Donors ought to understand that the graduated tax was being mishandled by the collectors, and the people of Uganda are least ready to see it back in force. The donors are funny people, we send proposals to them for consideration, and unfortunately, they end up rejecting to fund our proposals and then they turn around to say, we are not doing enough. I for one, I am resigned with donors in Uganda, it is almost impossible to get money from them however good the proposals are. So, let those who are looting the tax resources have their day.
William Kituuka Kiwanuka
Ugandans not doing enough in demanding accountability - Dutch Ambassador
The former Netherlands ambassador to Uganda, Jeroen Verheul,stresses a point during the interview. He says Uganda still has a long way to go in order to improve strength of institutions. PHOTOS BY STEPHEN WANDERA OUMA
By Daniel K. Kalinaki
Posted Monday, July 16 2012 at 01:00
The Netherlands ambassador to Uganda, Jeroen Verheul, left his post early this month after five years of service in the country. In his last interview the day before he left, the envoy spoke to Managing Editor Daniel K. Kalinaki about his time and work in Uganda.
Qn: The Netherlands’ new strategic plan shifts support to Uganda away from social areas like education to productive areas like agri-business. Is this a major change in policy?
Ans: It is a change in policy absolutely. We had a shift in government two years ago, from a centre-left coalition to a-centre right coalition and there is always a shift in emphasis in politics when you go from left to the right in a political spectrum.
And that shift is associated with moving emphasis from social sectors to productive sectors.
In Uganda you see the same shifts over time emerging; the focus on free primary education, free health services, social service delivery was very prominent but I think over the past 5-6 years, there is an increasing emphasis on the productive sectors especially agriculture. So this matches very well with the shift in Netherlands.
You have expressed disappointment about the failures in the education sector. Do you want to expand on that?
I have always emphasized that there are three reasons why The Netherlands is moving away from support of the education sector; the first is related to the shift in policy emphasis that we have just discussed.
The second is related to the modality that we can use in the sense that the support we provided for the education sector was mainly going through budget support and since 2011 we have not been able to provide budget support in Uganda.
Therefore, the main vehicle for supporting the education sector fell away and we would have to redesign and re-engineer our complete support to the sector if we were to do that.
The third reason is that we are quite disappointed with the lack of progress in results achieved in Uganda in terms of education. One key elements is the number of children that graduate from primary school with a PLE leaving certificate in the top divisions which research has shown enables children to move on to the secondary system and also move on and prepare them for the labour market. If you look at the number of children that graduate at that level compared to, for example, when UPE was introduced you see very, very moderate increase. I think it is about 250,000 kids.
And if you know that the complete number of kids that should graduate every year is about a million. Then you see that only 25 per cent of kids graduate with skills that properly enable them move to the labour market. And we thought that over the time spent since the introduction of Universal Primary Education that we have seen an enormous increase in intake, enrolment has increased enormously but the learning in school didn’t increase at the same rate. So we were disappointed and we have been focusing for many years on trying to help Uganda to increase the number but the results of that effort were too disappointing for us to conclude to continue with those efforts.
Is it a problem of project design rolling it out at once or one of poor supervision due to government incompetence?
The first reason relates to the sheer number of children and the introduction of the project at a large scale.
The sheer number is overwhelming in relation to the facilities that were there at the time in terms of classrooms, learning materials; teachers could not cope basically with the number of children.
The other element relates to governance of schools and one of the points that we have continuously underlined is the teacher absenteeism; teachers have been appointed and get a salary to teach at the school but they just don’t show up for their work and there are very few disciplinary follow ups if teachers don’t show up for their work.
The third element relates to the complex governance of your school system. [It] is largely decentralised but still there are elements that remain at centre level.
Deployment of head teachers, for example, is a central issue but deployment of teachers is a decentralised issue.
The fourth issue is the disconnect between schools and parents. One of the unintended side-effects of providing free education is the expectation with parents that government will take care of the education of their children and in sense that parents were not responsible for the education of their children anymore.
In addition, the abolishment of graduated tax led to a disconnect between taxpayers and district service delivery.
Constituents don’t see a link between the service they get from their districts and their contribution by the abolishment of graduated tax.
If you look across at other areas where you have been involved in funding, such as the Justice, Law and Order Sector, what have been the achievements or successes?
The fact that we remain in justice, law and order is testimony that we are quite satisfied with the progress that we have made now and also that we see a proper perspective for continuing achieving results in that area. I am not saying that it is without its bottlenecks and challenges and problems. But we are reasonably satisfied with the progress we have made in the sector.
[For instance], if you look at the performance of the Judiciary, Uganda can be proud about the Judiciary it has developed over the past 25 years. It is a professional, very well organised and well performing [arm] of government.
How do you respond to criticism that while some organs in the sector, such as the police, have better equipment, they are increasingly accused of violating human rights?
I am disappointed about our collaboration with the police in the sense that what we have tried to do, specifically with the police, is to let them undergo a review process not just a review process based on incidents but a thorough review process based on international professional standards.
