The delivery of government services across the country has been paralysed following substantial reduction in budget releases for the first quarter of the 2022/2023 fiscal year, several officials have said.
Finance ministry spokesperson Jim Mugunga last evening said the budget shortfall was a result of “what was available in the kitty”.
In multiple interviews, accounting officers in various ministries, departments, and government agencies, including local governments that act as frontline service providers to the masses, intimated to Monitor that they have been given money principally to pay salaries, utility bills, and purchase stationery.
In other institutions and districts, among them Kumi, scientists have been notified to use the money they have “sparingly” because budget shortfalls mean they will miss the September salary, just a month after the government in some cases doubled their pay.
The first quarter covers July to October since the government new financial year starts on July 1.
The crisis in the government came to the fore when Treasury released about 19 percent of the expected 25 percent of the new Financial Year budget, describing the measure as necessary to reduce liquidity and tame inflation.
StuckAll officials from central and local governments that we contacted spoke of majority civil servants being stuck in offices and unable to deliver services because there is no money to buy fuel and pay allowances for field trips.
Whereas the Finance ministry said it released 19 percent of the first quarter allocation, multiple bureaucrats, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity over fears of being victimised, said some ministries, departments and agencies and local governments received 12 percent or lower of the expected full first quarter disbursement.
In July, the Ministry of Finance released Shs4.7 trillion of the projected Shs8.1 trillion, but did not explain where the rest of the money was channelled.
The development budget was the most affected with only Shs596b released out of the expected Shs2.38 trillion.
Development budget goes to projects that generate income such as construction of infrastructure, including roads, schools and hospitals.
Non-wage budget for the same period was cut by 48 percent from the expected Shs3.42 trillion to Shs1.81 trillion.
Non-wage funds, among others, bankroll operational costs such as allowances for civil servants, fuel for field visits, workshops and capacity building.
The budget cuts have had devastating effects on the ground, according to officials in-charge of budget administration and accountability.
Dr John Omagino, the director of Uganda Heart Institute, said budget cuts in the first quarter crippled service delivery to patients.
“But when we made a submission to the Finance ministry, they responded and sent most of the money. There was additional money sent after one month. We couldn’t run without the additional funds,” he said.
Dr Omagino added: “Before they added more money, most of our services such as open heart surgery, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) services and other heart-related services had been affected”.
“If [the additional funds] had not been released, we were going to reserve only emergency services. But the moment we received the money, we resumed our normal function.”
Dr Rosemary Byanyima, the acting director of Mulago National Referral Hospital, said the facility is struggling because the money “released was meagre.”
“After meeting PSST (Permanent Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Ramathan Ggoobi) to explain our constraints, we were promised further release, but only Shs1.7 billion was released out of the outstanding Shs9.9b for the first quarter,” she said.
Mulago hospital, the apex public health facility in the country, pleaded for patience from service providers and patients.
“We have asked our service providers such as waste management, cleaning, and patient food suppliers to bear with us until the second quarter when the Ministry of Finance promised to release funds according to budget,” she said.
The State Minister for General Duties, Ms Anifa Kawooya, said Ugandans should prepare for a slowdown in implementation of government services.
“The budget for health and social services is always very small; so, the budget cut really affected us. Our resource bag is also limited. But we will live within the budget that has been allocated to us and we will ensure that we maintain our commitment to provide good quality services,” the minister said.
Also affected is the security sector under which sit Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and spy agencies; External Security Organisation and Internal Security Organisation.Combined, they only received Shs721b, the amount that the army alone was planned to get this quarter.
The budget cuts prompted the Uganda Police Force to suspend even airtime and Internet services for its officers, a month after the quarterly release. The suspension will continue at least until end of this month, officials said.
Several police commanders we talked to said they are now at the mercy of the clients – to put aptly suspects and crime victims – to carry out arrests and investigations in the field.
“The only increment we got was on fuel. Each commander from regional police commander to the lowest officers with a fuel card was added between Shs200,000 and Shs500,000 per month. But the increment was consumed by the fuel price hikes,” the source.
According to the police fuel rate, a division/district commander last year received Shs1.8m for fuel per month, which could buy at least 500 litres.
A litre of fuel was at Shs3,500. Each division commander was added Shs200,000, but the litre of petrol and diesel dramatically rose to Shs6,500 or higher, this year, meaning the officers can only afford less fuel with the added money.
Also in trouble is Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS). Mr Robert Kasande, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said funds for development weren’t released for them this quarter.
“Yes, we didn’t get everything we expected in this quarter and the development capital was not released. This means that some activities have not been undertaken. Since we are a key institution that provides legal services to the government, we are providing key activities like responding to lawsuits against the government, appearing in court to defend the government. Travels outside are no more,” Mr Kasande said.
According to Mr Pius Bigirimana, the Judiciary’s Permanent Secretary, they have reduced training movements due to financial challenges.“We are using the money released to us carefully and we have reduced the training, limited movements [of staff] and we only have those that are critical,” Mr Bigirimana said.
Ms Rose Nassali Lukwago, the secretary to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), said they were unable to carry out field activities despite a number of complaints about judicial officers.
“There is little money [and we can only afford to] send an officer or two to the field since we have a work plan. Under normal circumstances, we [would] send five officers to the field,” she said.
Kawempe Hospital. Some health services have also been crippled. PHOTO/FILE
Unlike the ministries that can have an audience with Mr Ggoobi, many local governments don’t. They are only paying workers’ salaries without work being done.
In Maracha District, the chief administrative officer (CAO), Mr Paul Walakira, said they received Shs5.9 billion in the first quarter release, representing slightly under half of the expected 25 percent.
