By Joachim Twino
Finance Minister Matia Kasaijja has called upon Ugandans to designate 4th-6th June as days for massively camping out at Kololo Independence Grounds to have the opportunity to directly understand how the Shs32trn allocated to different government MDAs in the FY2018/19 was spent.
Speaking on Friday during the Kampala tree planting event, which is one of the many month long activities his Finance Ministry has organized to deepen citizens understanding and participation in the budgeting process, Kasaijja said it was compulsory for all MDAs’ accounting officers to be available at Kololo for the public to directly ask them hard questions regarding accountability of the billions allocated to them during the soon-ending FY.
On those dates (4th-6th June), the Finance Ministry (that is increasingly becoming assertive, open, public-responsive and outspoken) has organized the “Service Excellence Exhibition,” a platform during which Ag PSST Patrick Ochaillap says all MDAs will mandatorily be required to exhibit their works and give accountability to the public regarding the cash allocated to them in FY2018/19.
“As PSST I have ensured over 95% of the money that was appropriated by Parliament was released to them on time and 4th-6th June is the time for the accounting officers to account to the public for what they have done and failed to do despite the timely release and allocation of the money,” Ochailap told reporters on the sidelines of the tree planting activity that saw Kasaijja and other officials plant many trees in the Wandegeya neighborhood along Bombo road.
The well attended tree planting exercise, attended by a large crowd that even the heavy Friday downpour couldn’t disperse, took place on the stretch between Norvik Hospital and YMCA directly opposite City Oil.
Supporting his boss Kasaijja who pondered reprimanding accounting officers that shun the Kololo Exhibition by withholding some of their funding for the subsequent FY, Ochailap said there is no reason why any government MDA would shun such an opportunity to demonstrate to the public on what they have done and get instant feedback.
“Let all of us be at Kololo to demand accountability from our MDA leaders. As the Ministry of Finance we shall be there big time and we need you to help us corroborate or disapprove some of the things the MDAs will be saying or demonstrating at that exhibition. If they say we did ABC in this part of the country and it’s a lie, you should be there to expose them for claiming things which aren’t there and we crack the whip there and then,” Kasaijja said about the ceremony his Ministry is jointly organizing with URA and Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG).
The veteran Minister also commended Director Budgeting Kenneth Mugambe for his team’s initiative to designate a whole month aimed at harnessing citizen participation in demanding accountability from budget implementers. “I really commend my son the Director Budgeting for being very deliberate about these activities giving impetus for public interest and participation. This is good because it’s Ugandans’ budget and not mine or the President’s. It’s for the people and we are just their servants,” Kasaijja said.
WHY TREE PLANTING?
Kasaijja and Ochailap defended the Finance Ministry decision to prioritize tree planting as one of the key activities for this year’s budget month. The duo explained how environmental degradation (resulting from the rapidly diminishing forest cover now standing at mere 8%) subsequently impacts the economy. That the diminishing forest cover leads to desertification and climate change negative effects like delayed rain and prolonged dry season which ultimately diminish agricultural production and food security.
The duo explained the resultant threat to food security doubtlessly devastates the economy. Yet that isn’t all. The very expensive Hydro Power dams ambitiously being built by the NRM government could become white elephants due to declining water levels in the river Nile resulting from prolonged draught.
Kasaijja explained a scenario like that wouldn’t only mean the GoU trillions will have been spent in vain but also hampers industrialization leading to unemployment on top of depriving the country foreign exchange earnings that could result from increased exportation to markets surrounding Uganda namely DRC, South Sudan and others.
Charles Matovu, an officer in the Budgeting Directorate, explained to Mulengera News that the tree planting activity was an opportunity for the Finance Ministry to compliment “Greening Kampala” campaign being spearheaded by KCCA that had a powerful representation at the Friday event. Kasaijja said all government MDAs have an obligation to compliment KCCA and Ministry of Environment efforts to restore Uganda’s forest cover “otherwise without aggressively planting trees to restore the rapidly disappearing forest cover, we shall only be building castles on sand.”
Speaking with nostalgia, Kasaijja (who has been Kampala resident since 1969 when he first came for studies at SMACK) reflected on green open spaces that city authorities have permitted to be replaced with shopping malls and arcades. He nevertheless celebrated the fact that City Square and Sheraton Gardens are at least still available and urged KCCA to resist temptation to permit anybody to destroy them.
Kasaijja said he supported the organizers’ proposal to include tree planting as one of the key budget month activities because “I don’t want my grandchildren to curse me when I’m long gone into my grave for being part of the generation that didn’t do anything when our forest cover was disappearing.” He casually said in Bunyoro, belief in such curses is real and wide spread.
He said tree planting is the only way to support climate-dependent sectors like agriculture. “I worked for Shell in the 1970s and I was heading sales and distribution. I saw the impact of agriculture first hand because whenever it was season for selling coffee by farmers in Masaka, cotton by farmers in Gulu or Kasese and Matooke for farmers from Mbarara, my sales would all of a sudden increase and I surely know the impact agriculture can have on the entire economy. That’s why I’m always very outspoken and supportive about increasing funding to the agriculture sector,” said Kasaijja himself a successful commercial farmer. He advised KCCA to consider making it compulsory for property owners to have trees in their compounds. This is necessary, he said, because trees are responsible for 40% of rain-making.
He suggested, and Ochailap accepted, that next FY the budget month activities should target upcountry more than Kampala “whose residents have access to internet and can read more about budgeting.”
CSBAG ED Julius Mukunda, whose organization is co-funding the month long activities, thanked the Finance Ministry leadership for their readiness to invest time and resources into outreach programs to enable Ugandans become more interested and engaged in budgeting process.
He said participation in budget-related activities like the Kololo exhibition is the only way citizens can access “authentic information” that can enrich subsequent debate and decision-making at whatever level. “I’m enthused by the fact that the Ministry is clearly very keen about facilitating constructive dialogue between GoU and citizens which has been our call as civil society,” Mukunda said.
A representative from the Ministry of Environment commended the Budget Directorate for prioritizing tree planting because it’s the only way to reverse global-warming and negative climate change effects that have led to rains becoming very unpredictable.
He said even when Uganda’s forest cover had dropped from 24% it was in 1990 to current 8%, it was encouraging seeing An influential Ministry like Finance emphasizing tree planting on top of adequately funding his ministry and NFA for massive tree planting campaigns. He said NFA is able to annually give out millions of trees free of charging for reforestation because of the deliberate funding by Finance Ministry.
“Deforestation is a very big problem because it causes the rains to become unpredictable like it has been in previous months. Many resorted to praying to God and others to traditional rain-making as the situation became desperate but more seriously let’s plant trees colleagues to ensure food security,” he humorously said causing laughter. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).