Monday, June 12, 2017

{UAH} Serena paid Shs 180m for budget day events

Serena paid Shs 180m for budget day events
June 12, 2017 Written by Sadab Kitatta Kaaya
A fight between the Finance ministry and Parliament for control of the budget day activities has revealed the high cost of hosting state functions.

The Observer has learnt that the Finance ministry spent Shs 380 million on activities around the three-hour presentation of the 2017/18 national budget last Thursday afternoon at Serena International Conference Centre in Kampala.

Asked about the breakdown of costs for hosting the budget day activities at Serena, the finance state minister in charge of planning, David Bahati, referred this newspaper to Betty Kasimbazi, the undersecretary and accounting officer in the ministry, who he authorised to share the information.

Kasimbazi said the ministry paid Serena Kampala hotel Shs 180m for the conference centre and the post-budget reading cocktail in the hotel's gardens. Another Shs 160m was paid to Promote Uganda, the company which provided the public address system and giant screens that were used to screen videos of the government's accomplishments in the outgoing financial year.

"They worked with some [Europeans] to film those videos you saw. So, the figure we gave them involved the production of those films and to also provide the sound system for the event," Kasimbazi said.

The remainder, Shs 40m, was spent on allowances for security personnel who were on guard, those who mounted the guard of honour as well as the prisons and police brass bands and ushers.

"The only thing we did not spend on was transporting the president to Serena. That was met by State House from their budget," Kasimbazi said.

Finance minister Matia Kasaija reading the budget
To use the same facilities on June 6, Parliament paid Serena hotel Shs 80m for both the venue and dinner that followed the State of the Nation address.

VARIANCE IN SPENDING

The Observer has also learnt that the amount spent by finance was more than twice what Parliament paid to host the State of the Nation address on June 6 at the same venue.

The difference in expenditure originated from the fact that Parliament invited 500 guests, at least 100 fewer than the number the ministry of Finance invited for the budget reading.

To hire the public address system, complete with the giant screens and entertainment, Parliament paid Shs 21.2m, skipping the cost of producing films featuring government's accomplishments in the outgoing financial year.

According to the director of Communication and Public Affairs at Parliament, Chris Obore, some of the films were provided at no cost by the Manifesto Implementation Unit of the Office of the President and Parliament's press unit.

Another Shs 4.2m was spent on printing booklets highlighting the business transacted during the first year of the 10th Parliament while Internal Security Organisation (ISO) was paid Shs 3.6m to print accreditation cards.

"We don't print those cards ourselves, we pay ISO; they are the ones with the printer that produces the accreditation cards," Obore said.

Unlike its counterparts at Finance, Parliament paid no allowances for ushers hired for the State of the Nation address since it relied on its protocol officers and others from ministry of Foreign Affairs.

FIGHT FOR BUDGET DAY

The discrepancy in the expenses is at the centre of a fight for control of the budget day. Some parliament officials say while both the state of the nation address and budget day are supposed to be hosted by the House, the finance ministry 'owned' the Thursday event.

"Ideally, the budget reading is supposed to be held in the Parliament chamber which tells you that it is a parliamentary event but because the chamber is small and we have to host a bigger number of guests, that is why we have to [take it to Serena]," a parliamentary official told The Observer on June 8.

Parliament hinges its ownership of the events on Article 155 of the Constitution, which requires the president to present to Parliament estimates of revenues and expenditure of government for the next financial year.

"Because it is a parliamentary function, that is why the speaker first invited the minister of Works and Transport Monica Azuba to table the Civil Aviation Authority (Amendment) bill," the official said.

Parliamentary officials expected to work with the ministry of Finance to organise the budget event. But to their surprise, the ministry's Permanent Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi wrote to the Clerk to Parliament, Jane Lubowa Kibirige, asking her to nominate names to attend the ministry's meetings with the sole purpose of guiding the organising committee on issues of Parliamentary decorum.

"They [Finance] invited us [Parliament] to attend meetings but the leadership of the budget day is taken by them. We just go to tell them what the parliamentary decorum involves but the decision on who to invite, the numbers is done by finance," a parliamentary official said.

Some key parliamentary officers have accused finance officials of being bullies and urged Kibirige to take up the matter with the ministry of Finance. Interviewed on Saturday, June 10 over the alleged fight, Obore said Parliament has no issues with the finance ministry since it has traditionally taken the lead in organising the budget day activities. Obore, however, maintained that it falls under parliament's ambit.

"It seems to be a tradition that finance has been taking the lead in organising the budget day, although it is clearly a parliamentary function," he said.

DELEGATED AUTHORITY

Interviewed for a response, Finance ministry spokesman Jim Mugunga said on Saturday that much as it is a parliamentary event, the Budget day is taken over by the national organising committee because it is a key event on the national calendar.

"The budget is the responsibility of the Presidency but reassigned to the ministry of Finance to deliver. It is a key government event which also features as a major event on the Parliamentary/national calendar. Delivery is to parliament, preparatory arrangements and leadership is multi-sectoral and includes Parliament, ministry of Finance, security agencies, foreign affairs, president's office, etc," Mugunga said.

Mugunga said since the event attracts foreign missions and other key stakeholders in the country's economic development, it is proper and befitting for such an event to take on a more national character than a restricted one.

"The ministry of finance acts, for all intent and purposes, as mandated by the presidency, to coordinate pre- and post-budget reading events, plan for the actual budget and deliver it on behalf of the president; it is a fully delegated authority, and not merely assumed," Mugunga said.

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