UGANDA NATIONAL BUDGETS IN THE ERA OF ‘NO CHANGE’

Today, Thursday, 11th June 2015, is Budget Day when the national budget of the Republic of Uganda (ROU) for the year 2015/2016 is being read. I am aware that the budget is being read as I re-publish this post, but I am not listening to the reading of the budget. Once you read this post you will know why I think it much, much, much better to wait until this evening for the KPMG Budget Analysis. In a couple of days, I hope to publish a comparative analysis of this post, which relates to the national budget of the ROU for the year 2011/2012 and a budget analysis of the national budget of the ROU for the year 2015/2016.

Wednesday, 8th June 2011, found me at my favourite hair salon in Bugolobi having my hair plaited. It had slipped my mind that it was budget day, until one of the stylists started flipping television channels in search for a better programme to watch other than the live broadcast of the nation’s budget. She finally gave up in frustration as all the local television stations were broadcasting the budget speech. The television stations had interrupted their regular programming of airing repeats of Latin American soaps leaving viewers with no choice but to watch and listen to the budget speech.

The focus of conversation at the salon in relation to the budget turned to the aesthetic values of the minister who was reading the budget and those who were in the audience. So, we discussed the minister’s hair style and the colourful dress that she wore and the extent to which these were fitting for such an occasion. We critiqued the facial expressions of those in the audience, which we used to decipher the extent to which they understood what was being said by the minister, concluding that some were just us befuddled as we were. Most of all, our attention to the budget speech was dominated by the blonde wig that the Speaker wore – its lack of aesthetic value aside, we wondered why the Speaker had to wear it.

Nevertheless, as the nimble fingers of my stylist worked away on my hair and amidst the conversation, I was able to capture some points that were being made by the minister. I was able to hear that the thematic focus areas for the budget were promoting economic growth, job creation and improving service delivery. The thought that came to my mind was same old, same old – promoting economic growth for who, job creation for whom and service delivery for whom? You see, more than the first half of the minister’s speech was on the review of the performance of the previous year. As the minister went on and on about how things had grown by this percentage and that rate … we could not relate to what she was saying. Then the minister gave the projections for the New Year and they were meaningless in the same way as the speaker’s blonde wig was to us.

We, the ordinary Ugandans, have resigned to the meaninglessness of our country’s economic growth statistics; for the promotion of economic growth in Uganda is not based on equity. For example, every single incentive in form of the tax cuts that the minister gave in her speech can only be fully enjoyed if one is rich. The tax cuts on sugar and the reductions on stamp duty are only meaningful in the context of economies of scale. That is to say, it is he or she who is able to buy a truck load of sugar that will enjoy the benefit of the tax cut, for by the time the sugar goes down through the retailer to the ordinary poor person who buys sugar in grams there will be no significant impact. The ordinary poor person will probably not be able and will most likely not want to borrow in excess of UShs 1,000,000/=, so how do they benefit from the reductions in stamp duty? The removal of taxes on kerosene, without dealing with the costs of fuel to transport the kerosene up-country will achieve zero impact. Removal of taxes on hoes is for me very comical, because on the conservative side, a hoe lasts multiple years. So for the millions of us who bought hoes last year the positive impact of the tax exemption on hoes in our poor rural households is questionable.

Furthermore, are there really insufficient jobs in Uganda or is it the case of we do not want to do the jobs that are there and that need to be done? In 2009, of the 1,284 staff positions in Pallisa District Administration only 649 were filled, meaning 49 percent of the staff positions were vacant. My regular visits to Pallisa indicate to me that the situation sustains and I dare say this is the case countrywide. The numbers of jobs that are currently vacant in the noble business of farming for subsistence and for business are so huge. Need we be worried about job creation or should we address why the ‘unemployed’ do not want to work in Pallisa and in farming?

Sadly, until such a time as we address why our speaker continues to wear a blonde wig, an outsider’s symbol of wisdom, the wisdom for a budget that favours the majority of Ugandans, shall continue to elude us.

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