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KENNETH MUGAMBE PONDERS REJOINING NPA, REVEALS WHY DEV’T PLANNING CAN’T WORK

By Mulengera Reporters

Kenneth Mugambe, the man who controls budgeting and expenditure decisions in this country at least at the technical level, has nostalgically reflected on his days and times as part of the country’s planning department which metamorphosed into National Planning Authority (NPA). He currently serves as the very powerful Director Budgeting at the Ministry of Finance which supervises NPA.

UNDP’s Innocent Ejolu (standing) who relentlessly took on Director Budgeting Kenneth Mugambe

Speaking at the breakfast consultative meeting NPA board chairperson Prof Pamela Mbabazi convened at Serena Conference Center Thursday very early morning, Mugambe gave very controversial views but which he insisted were representative of the very pragmatic realities in the country. Representing his boss PSST Keith Muhakanizi, Mugambe contributed during a panel discussion session that was themed: “Towards integrated Financing of National Development Plan III.” It was basically a discussion in what government must do to adequately fund NDP III which will guide government service delivery in the next five years (2020-2025).

This is how Mugambe started: “I’m not new to these things because I was originally a planner and 20 years ago, I took part of designing Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP). It was a planning framework which preceded NDP I.”

As UNDP’s Innocent Ejolu who was session moderator insisted he sticks to the day’s topic, Mugambe wondered why people are reluctant accepting PEAP as the very best development plan Uganda would have at that time. “We produced that document in 1997 when I was still a planner and I think that doesn’t make me seem extremely old,” he jokingly said insisting Ejolu respectfully allows him time to develop his thoughts.

Saying he was here to share from his experiences as a man thickly involved in the budgeting process where very many demands compete for very limited resources, an unusually very combative Mugambe said he wasn’t going to answer the way Ejolu or the audience expected him to but would give pragmatic submissions based on experience.

Ejolu insisted he must answer detailing strategies he has in place to leverage on domestic sources to improve revenue mobilization to enable realization of priorities enshrined in NDP III.

Mugambe predicted NDP III would face implementation challenges unless stakeholders accepted reality and insisted on producing a document that is anchored on a “realistic framework and realistic assumptions.” He elaborated that pragmatic planning would require drawing lessons from challenges encountered during PEAP, NDP I and NDP II implementation period.

Saying the “political economy question” manifested in citizens demanding more districts and MPs increasing their remuneration all the time (all of which combine to keep the public administration expenses high) will always distort and constrain long term development planning, Mugambe stressed: “From where I’m operating these days having left planning long time ago,  things are a lot different. It’s reality hitting you every now and then.” He explained the grant of new districts, cities and Municipalities always constrain the public resources leaving the Finance Ministry crippled and unable to finance all the priorities as enshrined in the NDPs.

Mugambe’s pragmatic talk must have pushed Prof Pamela Mbabazi and other NPA bosses on the edge of their seats

He nevertheless said as the Finance Ministry, they had adequately funded all NDP II priorities by releasing money to sector agencies as appropriated by Parliament. He said because of that, nobody can accurately blame whatever hasn’t been achieved under NDP II on the Finance Ministry.

He said reliance on realistic planning and assumptions requires that NPA bureaucrats reflect on the extent to which the “political economy question” impeded full realization of the previous NDPs and accordingly adjust as they prepare to produce NDP III whose draft, Prof Mbabazi says must be deposited with Cabinet next month (September).  The same must be in operation by mid next year because it’s what Mugambe will rely on to get the MPs appropriate money for the FY2020/2021.

“NDP II was based on the assumption that resources would be reallocated from security and public administration in favor of human capital development and infrastructure which hasn’t happened.  Isn’t it therefore right that we reflect on the assumptions we are proceeding with as we go into NDP III? What do we think has changed to overcome the political economy question?”

When the moderator insisted that Mugambe answers specific questions put to him by organizers, he reminded him: “By the way ask the NPA chairperson I was only invited 2 hours ago. So, don’t expected a written speech or presentation from me because I don’t have any. I was invited into this at short notice and the NPA chairperson is my witness.”

He expressed fears many of the assumptions the NPA teams and other stakeholders are proceeding on as they prepare to unleash NDP III are things that will have changed by the time the 5-year period elapses. “I’m not saying this to dampen your mood about NDP III but the truth is things are a lot different out there in the real world. On one hand I’m a planner but I’m now in the real world of budgeting and implementation,” he said.

Mugambe also antagonized CMA CEO Keith Kalyegira who had spoken earlier specifically faulting him for fallaciously criticizing the Finance Ministry for omitting to do things it’s already doing but just in a slightly different way. This was in reference to the infrastructure bond which Kalyegira said hadn’t been utilized enough as an avenue for resource mobilization. Mugambe said there are two ways to source funding with which government delivers services namely having your own cash or borrowing.

UNDP’s Innocent Ejolu who firmly moderated the session

He said instead of blaming the Finance Ministry for not funding the NDP, stakeholders at the UNDP/NPA breakfast series should reflect on the implementation capacity which he said is clearly inadequate in many government MDAs tasked with implementation. Mugambe also wondered why the moderator was requiring him to go through so many things in just five minutes including the domestic revenue mobilization strategy which his Minister Matia Kasaija already articulated during budget reading.

Mugambe said the private sector, which NDP III prioritizes, should be able to perform better in the next five years because all the business incentives available are now well streamlined in the Investment Code Act unlike before when only those with lobbying connections benefited. The session moderator Ejolu insisted Mugambe addresses the challenges related to aligning the budget to NDPs, a question to which he contemptuously responded by saying the political economy question will always be a hard one to escape as government bureaucrats strike a balance between budgeting and development planning.

At some point, clearly irritated with endless interjections the moderator kept directing at him, Mugambe turned and asked: “How will mere aligning address the political economy question? Will you that way stop the process of creating more districts and cities?  Did you know that this results into more LC1s being created? Did you for instance know that these LC1 chairpersons are remunerated by government? All these are realities and pressures on the budget which I want all of us to reflect upon as we gather here to input into NDP III.”

On realizing the audience wasn’t easily seeing his point, Mugambe sarcastically said: “I think I’m going to apply to the Chairperson to get back my job at NPA.  All I’m saying is planning is good but from this side, you are hit by reality.  That’s why I have been sitting with NPA to see how to align things but it’s not easy. There are many pressures on the budget.” Mugambe said he had nothing but admiration for the pragmatism and open-mindedness with which NPA Executive Director Dr Joseph Muvawala had spoken earlier during the opening session about implementation challenges. Throughout his submission, Dr. Muvawala kept raising thought-provoking questions which he said didn’t have to be answered.

Other high-profile panelists on the panel discussion session during which Mugambe shared his frustrations included World Bank Transport Specialist Ivan Mwondha, URA Assistant Commissioner James Odong, UNDP Economic Advisor Yemesrach Workie, CMA CEO Keith Kalyegira and Rashmi Pillai who is the Director of Programs at Financial Sector Deepening Uganda. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164756 or email us at mulengera2040@gmail.com).

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