“Some of the projects whose certificates were not yet out cannot be paid and we have pushed them for the next quarter because we got assurance from the ministry [of Finance] that the gap in the first quarter will be filled,” he said.
His Terego counterpart Humphrey Otim said the district got 12 percent instead of the 25 percent for first quarter.
Business across the 10 district local governments in Teso Sub-region has virtually stalled, with all key capital projects that were planned for the financial year 2022/2023 being halted despite the dire need for service by the masses
The Serere District chairperson, Mr Stephen Ochola, said they will not be able to pay civil servants this month due to a shortfall in the wage bill as result of salary increment for scientists and reduced disbursements.
He said salaries of scientists were increased, but the money was not factored into the district wage bills.“We managed to pay July, August, September is going to be a problem because salary increment for scientists almost stands at 300 percent,” Mr Ochola said. He said they were only allocated Shs25m for roads, which can fund just half-a-kilometre of 500-kilometre road network
“This is crippling the common people, whose children can’t access good schools, cannot access health centres and hospitals. The situation is that desperate,” he said.
Mr Simon Peter Edoru Ekuu, the Soroti District chairperson, said they received a modest Shs3.7b, which is less than 10 percent of what they expected.
“We can’t sign contracts. There is no money. No one at the centre (central government) is explaining this to voters. It is we, the leaders, who have become the punching bags of angry voters,” he said.
The picture is pretty the same in Kumi whose chairperson, Mr Nelson Mandela Elungat, said they have Shs4.5b deficit if they have to pay scientists the enhanced salaries for this month.“To stay afloat, it means we shall need a supplementary budget,” he added.
Mr Vector Rex Ekesu, the Kaberamaido District chairperson, said there is nothing much they have in the offing for this financial year as all capital projects across health, education and roads have stalled.
In Katakwi, the district chairperson, Mr Godfrey Omolo, said they were assigned a paltry Shs25m to maintain 900 kilometres of roads.
Mr Omolo said the district recruited teachers and other staff, but the Ministry of Public Service has put on hold any attempt by the district to have these civil servants on pay.
The Kalangala District CAO, Mr Friday Kyomya, said they plan to spend the available funds to only critical areas such as health and education.
Mr Andrew Lukyamuzi Battemyetto, the Masaka District chairperson, said they will not maintain any road as earlier planned, but that they have resorted to mobilising communities to work on their roads.
“We have got very little funds, yet the district infrastructure is very wanting. The rainy season has begun and all roads call for maintenance. We consider mobilising communities to participate in maintaining these roads,” Mr Battemyetto said.
In Mukono, the district vice chairperson, Mr Asuman Muhumuza, said they have not been able to call meetings of the works committee, which superintends infrastructure matters because they don’t have money to even pay sitting allowance to members.
The CAO, Mr James Nkatta, said they haven’t paid councillors’ sitting allowances for three months.“We have also run out of stationery and clients who need services which require stationery buy their own,” he said.
Mr Richard Mugisha, the Mbarara deputy city clerk, said they cannot commit to carrying out any development project since their coffers are empty.He added: “We cannot commit to signing any contracts because we don’t have the money. This, of course, affects implementation of our development plans. At the end of it all, we are accused of not implementing development projects.”
Mr Edward Kasagara, the Mbarara CAO, said: “This has affected wages, salaries, allowances and recurrent expenditure, but not development because normally during the first quarter is preliminary of the development plans that includes things like procurement.”
“They have promised the balance of the first quarter money will be paid together with the second quarter release,” he said, echoing a pledge by the Treasury.Rubanda District chairperson Stephen Ampeire Kasyaba, while addressing the district council last week, said most capital projects will not kick off this first quarter due to shortfall.
The Permanent Secretary in the Agriculture ministry, Maj Gen David Kasura Kyomukama, said they were equally affected.
“When inflation rages, it is not the big people who suffer but the small villagers who buy food and salt. So, there was the suppression of expenditure by the government because of good economic reasons,” he said.
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Jim Mugunga. PHOTO/FILE
Mr Mugunga said the government operates on a cash budget that is informed by available resources.
“The releases for the first quarter were premised on what was available in the kitty. Priority was given to charges such as wages … that explains why the releases were made, according to priorities. The same explains why a decision was made not to avail resources for capital development,” he noted in reply to inquiries by this publication.
Mr Mugunga added: “We may not guarantee all resources [in the short to medium term], but the ministry is hopeful to do better with level of releases in quarter two”.
Other accounting officers, however, earlier told us that actual disbursements decline with successive quarter, the most affected by precedence being third and fourth quarters.
In yesterday’s rejoinder, Mr Mugunga urged accounting officers to prudently manage the resource available to deliver more. “As the economic activities within the country and externally recover, so will our ability to revert to yesteryear spending capabilities,” he said.
Finance spokesperson Jim Mugunga said the government operates on a cash budget that is informed by available resources. “The releases for the first quarter were premised on what was available in the kitty.
Priority was given to charges such as wages … that explains why the releases were made, according to priorities. The same explains why a decision was made not to avail resources for capital development,” he noted in reply to inquiries by this newspaper.
Mr Mugunga added: “We may not guarantee all resources [in the short to medium term], but the ministry is hopeful to do better with level of releases in quarter two.”
Reported by Tony Abbet, Andrew Bagala, Sylvester Ssemugenyi, Diphas Kiguli , Wilson Kutamba, Anthony Wesaka, Ronald Acema, Simon Peter Emwamu, Rajab Mukombozi, Julius Byamukama & Felix Ainebyoona, Robert Muhereza & Emmanuel Arineitwe