It is a few months to the reading of Uganda’s National Budget. Uganda’s planning and budgeting are informed by national needs. So, in every fiscal year, the budget addresses a national need. The Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development in December 2022 tabled a National Budget Framework Paper totaling Shs 49.9 trillion for the financial year 2023/2024, with 50% of the budget going to debt financing.
During Uganda’s Water Week in March 2023, at a side event in the Ministry of Water and Environment organized by WaterAid Uganda, parliamentarians and district leaders were reminded that Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene matters are as important as national security and servicing the debts that Ugandans accumulate every year. This is warranted because there has been a significant decrease in the allocation of funds to the water sector. According to the UN Children’s agency UNICEF, in the financial year of 2018/19, the water budget was slashed from UGX 1,266 billion to UGX 765 billion. In the financial year of 2019/2020, the water and environment sector accounted for 3.0% of the national budget, down from 5.0% in 2018/19.
The president of Mbale City Development Forum, David Wetaka, speaking at the event during the water week at the Ministry of Water and Environment, stated that Uganda has reached a time to address the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene needs as an issue of national urgency. Citing a challenge of funds, Wetaka highlighted the fact that cities have no funds allocated to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, unlike the districts that are given funding for Water, Sanitation, and hygiene.
Recently approved cities, including Mbarara, Masaka, Fort Portal, Lira, Hoima, Mbale, Jinja, Gulu, and Arua, have received support from organizations like WaterAid Uganda, UN-Habitat, and the National Ambulance Federation. These organizations have set up public toilets in the informal settlements, which the city budget cannot address. In 2020 over ten municipalities were turned into cities with no operationalization budget. This means that these have no physical development plan to implement. Wetaka looks at this as a contributing factor to breeding slums.
The Nansana Municipality Mayor, Madam Regina Nakazzi Bakitte, expressed surprise at the fiscal management issue. According to the mayor, “Currently, there is a lot of open defecation within the municipality.” The mayor doubts if the municipality will be able to achieve health for all by 2030. According to the UNICEF 2030 plan, by 2030, the world should have access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and have ended open defecation. Instead, special attention will be paid to the needs of women, girls, and those in vulnerable situations.
In 2014, Nansana had a population of 365,857, according to the mayor. The mayor informed the meeting that according to the economic planning department doing data collection on the population in the municipality, they are already 650,000 people, even with just 20% to 34% of data collected. The mayor, however, highlighted some successes alluding to the Municipality’s revenue collection. According to Madam Bakitte, they are “collecting 1.5 billion but last financial year (they)were able to collect 8.5 billion, and this year (they)are earmarking 9 billion (shillings).”
Addressing the stakeholders at this side event, the district Chairperson Lira, Richard Cox Okello Orik, affirmed the continued delays by the parliament in passing supplementary budgets to the central government. He said that this can take an average of six months.
The Kabarole District chairperson Richard Rwabuhinga underlined the need for more water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector funding. Giving his remarks, the chairperson added, “We lost the plot. The law and the policies are obvious and perfect. But the implementation leaves a lot to be desired,” he was referring to the decentralization of the local government.
“It begins with financing,” the mayor stated. According to a study titled “Financing Local Governments in Uganda: An analysis of Proposed National Budget FY 2019/20 and Proposals for Re-allocation,” the share of the national budget allocated to LG programs reduced from 23 percent in 2010/11 to 13 percent in the FY 2015/16 and was projected to fall further to about 11.4 percent in the FY 2020/21. The decline is largely attributed to the re-centralization of functions and resources that, by law, are mandated to be implemented by Local Governments.
During his address, the Kabarole mayor wondered how 82% of services are expected to be delivered by the local government leaders with only 11% share. Of the 11%, about 7% to 8% are salaries and wages of the staff. The remaining 3% is what is expected to deliver services to the 82%. This has created a local government that is unable to spend, including retention because, by the 30th day of June, the money is returned to the central treasury, and the parliament takes an average of about six months to revert this money and send it back to the districts to deliver services.
According to observers, the local government has not performed well at improving the sanitation and water services in the areas of their jurisdiction because their hands are tied due to unfriendly policies. These include unclear definitions of decentralization and fiscal decentralization.
There is also an appeal from local government leaders to the central government to reconsider the Public Finance Management Act 2021 and the funding of the water sector. This is because the current water sector financing cannot create a reasonable impact on meeting the goals of the SDGs and other commitments to which Uganda is a signatory.
A study conducted by a study commissioned by the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) in 2019 titled Financing the local governments in Uganda, highlighted that over UGX 1.066 trillion of the money meant to be in local governments for service delivery is stuck within the ministries, departments, and agencies in the center. Local government leaders believe that the situation would be different if this money is allowed to reach those local governments in time.
Basil Bataringaya, a member of both the Finance Public Accounts Committee and the Water and Sanitation Forum, acknowledges the cries of the local government leaders. During his remarks, however, he implored his colleagues to analyze the ministerial policy statements, adding that “it’s very important that we dig deeper to see where each shilling is going.”
Bataringaya said that some ministries have some idle funds meant for activities related to WASH. In his view, these funds could fill the gap created by the little funding from the central government. Honorable Bataringaya believes that that way the local government leaders will be able to deliver.