliament can discuss and advise the Executive on allocations. Parliament on its own motion is not allowed to introduce its own Bill or motion in such circumstances. Article 93 of the Constitution is noticeably clear on this. It provides that Parliament shall not impose any charge on the consolidated funds unless the motion is brought by the Executive. The Constitutional Court affirmed and buttressed this position in the case of Mwesigye v the AG & Another Constitutional Petition No 31 of 2011 (decided in 2015). The PFMA under section 15 enjoins Parliament of Uganda to ensure that public resources are held and utilized in a transparent, accountable, efficient, effective, and sustainable manner.

The information in Public domain which is not contradicted or denied by Parliament is that it allocated itself UGX 10 bn and that UGX 20 million is to be disbursed to each Member of Parliament. In the Statement by the Clerk to Parliament, they deemed this an “automatic” need. The Speaker of Parliament in an interview with NBS Television (reported in the online Daily Monitor of 16th April 2020 said, that part of the Shs10b will be used to maintain the ambulances contributed by Parliament and individual MPs, provide fuel and pay allowances for the drivers of the ambulances already released by MPs to help the Covid-19 taskforces at district level.

c) Information gap

We understand that a Supplementary Schedule of shs.304 bn was presented to Parliament for the COVID 19 response. Parliament passed shs.285 bn for the COVID -19 response leaving a balance of shs.19bn. We have learnt that 9 billion was statutory expenditure which parliament does not have the powers to appropriate. This leaves the shs.10 bn which, it is believed Parliament of Uganda allocated to itself. There is no evidence of the breakdown of how the Shs.10bn is to be used and accounted for. The Ministry of Finance has not explained how the shs.10 billion was allocated and transferred to Parliament. 

d) Public Finance Management Concerns

As CSOs, we are concerned about prudent public finance management practice. As pointed out earlier, the PFMA requires Parliament to be transparent, accountable, efficient, effective and ensure sustainable utilization of resources. There is no information that the Budget Committee discussed and recommended this allocation basing on the report of the Budget Committee on the Supplementary Expenditure Schedule 2 Addendum 1&2 FY 2019/20. This is worrying to citizens since Parliament is the vanguard of checks against misuse of funds by the Executive. The acts of stealthily allocating themselves 10 billion without discussions and details on accountability sets a dangerous precedent and runs contrary to the letter and spirit of the PFMA and the constitution.

e) Mixed Message

The response to COVID-19 requires sufficient resources and Government may not have, at present, such sufficient resources. Perhaps, this is why the President of Uganda made a clarion call to the business community and general public to make donations to bolster the Government’s efforts. The response from the businesses and public has been very encouraging. However, the devious way in which parliament arrogated itself the right to apportion 10 billion to itself without debate and details runs counter to the impression by the President that we are resource constrained. Some Members have now come publicly to denounce this move and have even written to the Clerk to reverse the transactions while others have made public announcements how they intend to use the funds contrary to the official explanation in the Statement by Parliament. The Public may now react adversely to such actions by Parliament.

Recommendations

• We implore the President not to ascent to the Supplementary Appropriation Bill 2020, but rather send it back with guidance to have the UGX 10bn allocated to more tests on Ugandans for C-19

• Reverse the allocation: If the monies have not been disbursed yet, Parliament should reverse this action. In case it has been disbursed to Accounts of MPs, it should be recalled.

• Parliament should discuss with MoFPED if they need facilitation for COVID-19 response. This facilitation should be justifiable and discussed in parliament as required and resolved.

• Members of Parliament are representatives of the people and should always ensure their actions represent the views of the people. The public reaction shows that they did not approve of this allocation.

• Parliament should guard jealously the safeguards in the PFMA against financial abuse by the Executives. To achieve this, they should refrain from actions which portrays abuse of the very safeguards whom they are the vanguards.

Observation

While Parliament of Uganda has justified this allocation as a facilitation to enable the MPs provide oversight of COVID-19 response funds, other MPs have made public declarations that Parliament should reverse the transactions. However, some have already made declarations on how they will spend the monies on health-related supplies in their constituencies. Whereas we agree with their kindness to ensure their electorates benefits from these monies, it shows two things; (1) The contradiction in what the funds are stated by parliament and what the members wants to use it for.  And, (2) it shows that Members do not have faith in their legitimate role of appropriation through the Government budgets. This is a vote of no confidence in the system by the House. We therefore call upon the Members of Parliament to use the official and legitimate process of appropriation to allocate sufficient funds for such interventions which they seek to plug the gap. Using the 10bn in any manner they deem fit is promoting illegitimacy and undermines the prudent public finance management system we are all working to improve. 

What Ugx 10 Billion Can Do?

The UGX 10 billion that the legislators are expected to receive can have greater multiplier effects if put to the right alternative use. Some of the alternatives to which the money may be put include. 

Alternative 1: Provide the needed 1 Million USD (UGX 3.9 billion) needed by Makerere University to develop quick, low cost COVID 19 test kits. 

A team of researchers at Makerere University is in the process of developing a quick, low cost COVID 19 test Kits. According to experts, the test kits will be able to show results with a few minutes and will require UGX 4,000/= for each test to be conducted. The research team lead noted that it will require at least 1 million US dollar (UGX 3.9 billion) to produce the test kits. With UGX 3.9 billion spent on production of the kits, the balance-UGX 6.1 billion can be used to conduct over 1,525,000 COVID 19 tests on citizens.

Alternative 2: Fix funding gaps in the health system 

Some of the health sector institutions like Uganda Blood Transfusion Services (UBTS), Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Mulago Hospital Complex, and National Medical Stores. From each of the institution FY 2020/21 Ministerial Policy Statement, it was observed that they had a combined annual budget deficit of UGX 10.6 billion. If only the UGX 10 billion meant for MPs was to be directed to this cause, it would cover these staffing challenges. 

Alternative 3: Increase on the bed capacity in health centers

The UGX 10 billion can alternatively be put towards purchase of over 30,166 hospital beds for distribution in the different health facilities around the country with each bed value at 85 USD (UGX 331,500/= with 1 USD=UGX 3,900).This would help reduce on the current hospital bed deficit prevalent in the country’s health facilities. 

Alternative 4: Fuel the various cars at national and local levels conducting anti-COVID 19 activities

Uganda’s president directed that all cars at the district level in Uganda be given to the District COVID 19 task force. All other cars like ambulances are expected to pick patients with other illnesses aside from COVID 19 since public transport was halted. Some of these efforts have failed to effectively take off due to lack of fuel. The UGX 10 billion can purchase up to 2,325,581 litres of fuel for distribution to different ambulances to facilitate picking of ill citizens to hospital during this lockdown.

Alternative 5: Procurement of Personal Protective Equipment for Health workers at the forefront of combating COVID 19. Majority of the health workers do not have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to safeguard them in the fight against COVID 19.

We will be grateful if our request is granted your consideration. 

For God and My Country.

Yours Sincerely

Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG)