Parliament approved a Shs 3.819 trillion supplementary budget last week that served up about Shs 22 billion in new, lavish spending on cars and cash bailouts for a few government ministers, presidential advisors, and high-profile supporters of the ruling NRM.
The opposition, in a minority report, described the expenditures as “foreseeable or avoidable and violate Regulation 18 of the Public Finance Management Regulations (as amended).”
Additionally, the authors; Mathias Mpuuga (Leader of the Opposition, (LoP), Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda (Opposition whip), and Gorreth Namugga [NUP Mawogola South], said the government borrowed about Shs 2.04 trillion to finance the lavish supplementary expenditures.
“This is nearly equivalent to the recurrent expenditures under Schedule 1 which amount to UGX 2.02 trillion.”
The Budget Parliamentary Committee approved the supplementary budget, which offered billions of shillings to known NRM functionaries and supporters to help them claw through the Covid-19 economic debris.
The budget was quickly passed but Parliament is still reluctant to pass the NSSF Bill that would allow savers aged 45 years and above access 20 percent of their savings.
Out of the 44 MPs who sit on the budget committee, only three MPs dissented with the majority view. The three include Muwanga Kivumbi [NUP Butambala County] Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda [FDC Kira municipality] and Gorreth Namugga [NUP Mawogola South].
In their minority report, the three MPs list Balaam Barugahara Ateenyi, Peter Kagwa, Muyongo Patrick, David Tusiime, Ssekyanzi Elvis, Connie Akambikira, Bobkins Kibirige, Katumba Hudson, Irene Kiseka, Aggrey Kagonyera, Isaac Mulindwa, and Aggar Sekakala Junior as directors of Events Association Uganda, a company, which received Shs 5 billion in the supplementary budget.
Balaam is an unapologetic sympathizer of NRM who played an outsized role in mobilizing political support for President Museveni in the last election cycle. Other than the event managers, the MPs also approved Shs 3 billion to support Gravity Investments Company Limited.
According to the committee’s minority report, the company’s initial directors include; Fox Odoi Oywelowo, the current MP for West Budama North, Stephen Tashobya, a former MP and now a commissioner with the Electoral Commission, Fredrick Ruhindi, a former Attorney General and MP for Nakawa division, Sarah Patience Mpabwa, a former MP representing the UPDF, Kabahenda Flavia Rwabuhoro, Woman MP representing Kyegegwa district, Emmanuel Lumala Dombo, the director for communication at the NRM secretariat, Oleru Huda Abason, an MP and a member of the NRM Central Executive Committee, Ekuma George Stephen, a former MP, Mulimba John, the minister of state for Foreign Affairs, Muhumuza David, Biraaro Ephrraim, Kasule Robert Sebunya, a former MP, and Auru Anne.
The minority report, however, listed the current directors of Gravity Investments as Stephen Tashobya, Ekuma George Stephen, Auru Anne, a former MP, and minister and Princess Kabakumba Masiko, a former minister.
The minority report also takes exception to the purchase of new vehicles for some active and retired government officials yet some already have cars. For example, the majority report approved the purchase of vehicles for presidential advisors who include; Ruhakana Rugunda (former prime minister), Ssekandi Edward Kiwanuka (former vice president), and Amelia Kyambadde (former minister for Trade) amounting to Shs 8.3 billion.
Yet both Ruhakana Rugunda and Ssekandi received new vehicles in their capacities as former prime minister and former vice president, deputy speaker, and speaker. The majority report also approved the purchase of new vehicles for ministers, yet their ministries had cars that were used by their predecessors in the last term.
The minister of state for Economic Monitoring, Peter Ogwang got Shs 550 million to buy a new station wagon. Shs 1.225 billion was approved for two new vehicles; one for Anifa Kawooya Bangirana and another for Margaret Muhanga Mugisa, both ministers of state for Health.
These two had previously rejected old cars used by their predecessors. Other ministers approved to get new vehicles include Francis Mwebesa, Harriet Ntabazi, Fredrick Ngobi, David Bahati, Magode Ikuya, Rebecca Kadaga, Rose Liry Akello, and Permanent Secretary Geraldine Ssali.
All combined, parliament approved Shs 4.55 billion for the new cars. Interviewed for this story, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda and Muwanga Kivumbi, two of the three MPs who signed the minority report, said that what is mind-boggling is that all the beneficiary ministers also received Shs 200 million, which each MP and ex-official got from parliament to buy a car.
“We are going to borrow Shs 2 trillion from commercial banks to finance this supplementary that has a lot of items that are consumptive in nature. Money to buy vehicles for presidential advisors, money to pay rent for advisors, money to pay private individuals yet when you look at the budget the biggest component of our budget goes to paying interest on the loans. There is no sane person who can borrow to buy vehicles and then pay Shs 5 trillion in interest every year. They already have vehicles, why can’t they wait for next year for this to go through normal budgeting?” Ssemujju said.
