Top 'kiosks' bleeding the taxpayer

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Top 'kiosks' bleeding the taxpayer
President Museveni authorised a late Shs14 trillion tax increment that Minister Kasaija added to the Budget Estimates, leaving Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda in a tiff

From the standard gauge railway to Lubowa hospital and Kiira Motors to the Presidential Initiative on Banana there is so much the taxpayer is being asked to give out that even Nathan Magoola and his DEI Pharmaceuticals and Atiak Sugar Factory cannot refuse to take in

BUDGET | The government on Thursday laid the dining table with a revised Shs72.12 trillion National Budget after bringing forward additional Shs14 trillion to bloat the earlier Estimate of Shs58.34 trillion.

Mr Henry Musasizi, the State minister for finance, would not have been any luckier when he appeared before the 'Rubber-Stamping Parliament' as his amended figures were promptly approved even as a section of the Opposition attempted to show cause why Shs5 trillion could have been saved from unnecessary expenditures.

In the Budget Framework Paper, the first official Budget Document to Parliament in December last year, two ceilings (total budget figures) of Shs52.722 trillion and Shs54.587 trillion were provided.

But on Thursday, the date scheduled for passing the Budget, Mr Musasizi returned with a corrigenda of Shs14 trillion, flouting Schedule 3 of the Public Finance Management Act, 2015, which requires the Finance Minister to state the Total Budget (ceiling) and source of revenue - how it will be financed.

"What this means is that the figure of the total budget must not change. The priorities can change but the total figure should remain. That is the intention of the law," said Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, who presented a minority report on the 2024/25 Appropriation Bill.

Minister Musasizi's Shs14 trillion walk-in-the-park comes just days after a letter purportedly written by President Museveni in which he was ordering a probe into Parliamentary Commission's 'service award' to former Leader of the Opposition and backbench commissions was widely publicised.

The Presidency called the letter forged - more than twelve hours after it started circulating - with whispers passing around that a meeting at State House Nakasero had laid the table. Anyone would believe the whispers seeing how the increment was approved with hardly the usual fussing by MPs.

It is not long ago that the Executive found itself in a deadlock with Parliament under then Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. A supplementary budget was in the middle of Mr Museveni's decision to crush a self-rewarding parliament backed by Kadaga. It became almost like "scratch my back, I scratch yours".

Mr Musasizi said of the Shs14 trillion increment, Shs30 billion will pay emoluments of cultural leaders, while Shs25 billion will help in capitalisation of Vision Group that is currently experiencing financial distress, prompting the company to layoff several workers and halt operations of some of its brands such as Urban TV.

From a glass house, you would be careful even throwing pencil rubber yet the taxpayer is perplexed. Would Vision Group really fold without the bailout? In human life, it is normal to pop a paracetamol after feeling migraine but media companies are not humans. Every other business is facing it rough in this country and they are not receiving unfettered government support that at least assures them of tomorrow.

Vision Group enjoys circulation for its prints, business for its printing corporation and ads from a government that has severally toyed with the idea of ceasing business with private media companies. The same taxpayer who hears that the government wanted to ban giving ads to private media is using their sweat to kiosk Vision about will be offended.

But offence is one thing that has been lost to Ugandans. In the Shs72 trillion Budget, payment of public debt commands the lion share accounting for over Shs34 trillion. Part of the debt an MP wanted to see paid was Sacco loan a ministry took from Parliament. Yes, Kiboga East MP Keefa Kiwanuka - first time hearing of this one - asked fellow MPs on Budget Committee to ensure that Shs33 billion is availed in the Ministry of Defence Budget to clear its debt with Parliamentary Sacco.

“We are facing a situation that the Ministry of Defence hasn’t paid the money, next year we need our money for campaigns, money will not be available,” Keefa said.

It is a typical mentality of turning the economy into a kiosk where the taxpayer begins to look like a Tuk-tuk to supply those funny pirated soft drinks. It is just as well that Patrick Isiagi, chairperson Budget Committee, where there to ask the Kiboga legislator to take his kiosk mentality to the Parliamentary Commission.

Shs75 billion is being provided again for the Coffee Value Addition under a project run by Odrek Rwabwogo, an in-law of President Museveni

Unfortunately, the kiosks are way too many. From the State House and its bottomless stomach to the standard gauge railway (SGR) and Lubowa Specialised International Hospital, there is just so much the government will be feeding without any of them belching. MP Ssemujju identified a couple of these kiosks in the minority report.

He identified wasteful expenditure such as Shs645 billion to be spent on public vehicles. A total of Shs105,bn will be spent on acquisition of new vehicles to replace old ones. Another Shs167bn is for maintenance of the vehicles and Shs371bn for fueling them.

In a country where the government spends billions of shillings to maintain junkyards for rotting UG-registered vehicles, a country where a secretary in some far-flung institution has in their wallet a fuel card worth Shs1.5 million quarterly paid for by the taxpayer, the priority could not be getting any worse.

“Some of those being given vehicles, cannot use all of them. For example, under the office of the President, leaders such as Amama Mbabazi and Kiwanuka Ssekandi have been given vehicles yet they have already benefited from free brand new limousines as former leaders," Ssemujju said.

"Ssekandi actually has a vehicle as former speaker, a vehicle as former deputy speaker, a vehicle as former vice president and now as a presidential advisor yet he hardly moves. All these vehicles are fueled and drivers provided."

