Uganda budget: Chicken or Egg?

KAMPALA, JUNE 17 – The views expressed by different speakers at the Uganda Economics Association sponsored post-budget debate on June 14, must have left one question in the minds of their audience: which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

The common thread running through the experts’ intervention was that Uganda needed coherence and alignment in budgetary allocations if it is to come anywhere close to its dream of achieving middle income status by 2020.

Speaking under the theme “Budgeting for Future Generations: Debt sustainability, Agriculture and Human Development, the economists faulted finance minister Matia Kasaija’s prioritization despite significant allocations to infrastructure, energy, education and agriculture. Joseph Muvawala, the Executive Director of the National Planning Authority observed that although the budget allocations for 2016/17 were in line with the cobjective of increasing productivity and creating employment opportunities, the real devil was in the details.

“The budget is very generous towards the agriculture sector which received an increment by over Ushs 500 billion. Most of that money will go towards provision of inputs. But why should we increase inputs, has this been the reason for the under-performance of the sector?” Muvawala wondered while suggesting that the the solution in the agricultural sector lay in adoption of efficient delivery mechanisms as a chain. Otherwise increasing inputs alone won’t change much.

On education Muvawala notes that the programmed spending increments in the sector are not in areas where they are needed most. While quality is the primary challenge here, new spending will go towards higher wages for teachers, creating new public universities at a time the capitation grant per child was in decline.

There are also outright contradictions. Julius Kiiza, a Political Scientist from Makerere University found it self-defeating that as government was pledging to cut down on domestic borrowing, the size of parliament and cabinet was expanding raising the cost of public administration. With a stubborn twin deficit, it will be inevitable to borrow to sustain the swollen cabinet and legislature.

With the benefit of hindsight, it will be recalled that the provision for increased wages for primary school was in partial fulfillment of a long overdue agreement to progressively raise the wages of the least paid primary school teachers towards a living wage. And if quality is the challenge, how do we define its manifestations? Is it possible that a hungry, disgruntled teacher can deliver quality in mint-new teaching facilities? On the flipside can a contented teacher deliver quality education in an under-facilitated environment? In the circumstances, the solution might be sector prioritization that determines a set of deliverables in a given sector and then concentrates resources and execution during a particular budget cycle. Otherwise trying to give something to everybody is bound to leave us wondering which came first – the chicken or the egg?

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