What is the international professional standard for policing and how does Uganda measure to that standard? That is on one hand and on the other hand is input from the public and from stakeholders; how do they view the performance of the police? We have supported several processes of that review process and I must say I have been disappointed that the review process has not been finished.
It is still somewhere stuck in the bureaucracy of police and I cannot find out why it is stuck.
I am quite disappointed with that part of our collaboration with the police. I am quite satisfied with the way we have been able to work with the police in deploying police in the north of Uganda and in Karamoja we have invested quite heavily in 2007 in getting the UPDF out and the police in. Looking back at that effort we can be very satisfied at the progress that we have made.
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Would you say, therefore, that the culture of rule of law, as opposed to rule by law is more entrenched in Uganda today?
That is a difficult question because how do you measure that? What indicators do you use for that? For instance, does the executive respect pronouncements by the Judiciary? There were some challenges with regard to that [like the Black Mamba raid on the High Court- editor], later on the pronouncements were not in favour of the executive but they were respected so in that sense you can talk about progress. I think it is a difficult call for me to make.
In terms of accountability and human rights, respect for human rights, Uganda Human Rights Commission is making a tremendous effort in order to promote the concept of human rights and protection of human rights, I think the Ugandan Parliament has made a major step in voting for the Anti-torture law in the sense that now perpetrators of torture are personally held accountable and liable for their actions I think that is a major step forward.
Also the laws on domestic violence are a major step forward and against female genital mutilation, are major steps forward in terms of respect from human rights so it depends on which indicators you use and I think that we should welcome the progress and we should encourage Uganda to continue on that path to respect the rule of law because the rule of law is also more than that.
However, Uganda still has a long way to go in order to improve strength of institutions and that is an important element of the rule of law.
What are your views in regard to the argument that aid makes governments more accountable to donors and less to their citizens?
There is a challenge in Uganda in the sense that citizens are not demanding enough in terms of accountability for service delivery [and] the way public finances are managed. What always struck me in Uganda is this concept about government money. Who does it belong to? I think that the average Ugandan doesn’t see it as their money, they don’t see it as belonging to them; they see it belonging either to foreign donors or to wealthy businessmen.
I am not sure what they are thinking who it belongs to. But they are not seeing it as their money and as long as that concept is there it is difficult to demand accountability. There is an important task especially for civil society to make sure that Ugandan taxpayers know that it is their VAT, if they buy sugar they pay VAT and that money is going to URA and the revenue body gives it to the Consolidated Fund which gives it to State House to pay for personnel and staff that is working in State House and other institutions.
Ugandan taxpayers contribute to that expenditure and they have a right and entitlement to what is happening with the money.
I am very encouraged by the role Parliament is playing in the sense that they demand more and more accountability but where I think Parliament could grow is in demanding more structural and analytical accountability for government funds; now it is mainly incident-based; it is issue here, issue there and they raise those issues and follow up on them which is excellent but if you look at the amount of money involved and you look at the whole budget then it is always a small part and I think you should be more analytical and look at where are the risks where are the large expenditures going, and we should focus on accountability for that but it is a process.
I think that what also strikes me is that a lot of Ugandans look at donors as if they would provide the solutions for Uganda. The Americans will help us in this or the Europeans will do that and it has always surprised me why it should be like that maybe some donors are comfortable with that position but I feel completely uncomfortable with that position.
History shows that development can only be done by indigenous actions, by the population itself by Ugandans themselves, they have to take the lead and we can support, and we can help, we can transfer knowledge and we can facilitate things in terms of financial transfer, we can give fellowships to people so that they can learn certain skills and bring them back to Uganda. But the lead should be with Ugandans and I don’t mean only one Ugandan, it is not only President Museveni who needs development but it should be much broader Ugandans to take the lead in development.
Does your decision to end budget support reflect concerns about lack of integrity in Uganda’s public finance management?
It was a response to a concern we had in regard to the way Uganda manages public finances; it was a decision we took in 2011.
If you look at the fiscal year 2010/2011, the amount of money that was spent by Uganda on supplementary budgets was about 25 per cent of total expenditure whereas the Public Financial Management Act only allows for 3 per cent.
It was a clear violation. It was approved retrospectively by Parliament but for us that indicated that there is something seriously wrong in the way that Uganda manages its public finances and we could no longer legitimise to our Dutch taxpayers that we could use the Ugandan budget as an instrument to achieve development results because the money that we put into that budget is going to be diverted through the process and the money that we initially put into the budget for education, for example, could be reallocated to buy fighter jets.
So we had serious concerns about the transparency and efficiency of the decisions that were taken in the budgeting process. This was on top of long-standing concerns on corruption and lack of action against corruption vis-a-vis the Chogm case, for example.
Those were reasons why we said okay, now the straw broke the camel’s back we have to stop with budget support altogether.
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Does the entry of other partners, such as China, for instance, reduce the influence of western countries such as yours?
If I am realistic, our influence has always been limited whether the Chinese are there or not. I think that the Ugandan public overestimates the role that development partners can play in Uganda.
So I don’t see a major change in that regard. I think that oil is the factor that will change the equation. It has already changed the equation; I think that is a more important element than the entrance of the development partners like the Chinese.
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