In Summary

Public perception. There is growing perception that government officials are using the facilitation for the frequent trips overseas as school fees for their children.

Recently, media reports indicated that Finance minister Matia Kasaija blocked 29 government officials from travelling to New York to attend the High-Level Political Forum 2018 from July 9 to 18.

The officials were from different government departments including Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Lands ministry, Kampala City Capital Authority, Parliament, among others.

The cost of their air tickets, accommodation and per diem was estimated in excess of Shs1.5b for the 10 days. Some people say misguided government spending on trivial foreign travels for officials could comfortably provide meals for school children for months.

The political forum meeting in New York is convened to follow up on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The meeting under the theme “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies” is coordinated by the Foreign Affairs ministry. It is, therefore, ironic and surprising that government’s vigilance on restriction of non-essential international travels almost slipped on two fronts:
1) That OPM, which is at all times supposed to be the gatekeeper as directed by President Museveni, almost failed to restrict the travel.
2) That government leaders under the pretext of working for ordinary Ugandans, instead burden the national resource envelope, and turn a blind eye to the economic developmental priorities.

A letter from the minister of Finance to Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda dated June 25 highlights the key reasons for blocking the New York trip. The letter says the size of the delegation was far too big for facilitation at a time when government is mobilising resources for strategic priorities.

Some people say although international travel was supposed to have been restricted to essential travel; this was only accommodated on paper. In reality it is still business as usual. Under the cloak of representing Uganda’s interests abroad, government official’s foreign trips are becoming a second source of income.
There is growing perception that government officials are using the facilitation for the frequent trips overseas as school fees for their children.

In January, OPM received a letter from the President’s Office dated January 16, copied to leader of government business and other government agencies.
The contents of the letter lead to remarks from the OPM saying: “As you are aware, H.E President Museveni has noted with great concern that a lot of government expenditure is incurred on travels abroad by public officers, he has further directed that this should stop.

“Therefore, clearance for travel abroad and authority to purchase foreign currency will be restricted to only essential travels as pronounced by Cabinet.”
In 2017, an intelligence report by the Internal Security Organisation on wasteful government spending in ministries, departments and agencies singled out the biggest spenders on international travels by ministry, agency staff, amount and purpose.

The findings suggested that some of the biggest spenders on international travels were Parliament (Shs78b), Ministry of Health (Shs19.6b) and Ministry of Education (Shs15.9).

With the citizenry now increasing the demand for accountability from government following the uproar over the recently introduced social media and mobile money taxes, this would be a good time for our authorities to refocus their priorities.
Piling more taxes on the already overtaxed Ugandans might not be the solution to finding money for development. Government must start with curbing wasteful expenditure.