In another moment, Buhweju MP Francis Mwijukye would have frowned at Minister Musasizi's Budget Estimates from the hospital after his attack. But here, Speaker Anita Among was speaking about Parliament flying him out for better treatment. With appropriation that has trillions of shillings in classified expenditure and just a paltry Shs280bn for referral hospitals, it is telling that Parliament should really be so proud of flying their own abroad rather than discuss how to reboot the ailing health sector.

MPs, like other government officials, receive medical treatment in foreign hospitals, at the sweat of the taxpayer. The trillions of shillings spent on medical tourism abroad annually could equip the National Referral Hospital Mulago into the same functional healthcare service provider sought abroad.

After appearing to be forced to pull out pick axes and hoes and dig up the foundation, the white elephant called Lubowa hospital is a kiosk that does not use Tuk-tuk but but bullion vans to restock the special merchandise few believe it will ever sell. For Shs400 billion, the taxpayer has only got impunity, with the arrogant contractors kicking out anyone who attempts to check what is going on.

And if the taxpayer will still whine about lack of investment in the health sector, DEI Pharmaceuticals will prop up large like a grotesque silhouette in a horror film.

"The government has just given Mr Mathias Magoola of DEI Pharmaceuticals Shs578.4 billion, bringing total investment in his company to Shs723 billion," said Ssemujju. " Magoola was given Shs70 billion in this year’s budget and another Shs75 billion in supplementary schedule No1, in December 2023."

The most that most Ugandans know of DEI Pharmaceuticals is the owner, Magoola, who emerged during the theatrical Covid-19 pandemic rollercoaster gift of giving. In June last year, DEI Pharmaceuticals published a three-page supplement in the dailies at it sought to munch more mouthful of morsels from taxpayers with the blessing of Parliament.

"The multi-million dollar biological drugs and vaccines manufacturing facility in Mattuga, Wakiso, Uganda being developed by Dei Biopharma Ltd, a company under the DEI Group headed by Mr Matthias Magoola, a professional chemist is expected to produce vaccines and low cost  drugs, including cancer and malaria treatment medicines, with incidents of the later on increase and the former being Africa’s biggest killer," it said.

Meanwhile, there is a big kiosk called Standard Gauge Railway. It just won't go away even when everyone it has grown beyond white elephant into the Orwellian Sugar Candy Mountain. The government is doling out Shs2.221 trillion for acquisition of 260 acres of land in Tororo and Mayuge. The money will also cater for updating the feasibility studies for western and eastern routes and undertaking environment, social economic impact assessments.

Kiosks are supposed to be small and take in petty merchandise but the SGR is really a bottomless pit kiosk that might swallow up even the taxpayer if they ever run out of steam.

Elsewhere, Atiak Sugar Factory continues to roll its mill at the taxpayer, crushing the life out of it to supposedly produce crystal sugar. This government has so far invested Shs55.71 billion in Atiak Sugar factory, the minority report says. But the factory is not operational. The Opposition believes the Shs100 billion allocated for capitalisation of the Uganda Development Corporation is for Atiak.

Billions for banana

The Presidential Initiative on Banana Industrial Development (PIBID) based in Bushenyi wants Shs67.69 billion for alleged full automation, upscaling drying and storage, energy optimisation and operating expenditure. It has been allocated Shs16.74 billion remaining with a funding gap of Shs67.69 billion. On Thursday, Mr Musasizi indicated that the government was doling out Shs33.26 billion to the banana initiative.

Here, you can cry with Mr Ssemujju: "This ki-thing was supposed to have processed banana (matooke) into powder and other exportable products. For more than 10 years, it is receiving money in the budget and in supplementary budgets but it has never exported even a kilo of powdered banana. We have so far sank in Shs120 billion. If you approve the Shs16.74 billion and Shs33.26 billion, it will bring total investment in this thing to Shs170 billion."

That is where your Efris is going and Prof Florence Isabirye Muranga, a former Makerere University nutrition and biochemistry lecturer, must be rubbing her index finger against the thumb that it is so easy to set up a kiosk in Uganda and mint such huge cash off the taxpayer.

On the positive, however, the Kampala Pothole Exhibition that was attacked by regime apologists has scored big as Minister Musasizi earmarked Shs592bn to address flooding, traffic congestion, poor road infrastructure, un-signalised junctions, provision of street lighting and storm water drainage enhancements in Kampala.

The taxpayer who endures these potholes and the resultant impact on their pockets through damages on cars and time spent in traffic would be pleased to see their sweat go into ending such nightmares.

However, it remains a far cry that of the Shs72 trillion budget, government set aside only Shs1.27 trillion for the construction and upgrade of national roads and bridges, while Shs20 billion has been allocated for the rehabilitation of the 72km Kampala-Jinja Highway, and Shs25.05bn has been allocated for the rehabilitation of Busunju-Kiboga-Hoima road.

The Kampala-Jinja Highway, a major gateway to Kenya and its sea trade routes, has been in such a terrible state that many trucks reach the Mabira stretch and lie on their side to mourn. It is a sickening sight out there when vehicles look like they have decided to take a rest by lying on their sides, yet they have actually overturned after the terrible road got the better of their wheels.

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