Why do we read the budget?
No, really, I know no one will ask this question but allow me knock to pieces the party glasses.
Why, really, must we read the budget?
We know, by May, what the total of the budget will be. We know which sector will get what from the budget report presented by the committee chair of the Budget committee, we know, from the Medium Term Economic Framework paper how likely, the next five successive budgets will look like and much of this stuff, the hardcore of it, doesn’t really matter to citizens despite them being beneficiaries.
Infact, by budget day, on the budget website, a good layout of the budget is already represented in pie charts and box squares!
So why, in dire honesty, do we keep our men in uniform boiling under the sun at the Kampala Serena Hotel for hours, drubbing through the day with officialdom, carpet caretakers seeing to it nobody dirts the red patches the President will step on when he arrives late? Why do we do all this?
It cannot truly be, that by watching the Presidential salute, the parade, the swift marches and hearing the anthem seven times over, we derive national satisfaction.
Neither can it be that by watching legislators and ministers take timed naps, reporters squabble over misplaced figures on live television and an occasional ‘downtown’ cameo of a trader saying they care less, we derive national glory.
Pointedly, we must face it, the budget day – speech, officialdom and accompanying acts and feats must either come to a complete halt or they must - and this is a likely acceptable view - be reformed drastically.
Prior to the budget speech, I spent hours thumbing through annual budget performance reports for each sector based on previous allocations – I’ll save you the bother, they are not a good read. A lot of ministries are not using the money given to them, a lot of money is not going to where it should be and a lot of accounting officers are not delivering on their mandates.
It could be, in fairness, that government’s releases are delayed and not in the portions as allocated but it could also be that government needs to improve efficiency.
Using just two examples; education and health, where fund disbursement was slow, procurement processes delayed and project targets missed, it is clear to see that, far from the budget speech, more work needs to actually go towards improving efficiency.
If we go back to the question, why truly, do we read the national budget?
Another baffling reminder is; the 2019/20 budget was not debated on the floor of parliament – it simply sailed through.
Two reasons have since been given; the first that ministerial statements, which form the bedrock of votes allocated to each sector came in quite late and the second, that the legislature, a bloat on the national coffers didn’t meet numbers on the floor. Those that were available to debate the budget were discouraged by the presiding Deputy Speaker to pass the budget ‘in time’.
Many last minute embarrassments also showed up; figures in the soft copy budget differed from the hard copy. Some ministerial statements were smuggled in last minute.
If we couldn’t get it right from the start, why then, I still ask, did we have to read the budget?
There is no need to pretend to anyone about the problems we have internally, they are open air on budget day; very likely, sleeping ministers will not file their ministerial statements in time. Very likely too, the late arrivals of accounting officers, including the leader of the executive, will not disburse funds on time and affect project development as it has shown. Very likely also, and lastly, that legislators who were clearly missing from their seats at the Serena will not be present to debate the budget report and channel funds to reflect the society they represent.
I’m moved, much more than anything, that we should abandon the charade display of the budget and concentrate on the nuts and bolts of it, while at it, the money we spend on that day can go to buying tea at ministries and keeping ministers and their staff in their offices.