Two important topics have been framed for debate in the country: public debt and management of land. Ideally, the two are not new but are being debated in a new context.
For example, a lot of borrowing to finance infrastructural projects such as power dams and roads has happened in the last few years in anticipation of an oil boom.
The oil boom hasn’t happened yet, but the country is required to begin and continue repaying the debts and the interest accumulated. The country’s financial situation is being made worse by the need for our revolutionary leader to finance his lifestyle and rent support.
That is the context under which you must understand the recent request to borrow Shs 736 billion by the usually-casual Finance minister Matia Kasaija.
For example, before driving to Kiboga to celebrate the removal of presidential age limits from our constitution, each of the 317 NRM MPs was given Shs 60 million. This comes to Shs 19 billion.
In the same week, the revolutionary gave the NRM secretariat Shs 20 billion to meet salaries of party workers who had not been paid for the last nine months.
NRM secretary general Kasule Lumumba says the money given to them was only enough for salaries of seven months. In simple terms, the revolutionary is required to pay Shs 2.8 billion every month to NRM employees, if you divide Shs 20 billion by seven months. That is why many have been laid off.
Most of the individuals that starved themselves almost to death during the five-year Luweero guerilla war because of a common ideological belief have been purged or left the ‘bus’ by themselves. You now have a new breed threaded together by money and the revolutionary knows it.
To meet the financial needs of these new breed of NRM supporters and leaders, the revolutionary has increased the allocations to departments that he singlehandedly controls.
For example, his residence’s (State House) budget has grown from less than Shs 100 billion five years ago to nearly Shs 250 billion.
This financial year 2017/18, State House was allocated (actually it allocated itself) Shs 230 billion but it has returned to parliament to solicit permission to spend more! To be specific, State House wants Shs 16 billion more.
Out of this Shs 16 billion, classified expenditure accounts for Shs 13 billion and the rest will be used to finance valuation of land in Amuru district and development of an anti-tick vaccine. Yes, State House develops vaccines!
These are the sort of things for which Finance minister Kasaija wants permission from parliament to borrow from commercial banks. You certainly know how expensive borrowing from commercial banks is.
So far, government has borrowed Shs 12 trillion from commercial banks and pension funds. That is why next year’s budget is more about paying debts.
The government has presented a budget of Shs 29.2 trillion for processing in parliament. The bigger part of this budget (Shs 15 trillion) will be financed by local revenue through URA. The rest of the money will be borrowed.
What the country should know is that next year we will spend Shs 3.4 trillion on debt repayment. Interest alone, which we will still repay next year, is Shs 2.7 trillion.
By December 2015, the country’s external debt stood at $9.66 billion (Shs 35 trillion) while domestic debt (money borrowed from commercial banks and pension funds) stood at Shs 9.8 trillion.
Today, domestic debt is at Shs 12 trillion, domestic arrears (money owed to suppliers) is at Shs 2.7 trillion and I think external debt is about $12 billion (Shs 43 trillion).
This is what should worry every citizen, especially leaders. But instead of organizing a retreat to discuss a national crisis, NRM MPs descended on Kiboga to roast goats, dance and plan for a referendum to increase the tenure of their master from five to seven years. The economy has slowed down and we are in for hard times.
Finally on land, I want to applaud Justice Catherine Bamugemereire’s probe committee. It has exposed a racket of well-connected people who are stealing public and private land.
My only worry is that some of its recommendations are rolling back all its achievements. I don’t know why the commission thinks Mailo land tenure and district land boards should be abolished.
There are areas in Uganda especially in the north where land is owned by clans. In Buganda, the equivalent of communal (clan) land, the 9,000 square miles, is what is now in the control of district land boards and has unfairly been converted into freehold. That is why for us in Buganda, we are still demanding for the 9,000 square miles.
By its recommendation, the probe committee wants management of this land vested in the Museveni government. This is absurd because land managed by Museveni has been parceled and donated to his cronies under the guise of investment.
I fear the Bamugemereire commission might be helping Museveni achieve what he has all along failed through legislation. Of course such recommendations would require constitutional changes.
The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.