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Attorney General tells Finance to rein in supplementary budgets

Minister David Bahati addresses parliament.
State Minister for Planning David Bahati addresses parliament.

The Attorney General has told the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development that they must comply with the laws regarding supplementary spending, regardless of the practical difficulties involved.

If the law is too onerous, the Attorney General told Finance in a legal opinion, they should seek to have it amended.

This advice follows the Parliamentary Budget Committee (PBC) chairperson’s letter to the State Minister for Planning, David Bahati. Dated December 11, 2017, the committee indicated that they would only discuss supplementary expenditure for the financial year 2017/18 after a legal opinion had been provided in respect to the issues raised by the committee.

Committee members wanted to be guided on whether Regulation 18 (5) of the Public Finance Management Regulations (PFMR), 2016 is inconsistent with Section 1 of the Public Finance Management (Amendment) Act 2015.

Regulation 18 (5) stipulates that “Parliament may approve a supplementary appropriation or the minister may approve a supplementary budget, as the case may be, where the supplementary expenditure is unabsorbable, unavoidable [or] unforeseeable”.

Butambala MP Muwanga Kivumbi told The Observer on Thursday that Ministry of Finance has been abusing the procedures governing supplementary budgets.

“We told them that you have not been following the law. We have been doing budgeting lousily because tomorrow we are sure they will come up with a supplementary budget…yet the law is very clear,” Kivumbi said. “The Attorney General has given an opinion and I think that’s why the Ministry cannot even proceed with supplementary budgets before parliament because most of the items therein are illegal.”

Section 25 of the Public Finance Management Act 2015, as amended by section 1 of the Public Finance (Amendment) Act, 2015, sought to operationalize and regulate the supplementary expenditure and thus capped the monies that can be expended within the meaning of Article 156 (2) (b) to 3 per cent of the total approved budget.

“In essence, therefore, where need for supplementary expenditure arises and is beyond 3 per cent of the total approved budget, that expenditure requires prior approval by parliament,” William Byaruhanga, the Attorney General, wrote to the minister on December 21, 2017.

He also observed that while the Public Finance Management Act capped the supplementary expenditure to 3 per cent without approval of parliament, the Act is silent about the approval procedure of that expenditure.

He added that there are no inconsistencies between Public Finance Management Act and the Public Finance Management Regulations given that the regulations were meant to operationalize the Act.

He further observed that regulation 18 took into consideration the provisions of article 156 (2) of the Constitution and section 1 of the Public Finance Management (Amendment) Act that amended section 25 of the Public Finance Management Act, 2015.

“However, it is important to note that while there is no inconsistency between the Act and regulations, from a legal point of view, the ministry of finance officials have highlighted….the practical challenges they are faced with in complying with regulation 18 (5), and consequently 18 (6) as this regulation frustrates the achievement of the supplementary expenditure,” the Attorney General’s legal opinion further states. “If the ministry so wishes, [they] may issue instructions to the First Parliamentary Counsel to effect an amendment.”

During the Parliamentary Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday, Dokolo district woman MP, Cecilia Ogwal appealed to the minister to always “ensure he complies with the constitution”.

In response, Bahati said the ministry “has no option apart from sticking to the law”.

“Let us be treated as people who didn’t know before this [Attorney General’s legal] opinion,” Bahati added.


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