For the last six months since President Museveni imposed a lockdown to stem the spread of the Covid-19, government has so far not spent an estimated Shs 100 billion on foreign travels for ministers and other officials.
In March, President Museveni issued orders; first by banning Ugandans from traveling to countries that were most hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Later, he completely shut down all Uganda’s borders to both incoming and outgoing travellers.
This order ordinarily put a ban on all foreign travels by government officials until recently when the president opened Entebbe International Airport.
An official on parliament’s budget committee who preferred anonymity says for the past seven months, government has saved more than Shs 100bn that would have been spent by officials on travels.
The purpose of such travels often rotates around benchmarking, conferences, medical trips as well as consultations. Oftentimes, government officials travel in delegations with many in first class or business class.
“With the lockdown on the airport, government saved about Shs 100bn since March,” the official said. However, an official at the ministry of Finance says that much of this money was already reallocated for other purposes, especially in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Don’t think so much about that money because although it was passed by parliament initially, it was reallocated for other purposes relating to the fight against the pandemic,” said the official, who asked for anonymity to speak freely.
Government earmarked an aggregated foreign travel expense of Shs 167.4bn for the 2020/2021 budget across all government ministries and departments.
“When you divide this money by 12 months, it means government spends at least Shs 13.9billion in foreign travel every month,” the official said.
However, the parliamentary official noted that travel funds for the 2020/2021 are yet to be utilized. Therefore, for the past seven months that the country spent in a foreign travel lockdown, government saved roughly Shs 100 billion.
MPs BIGGEST TRAVELLERS
Of the 167.4 billion foreign travel fund, parliament was appropriated Shs 37.2 billion, which means that the 450 members of parliament spend 22 per cent of all travels. This figure further unearths the fact that on average, government spends Shs 82m annually on each MP for travelling abroad.
In June, Dr Kizza Besigye said that his team had identified Shs 19.7 trillion in unspent money in the both the 2019/2020 and the 2020/2021 budget.
“The budget spending for the last quarter of the financial year 2019/2020 amounting to Shs 21 trillion has not happened and no accountability has been offered and all the 16 presidential addresses did not come close to explaining anything about the funds. If you include this figure, the resources earmarked for quarter one of financial year 2020/2021 that will not be spent as planned due to Covid-19 effects, the total resources available becomes 19.7billion,” Besigye said.
He called upon the government to use this non-spent money to help people deal with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 lockdown.
Other than foreign travel, the government also saved money in inland travels, workshops and conferences and organizing public celebrations.
According to estimates, government spends at least Shs 1 billion to organize public functions such as Labour Day, Heroes’ Day and Independence Day all of whom were celebrated scientifically at State House.