Uganda’s ruling party to call shots on budget

Uganda’s ruling party resolves to change the budgeting processes in favor of the manifesto of its President. This piece was written by  from ONE’s Johannesburg office. 

Yoweri Museveni. Photo credit: Flickr, David Blumenkrantz

The ruling party in Uganda, the National Resistance Movement, recently held a retreat at which, on the urging of the chairman of the party and the President of the country, Yoweri Museveni, resolved to be the one to spearhead the budgeting process. It is argued that this will help the government to better align the budget to the President’s manifesto, upon which he was elected to lead the country for a period of five years. More specifically, it was resolved that “the NRM leadership and other individuals form a committee to lead the national budget preparation process in order to give the country an NRM budget as promised in the NRM manifesto,” according to the Prime Minster while briefing the press after the retreat. The committee is to be chaired by President Museveni himself.

Under the Budget Act 2001, the mandate to prepare the budget is settled by the government bureaucracy while Parliament scrutinizes and approves the budget. Under the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, Parliament appropriates the budget. There is a reform in the offing aimed at changing the Public Finance and Accountability Act possibly with a view to repeal the Budget Act.

Uganda has had a very open, participatory and transparent budgeting process since the enactment of the Budget Act in 2001. You could say that it was one of the pioneers of the participatory budget processes in Africa. I was personally involved in the preparation and dissemination of the popular versions of the budget process to ensure people knew and understood the budget cycle and were mobilized to actually participate. With time, this initiative was labelled by the government as less constructive as people simply engaged in political party posturing rather than seeking to learn more and become more involved in the budget process.

More recently, as politics have become polarized along partisan lines and at the behest of the so-called ‘rebel MPs’, Parliament has become more assertive in its demand for more money going to sectors such as health rather than to defense, and the President has become more frustrated at the fact that some of his priorities are being stalled in parliament. Hence this proposal, which is being done in coordination with efforts to ensure that all ruling party MPs toe the line as drawn by the party Chairman/President, is infringing on some of the powers of parliament. The President is pulling out all the stops including a threat that the army will take over if the country slides into the hands of the wrong politicians. The likelihood is that, on a matter like this, the President will get his way, because he always does.