“These people ask for a dessert before they even touch the starter; how do you ask for a supplementary on July 1, before you even touch the budget that was given to you? It’s absolutely scandalous and the people who are budgeting through supplementary budgets are really very stupid and we better call it so; it’s crooked economics per excellence. We have to knock this cartel out. I know it’s powerful; it’s in the military, it’s in politics, it’s everywhere. But this war is protracted; we have no option but to fight it. Someone needs to say this cannot go on...” Kivumbi said.
The minority report also queries the Shs 108 billion given to Atiak Sugar Factory based in the northern district of Amuru. The factory is managed under Horyal Investment Holding Company. The government owns 40% shares. The majority of shares are owned by Amina Moghe Hersi, her son, and companies.
“Government, which is a minority shareholder, has invested more funds into the company than the majority shareholder. The government has so far invested Shs 172.1 billion of which Shs 81 billion is share capital while the majority shareholder has invested Shs 83.4 billion. Other shareholders include; Mohamud Abdi Ahmed (Shs 50 million), Amina Hersi Moghe (Shs 2.794 billion), and Kingston Enterprises (Shs 33.72 billion),” the report said.
“The Committee was disheartened to learn that due to the memorandum of understanding between Horyal and its creditors, the government is restricted from attaining shareholding beyond 40%. Hence it cannot match its investments to the shareholding in the company,” the minority report reads.
The minority report recommended that parliament withholds approval of the Shs 108 billion until all concerns including the management of the company are adequately addressed. But that recommendation was ignored. The committee approved the money.
The minority report also requested parliament to delay the approval of Shs 50 billion meant for the ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation until parliament concludes its investigation into how the line minister Dr. Monica Musenero used more than Shs 30 billion given to her to develop and manufacture Covid-19 vaccines. But the majority report approved the request anyway.
The majority report also approved Shs 26.36 billion to settle Buganda Kingdom claims on account of a memorandum of understanding signed between the Buganda Kingdom and the Government of Uganda in 2013. Shs 7 billion was set aside to settle claims of Bunyoro Kingdom against the Government of Uganda and Shs 35 billion to fund political parties as required under Interparty Organisation for Dialogue.
Among the few requests that were declined by the majority report include; Shs 11.423 billion PAYE and Withholding Tax for the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters and Shs 21.25 billion to Church of Uganda for compensation.
OPPOSITION MPs DECLINE
Out of the 11 opposition MPs who sit on the Budget Committee, only three signed the minority report. According to Ssemujju and Muwanga, the majority of the opposition MPs were asked not to endorse the supplementary budget in its form and shape, but apart from Anne Adeke Ebaju and Patrick Nsamba who were not around, and Allan Ssewanyana who is in prison, the rest either signed the majority report or abstained from signing.
Those who signed include; Wilfred Niwagaba and Anthony Akol. Others; Sasaga Isaiah, John Baptist Nambeshe, Akora Maxwell and Bayiga Lulume didn’t sign.
“You have one company with people doing Museveni’s campaign getting billions; its individuals trying to fleece the country. You have Shs 100 billion as classified expenditure for State House; I don’t know what is classified about Museveni, his wife, and children. We even had a WhatsApp group created for the opposition on the budget committee. We invited everybody for the meeting to tell them what the issues were but apart from Ann Adeke Ebaju who was sick and unavailable, Geoffrey Ekanya who was held up somewhere, and Patrick Nsamba who was out of the country, the rest didn’t show up to sign. If our colleagues think this is OK, it’s their opinion but to us, it wasn’t,” Ssemujju said.
“We asked the ministry of Finance to give us the list of items they suppressed in the budget but that list was brought to parliament when the report had already been written. I will not blame our colleagues from the NRM because to them, Museveni is always right, but not the opposition,” Ssemujju said.
Muwaga Kivumbi said some opposition MPs were swayed to sign the majority report because the government included money that would benefit their communities directly.
“The majority report has a lot of communal interests; some people get persuaded when their micro interests are taken care of and politics being a game of interests, some people jump on board when their interests are catered for,” Kivumbi said, adding, “When you look into the reallocation, you will find people like Anthony Akol whose constituency covers Atiak, once there is money for Atiak, you will never have Akol on your side. People like Maxwell Akora were persuaded because there was money for Lira Cooperative; those small things sometimes persuade MPs even when there are broader issues they disagree with. But I don’t begrudge them because they are constituency-based MPs and such things determine whether you come back to parliament or not,” Muwanga said.