By GERALD PADDE AUKU
The establishment of the COVID 19 National Taskforce to engage the public in resource mobilization was a good idea by government of Uganda through the stewardship of H.E the President of the republic of Uganda, Gen Yoweri Kagutta Museveni in the fight against Covid-19.
The initiative if well managed will build public trust and will enhance public participation towards realization of sufficient resources to encounter challenges that come along with the pandemic as witnessed globally and post COVID 19. However, this can only be conceivable with access to information on resources received and timely accountability on the expenditure.
Delays by the managers of the fund in providing accountability pretenses a risk of suspension from the public henceforth affecting the future similar engagements.
The Taskforce has since received donations in cash and items from the well-wishers including the members of the public, private sector, government officials among others. To date, they have since been able to collect over 28 Billion in cash and pledges out of the 176 Billion target.
Transparency International Uganda recently in her open letter to the Chairperson National Taskforce called upon the Taskforce to withdraw their recent appeal to employees to contribute part of their wages towards efforts to raise funds for the much-needed resources and materials. Instead, appealed government to raise more funds through government sources including the savings arising out of the different activities canceled due to COVID 19.
To reiterate the above, government can actually realize this money from non-essential budget lines. For example, in FY 2019/2020 government had budgeted for shs 142,510,481b on travel trips for in land and abroad, allowances, workshops and seminars, welfare and entertainments, donations among others. This was spread across sectors such as Agriculture, MoLHUD, ULC, NARO, NFA, Ministry of Water and Environment, NAADS among others. The approved budget estimates by MoFPED further shows that a total of shs 35,627,620b has not been spent as a result of COVID-19 as it fell under quarter 4 of FY2019/2020.
Similarly, according to the MoFPED Budget Estimates for FY 2020/21 Vol. 1) figures indict that a total of UGX 3,745.70 billion was allocated for Allowances, Advertising & Public Relations, Workshops and Seminars, Welfare and Entertainment, Special Meals and Drinks, Travel Inland and Abroad, Fuel, Lubricants and Oils, Consultancy Expenses (short and long term), Printing, Stationery, photocopying & binding among others. This funds can be re-directed to address the identified shortfall in the COVID 19 response budget.
In my opinion, seeing stakeholders’ participation in this gallant course is a good gesture towards embracing local resource mobilization as opposed to external borrowing which is estimated to have increased from UGX 42.4 trillion in 2017/18 to Shs48.91 trillion which according to the Bank of Uganda Annual Report 2018/2019 represents 43% of Uganda’s Gross Domestic Production (GDP).
This loans in most cases come with stringent conditions that in a way deters progressive growth of the economy and sustainable development. Public participation towards raising local resources to fund government projects it’s a welcome idea and will surely intensify responsiveness in management of public resources by 1) Duty bearers and 2) Citizens through ownership and citizen’s participation in demanding for transparency and accountability.
Whilst, we need to nurture this idea, the national taskforce should therefore move one step at a time and not to expect too much from the public in this point in time. The extension of the mobilization to the employees through the chief executives was good but at the wrong time. The public is not sure of their survival given that some have already lost their jobs, salary cuts etc.
The taskforce needs to study the local fundraising concept carefully and guide government on appropriate strategies that can even be adopted and implemented during post COVID 19 era. However, this can only be possible if the current resources are well utilized and properly accounted for.