President Museveni with wife Janet Museveni (L) and Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda.
By Sadab Kitatta Kaaya
President Museveni has asked Parliament to make room for another 18 presidential advisors in the next financial year.
The move is in keeping with the president’s tradition of shoring up the numbers of his presidential advisors after every election cycle or cabinet reshuffle. However, the request, which would raise the number of presidential advisors from 145 to 163, has met strong opposition from members of Parliament.
According to the 2017/18 ministerial policy statement for the Presidency, the appointment of the 18 presidential advisors will push the wage budget for the advisors up by Shs 28.5bn.
By the time he was sworn-in last year for his fifth elective presidential term, Museveni had 141 advisors. He drafted in four former ministers who lost the February 2016 elections. The 18 new advisors will be appointed on ministerial terms, joining another 12 who were previously appointed on similar terms.
According to the ministerial statement’s executive summary, which is signed by the minister for the Presidency, Esther Mbayo Mbulakubuza, the appointment creates a funding gap of Shs 18.32bn. This is in addition to Shs 2.6bn earmarked to facilitate 10 new resident district commissioners (RDCs) in the newly created districts, plus Shs 150bn to cater for outstanding presidential pledges.
While MPs on the Presidential Affairs committee of Parliament are in agreement with the budget request for the RDCs and presidential pledges, they are not swayed by the president’s request for more ad- visors.
“We have raised these issues with them [the Presidency] but they have not responded. We want to know why they want to increase the number of presidential advisors yet all the many advisors he [Museveni] has never get to meet him,” committee vice chairperson, Susan Amero Amuria Woman), told The Observer on April 24.
“In any case, if they [advisors] ever meet the president, they [ministry for Presidency officials] should tell us what they advise him about when the economy is in such bad shape,” Amero added.
Mbayo was not readily available to be interviewed for a comment and the senior presidential press secretary Don Innocent Wanyama declined an interview at the weekend. He instead referred this writer to the ministry of Public Service. Amero, however, said ad- visors appointed on ministerial terms are largely people who Museveni drops from his cabinet.
“They get the same facilitation they were earning as ministers,” Amero said.
Asked why someone is dropped from cabinet, only to continue paying him or her a ministerial salary, Amero said, “That is one of the issues we want them [the Presidency] to explain.”
But opposition MP Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka Municipality) accused the president of abusing the budget.
“There are essentially two issues relating to this matter; one is the blatant abuse of the budget by the presidency because the presidency is one of the entities with a bloated budget yet it is one of the known unproductive entities but rather consumptive,” Mpuuga said on Monday.
“The second issue is that the president is using public resources to advance the interests of his party through irregular appointments because while he has the right to appoint people, he has no right to appoint people who are redundant,” the DP politician added.
Mpuuga said the scenario presents a classic case of the president running two cabinets, one which is vetted and works with parliament and another which works in his office.
“The one which works in his office is comprised of presidential advisors and their duty is to advance the interest of his party which to me is tantamount to abuse of public funds. We have ministers quarreling over what to do and he is adding more people,” Mpuuga said.
On average, each of the advisors earns a gross monthly salary of Shs 2.3m in addition to a driver who is paid Shs 209,859.
But some advisors like Fred Kaliisa-Kabagambe, the former permanent secretary in the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, and former first deputy prime minister Henry Muganwa Kajura, bag a monthly salary of Shs 15m, almost seven times more than what former prime minister Apolo Nsibambi and former attorney general Peter Nyombi earn as advisors.
The two earn about Shs 2.3m. The former chairman of Uganda Aids Commission, Vinand Nantulya, also earns Shs 15m a month, Shs 4m higher than what is paid to former Obote-II government Security minister Chris Rwakasisi, former minister for the Presidency Beatrice Wabudeya and Franco Ojur, all of who earn Shs 11.1m.
Museveni’s former private secretaries Mary Amajo and Alice Kaboyo earn Shs 7.3m and Shs 6m respectively for advising the president.
“We advise him to re-use those resources to put medicines in our hospitals and improve staff and remuneration for doctors and teachers,” Mpuuga said.
According to John Mark Agong, a budget policy specialist with Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (Csbag), the money government intends to spend on the advisors could be used to provide free sanitary pads for schoolgirls for eight years as well as capitalise the health insurance scheme for more than 10 years.
“Under health, there is need for Shs 45bn for sanitary towels to keep the girls at school, the health insurance scheme needs more than Shs 10bn for startup, which money is not available,” Agong said.
The money, Agong said, is several times more than the Shs 60bn that will be cut off the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) budget next financial year, which could be used to fight armyworms that are destroying maize plantations across the country.
“No substantial investment has been put to fight army-worms, which are destroying maize crops across the country, which has more than 70 percent of its population depending on agriculture,” Agong said.
Like Mpuuga, Agong argued that money spent on the presidential advisors should instead be spent on provision of small-scale irrigation kits.
“Operation Wealth Creation is distributing farm inputs that need elements of value addition if the farmers are to get returns from their efforts. Adoption of the technologies by the farmers is still low and it will require resources to disseminate these technologies,” Agong argued.