Finance minister Syda Bumba read her maiden budget speech on Thursday. There were collective sighs of relief that she did not raise any taxes or introduce new, there has been little scope in either direction for years now anyway.
My highlight was the concession made to commercial agriculture – the waiving of income tax for agro-processors, the agricultural credit facility and the reduction in excise duty on beers made from locally produced barley.
What agriculture and the rural populations need urgently is big agroprocessing concerns, not only to absorb current production but to stimulate more production. But one has got to wonder why it has taken so long to see this when the success of our sugar, tobacco, meat packers and more recently beer companies provide sufficient proof.
There were other measures thrown into the budget to stimulate economic activity but one has got to feel for Uganda’s finance ministers, given the enormity of the challenges they have very little to play with.
But then I believe what is holding us back as a nation is not a lack of funding, but more importantly a lack of planning. If we get our planning processes started we will achieve a clarity of vision of where we want to go and what has to be done to get there and as result we will be able to make more effective use of the little we have.
And before the bureaucrats start holding up medium term frameworks as proof of planning let me put what I mean by planning in perspective.
When Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party took over the running of Singapore – a virtual rock in the ocean with no natural resources to speak of but its people, all his policies were driven by the goal to equal the GDP per capita of his people with that of the UK within 40 years. The rest is history.
To stretch the argument further , a Japanese official of the much vaunted Ministry of International Trade and industry (MITI) when asked what he thought the effect of the French revolution, which started in 1789, on world history had been, he gave it some brief thought before he replied, “It’s too soon to tell.”
The Japanese planners looked decades into the future and the results are there for all to see.
So analysis of this year’s budget or previous budget’s is hard to do honestly without a long term strategy to overlay it on.
In fact the concessions to agriculture announced in this year’s budget could have been made 10, 20 or 30 years ago, if our plans had a long enough view of where this country needs to be.
And if you put the improved welfare of the people first it is immaterial how you achieve it whether through capitalism, socialism or a combination of the two. A long term view crystalises your resolve to achieve by any means necessary.
I don’t think the planning process is a failure of this particular minister or even of the current generation of bureaucrats. With all due respect to history’s revisionists this “planless malaise” set in the 1970s with ascendance of Idi Amin. There is evidence that at least in the Obote I government there were five-year plans, a hangover from the colonial era.
A lack of planning will ensure that no matter how much aid is funneled into Uganda there will be little to show for it and instead we will have a recurrence of problems year after year after year.
Of course planning is not everything, but execution is. It does not matter what beautiful plans you have if you can not get the job done, you might as well have done nothing.
As well as your strategic processes execution is a function of your operational and human resources processes. So in planning for the future we need to examine whether our plans can be executed in our current context by the people we currently charge with the task.
Ugandan bureaucrats are well traveled and they have had cause to transit through Dubai, China, any number of European capitals and even Johannesburg. If they stopped to think about it the development they see there came out of a desire to improve the welfare of the relevant constituents through deliberate planning and meticulous execution.
Dubai has less than 20 years worth of oil reserves, unlike Gabon, which is in a similar position, the rulers of Dubai have invested heavily in creating an alternative economy around services – tourism, trade, education and health. The net effect of which other than its rulers Gabon will continue to be a basket case while Dubai thrives beyond the exhaustion of its oil wells.
So generally the annual budget is a means to an end and not an end in themselves. As they say if we are failing to plan we are planning to fail.
Published June 2009, New Vision