Museveni praises longest serving finance minister Kasaija

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Museveni praises longest serving finance minister Kasaija
Minister Matia Kasaija arrives with a Budget Box to read his record eighth National Budget on Thursday

BUDGET DAY | Finance and Economic Planning minister Matia Kasaija read his eighth Budget on Thursday, projecting a positive outlook of the economy and earning his boss President Museveni's praise for dotting the T's and crossing the I's.

Mr Museveni has never minced his words when it comes to hitting back at criticism of the economy and his government and the issue of Uganda's debt continues to be tetchy for the economy.

As at the end of December 2023, Uganda’s total public debt stood at Shs93.38 trillion, of which Shs55.37 trillion is external debt while domestic debt was Shs38.01 trillion.

The public debt is projected at Shs97.638 trillion by June 30.

Minister Kasaija said that although debt has increased, it is still sustainable and that the government was committed to keeping it sustainable.

"Most importantly, the money we have borrowed has been invested well and these investments have started to give good returns," the minister, the 21st man to run the finance docket since Uganda became independent, said.

Mr Kasaija was named Finance minister on March 1, 2015, replacing businesswoman Maria Kiwanuka.

While he appeared shaky at the beginning of his tenure, the creases on the face of the octogenarian minister speaks of experience and reading the Budget, he effortlessly explained the economic underpinnings.

Twenty-nine-percent of the borrowed money, the minister said, has been invested in improving the transport infrastructure including the oil roads, tourism roads, Kampala-Entebbe Expressway, the Kampala Flyover, and the several tarmacked roads.

The minister said the borrowed money also went into upgrade of Entebbe International Airport, and building of Kabalega International Airport, as well as the rehabilitation of the Metre Gauge Railway.

Leaping onto Kasaija's explanatory train, President Museveni said there were too many noises from the media and other players that gives the wrong impression to the public.

"Now borrowing, I am glad the Minister explained this borrowing," Mr Museveni, who repeatedly praised Kasaija and his team at the Finance ministry for getting their acts right, said.

"These newspapers and radios create panic among you people-debt, debt, debt. But I don’t believe in borrowing. I believe in cutting our coat according to our cloth and that is what we should be doing."

In nominal terms, Uganda’s public debt to GDP was estimated at 46.9 percent in June 2023, and is projected to end at 47.9 percent this financial year ending June 2024.

The minister and his appointing authority noted that this debt is below the 52.4 percent threshold provided for in the Charter for Fiscal Responsibility for the financial year 2023/24, and less than 50 percent of GDP government policy target for debt sustainability.

Meanwhile, Minister Kasaija said the economy has fully recovered from various shocks that have impacted it in the past four years.

"It is now poised to accelerate towards takeoff, powered by value addition to our agricultural raw materials and the abundant natural resources, growth in industry, tourism and innovations by our scientists," he said.

"This budget is greatly for Ugandans still stuck in the subsistence economy. Country men and women under this category, take full advantage of the PDM [Parish Development Model] and other wealth creation funds as well as other support services to join the money economy in any of the four sectors - commercial agriculture, industry, services, or ICT."

Minister Kasaija's past Budget Readings had always given fodder for critics, with many aspects that were alien to the realities on the ground.

Among the usual issues is the youth, the biggest population segment of the country that remains challenged by the scarce job market.

Mr Kasaija had a special place for the youth this time, however, saying "this budget offers opportunities to acquire more skills, access finance, innovate and develop new and better products".

"To those with talents, I assure you that the creative industry is going to be supported," Kasaija said.

"This budget is the beginning among many in the medium term intended to open up doors for you to escape unemployment and manipulation by self-interested individuals and groups. Take full advantage of the opportunities to make money and live a productive life."

The total government expenditure for FY 2024/2025 is projected at Shs72 trillion; of which the total appropriation is Shs37.56 trillion and statutory expenditure is Shs34.756 trillion.

Wages and salaries are projected to amount to Shs7.926 trillion, non-wage recurrent expenditure to Shs17.454 trillion, development expenditure from own resources to Shs6.152 trillion, external project financing Shs9.584 trillion, appropriation in aid to Shs293.9 billion, while external debt repayment will amount to Shs3.149 trillion.

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