The 2016/17 budget: the devil is in the details

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By our reporter

Economists agree on one thing, the 2016/17 budget is spot on. On the theme: Enhanced Productivity for Job Creation, the budget is well aligned with government priorities and programs.

Resource allocation is well aligned towards achieving the commitments in the Second National Development Plan (NDPII).

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The overall national goal is to achieve a middle income status through commercialization of agriculture, acceleration of industrialization, and increasing production and productivity in all sectors.

A lot of sweet words are used in the budget-productivity, more funds to: agriculture funding, education, tourism health, etc. The budget also highlights the interventions for each of the above areas.

On a whole, the objects of the budget, allocations of the budget, are very much aligned.

However, analysts say, the devil is in the detail. Otherwise implementation remains a problem. Ugandans and government in particular has been cited as good at producing very nice policy statements, only to fail at implementation. Hence the saying, the devil is in the details.

The budget and the agricultural sector

Dr. Joseph Muvawala, the Executive Director, National Planning Authority urges that the increase in Agricultural Sector may not necessarily bring out the desired results.

The sector budget was increased from Ugx.343.46 billion to Ugx. 823.42 Billion. Dr. Muwavala believes that most likely more, than half of the additional funds might be spent on non issues.

‘‘Who tells us inputs (seedlings) are the problem for the sector? Why should we give out seedlings without dealing with the institutional issues affecting the sector, like improving our ability to regulate the inputs? Unless we deal with the sector as a chain, we will not realize any meaningful benefits.’’ He says

He adds that giving out seedlings without other critical inputs like fertilizers is no work done.

Ugandan soils have been described as having one of the highest rates of nutrient depletion in sub Saharan Africa estimated at about 80kg of nutrient per year.

Last year, government under Operation Wealth Creation, distributed millions of planting materials including, 65 million coffee seedlings, 48 million tea seedlings in 16 districts, 4.4 million citrus seedlings in 76 districts and 2.7 million cocoa seedlings in 13 districts.

While government prides in this, analysts insist that, with the depleted soils, nothing much will be achieved without critical inputs like fertilizers and quality pesticides.

Analysts are also questioning the efficiency in delivery. There is general feeling that we may end up losing more than 50 percent of the additional funds to the sector through inefficiency.

Dr. Muvawala is of the view that the quality of permanent secretaries in this country is going down, something that is affecting delivery and implementation of government projects.
He says the country needs fresh brains, people who are strategic and able to interpret and implement government projects.

The budget highlights the challenges affecting agricultural productivity, including; limited access to appropriate technologies, declining soil fertility and poor farming methods.

The other issues identified include limited use of high yielding seeds and animal inputs; lack the requisite skills training, ineffective land management practices and poor farm-to-market infrastructure.

Prof. Kiiza from Makerere University believes Uganda will never realize meaningful agriculture if government fails to address the land question.

He cites the absentee landlords holding huge chunks of land that lies idle. On the other hand, the real farmers hold very tiny plots of land which have been overused. He says this remains a key obstacle to development of the agricultural sector.

However, the budget does not give a breakdown of how much will be spent to address these issues.

Education

While the minister of Finance recognizes the role of education in enhancing productivity of the labour force, the budget seems to have put the funds somewhere else.

The country’s education sector faces serious challenges, especially at lower level.

For example, at Primary level, the foundation of the education system, proficiency in numeracy declined from 45.2% to 40.8% between 2012 and 2013.

Proficiency in literacy also declined from 39.4% to 38.3% in the same period. The survival rate from Primary 1 to Primary 5 has declined from 60.6% to 59.9% per cent between 2014 and 2015.

While the minister is aware of these challenges, he went ahead to allocate more money in supporting new public universities ( Soroti, Lira and Kabale). A total of Ugx. 14.09 billion was set ahead for this cause.

Analysts wonder whether opening up more public universities are one of the sector’s biggest problems.

The budget also increased the salaries of Primary teachers by 15%. For this cause, an additional Ugx. 122 billion was provided.

With this increase, the minister expects better results and grades next year.

Analysts say the minister forgot that education performance is determined by a couple of factors other than salaries, including re-Skilling of teachers, among others.

Some teachers, for example, have been teaching for the last 20 years without upgrading their skills. Will the increase in salaries bring about better grades without improving delivery of the subject matter?

Beyond salaries, teachers’ working conditions should be improved besides availing them with teaching aids.

According to Dr. Muvawala, overall the allocation per capital per Universal Primary Education (UPE) pupil has declined in real terms and this has had serious challenges on the quality of education.

In 1997, each UPE pupil was allocated Ugx. 9,000. This has since dropped to Ugx. 6,000. Dr. Muvawala wonders whether that is good for the sector that determines quality of human capital.

Dr. Sarah Ssewanyana, the executive Director, Economic Policy Research Centre believes the 2016/17 budget ignored lower education-the foundation of education.

She wonders whether what Uganda needs are more public universities or better primary education which feeds into the universities.

Uganda has seven public universities and a host other tertiary institutions. Media reports indicate many these institutions remain unfunded.

Renown educationalist Fagil Mandy has always urged that what matters in higher education is not the number of universities, but the quality of these universities.

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