BY MARILYN KABALERE, Advocacy Officer
On Thursday 8th June 2017 we witnessed Members of Parliament and other stakeholders heading to Serena Kampala hotel to listen-in to the reading of Uganda’s FY 2017/2018 National budget in accordance to Article 155 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. While presenting the budget, Hon. Matia Kasaija the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development mentioned that the budget had three key messages in its theme –“Industrialization for Job Creation and Shared Prosperity”. PELUM Uganda organized a listening in dialogue at Hotel Africana, on the same day, under the theme, “Citizens’ expectations in the FY 2017/18 Budget”. This was aimed at creating awareness about the budget allocations and having participants identify areas to inform PELUM Uganda’s advocacy on the budget.
Hon. Matia Kasaija emphasized the fact that the Agriculture Sector is key in providing food security, export earnings and creating gainful job opportunities for the Ugandan youth and women. All this underlined a need for Government to address salient issues in Agriculture including climate change which is arising partly from the destruction of wetlands and deforestation; low survival rates of distributed seedlings, inadequate infrastructure that accounts for over 30% loss of production; inadequate extension services, lack of coordination among institutions in the sector, inadequate compliance with and enforcement of standards right from farms to processors and a high cost of financing for Agriculture enterprises. The minister further mentioned that Uganda’s industrialization will be anchored on Agriculture, Agro-processing and Value addition. “Linking Agriculture to industry is the strategy in which the economy will be transformed to deliver inclusive growth and development”, he said.
With these and other remarks on the Agricultural Sector, civil society representatives were not happy with the final budget allocation to the agriculture sector considering that although the minister highlighted the many challenges in the sector there was no allocation to some of those issues raised. “Beautiful budget speech it was. The question is where is this money?” asked Mr. Olweny from Action Aid Uganda. More views expressed were on climate change interventions being too limited, lack of attention to extension service provision, limited coordination and absence of an office responsible for making decisions and guiding the Sector. A mismatch has always been observed in planning and implementation at National and Local Government levels with limited or no participation of community structures and direct beneficiaries.
Mr. Agong from CSBAG added his voice to the previous speakers mentioning that the budget is increasing but the revenue is not. “The Uganda Revenue Authority is only collecting shs14 trillion, leaving a small margin in the services,” he cited. On another note, he mentioned that Uganda has failed to actualize what was signed in the Maputo declaration. “Why then did we sign it?” he wondered. Mr. Agong also stated that the budget has failed to prioritize sectors that have a linkage to agriculture including the sector of lands and housing.
Mr. Mukasa, a farmer from AFIRD said that the budget was not realistic at all. He went on to add that Agriculture is the backbone of our economy and therefore we will not attain a middle income status by 2020 if agriculture is not given priority. Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) is receiving a lot of money but not putting it to proper use. Extension service providers need to support OWC.
Also brought to attention by Ms. Namaga a Senior Program Officer at UDN, was the current debt of is Ug shs32.5 trillion. She said that, “as a country, if we decide to pay back our debt, it will be at a loss because some of this money has not been utilized. A number of loans are not performing; we are not able to send some/ part of the money. Government borrows at very high interest rates, compared to conventional terms, not forgetting the high percentage of debt maturity.”
There were recommendations from the house. Ms. Harriet Ndagire from Kulika Uganda said that the Ministry of Agriculture should re-attain its mandate of running everything related to agriculture. Currently its authority and roles have been taken over by OWC. She encouraged working with local governments at different levels and participating in monitoring, budgeting and engaging government at all levels to ensure that the budget for agriculture sector benefits the vulnerable communities.