A decision by some ministries to stealthily withdraw their ministerial policy statements from parliament has angered the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah and the Leader of Opposition, Winfred Kizza, even as the government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa apologised.
Policy statements summarise the past performance of the sector and the plans for future expenditure and activities, and are submitted to Parliament for scrutiny before the National Budget is read.
And reacting to the reports, the Deputy Speaker said if the reports of withdrawal of the policy statements are confirmed, each of the ministers would have to individually apologise to the House.
“The laid policy statements were withdrawn from the Clerk’s office, meaning there was no business to handle during the recess,” Oulanyah said. Parliament resumed plenary sittings on March 27, 2018.
On the other hand LoP Kiiza said the withdrawal of the statements was a ploy by government to force MPs on the opposition to hurriedly consider and approve the budget without the necessary scrutiny.
“The government is looking at failing the work of LoP so that we don’t scrutinize these reports very well. By withdrawing them [policy statements] we have not finalized our alternative reports for committees’ consumption,” she said.
Oulanyah said that the decision by the ministers would derail the timelines of the preparation of the national budget for the financial year 2018/2019. Finance minister always reads the new budget in June, after reconciling sectoral budgets as presents by different ministries and agencies.
Oulanyah said the move means the Opposition Shadow Ministers could find it hard to present their alternative policy statements to the House by March 29 as they have to wait for government to present first.
Section 14 (1) of the Public Finance Management Act, 2015 instructs parliament to consider and approve the annual budget shall, by the 31st of May of each year, consider and approve the annual budget and work plan of government for the next financial year by May 31 every year. This goes with the Appropriation Bill and any other bills that may be necessary to implement the annual budget.
Oulanyah however said that alternative policy statements are not meant to be a critic of the government report but an addition which enhances the Committee reports about the statements.
Nankabirwa apologised on behalf of the ministers but hastened to say she was also surprised that some ministers had withdrawn policy statements. “It’s unfortunate that despite the delay, we have ministers who have decided to withdraw the reports. I do apologize for this,” Nankabirwa said.
Government expenditure (excluding domestic debt refinancing) is projected to amount to Shs22.6 trn in FY 2018/19. But like in the recent years, works and transport, energy and mineral development and education continue to enjoy a lion’s share of the budget.
Uganda has made significant strides in budget openness and has been recognised globally for innovating systems aimed at encouraging public participation and provision of free flow of budget information.