Teachers’ Pay Not a Priority in New Budget – Finance Minister [interview]

Until his elevation to minister of Finance, MATIA KASAIJA, 70, was minister of State for finance in charge of Planning. Last Tuesday, Kasaija led a delegation from the ministries of finance and energy to Parliament to defend government’s request to borrow 42.9m Euros (about Shs 159.9bn) from the French Development Agency to finance the rural electrification project. Deo Walusimbi spoke to Kasaija about the 201516 national budget.

You have just presented the budget framework paper for the fiscal year 201516, but pledges such as the teachers’ pay rise are not reflected!

We made such an agreement with the teachers that I am fully aware of their need for a salary increment, but we don’t have enough funds to cater for that. Currently, in this financial year and next financial year, the top priority of government expenditure is on infrastructure:

Tarmacking roads and making sure they are passable, producing electricity , and being able to distribute and transmit it and thirdly, the question of the standard gauge railway.

Why?

These are the prime growth sectors. If the roads, power and the railway are in place then there is a chance that the economy is going to grow because if a businessman comes and finds no power, he cannot continue. If the businessman wants to transport a certain good and the roads are impassable, the economy cannot grow.

Now if the economy grows, you can be sure of many things. You will create jobs, and the taxation base would increase, and once collect more tax, I will be able to increase the teachers’ salary, I will meet the doctors’ salaries and everybody would be happy. We have met with some of their leaders and told them that we don’t have enough money . We are not talking about small money.

What if the teachers go on strike again?

We expect them to be patriotic first of all as Ugandans. And I hope they can understand my argument because I am not denying them a salary increment. I was there when they were agreeing with the president in Nakasero [State House], but for this year, my pocket is too narrow for me to be able to meet this expense.

Allow me to put much of this money in these prime growth areas so that the economy can now start to grow at a higher speed.

The 201516 budget has shot up by three trillion from the current year’s Shs 15 trillion why?

I cannot answer [that], I have been away for a week in China, I am here to study the situation and then I will be able to comment meaningfully . I intend to come to Parliament, but now I cannot comment.

Are your predecessor Maria Kiwanuka’s shoes too big for you?

Well, well, the judgment is not mine. Some people have said that the Ugandan economy is in the hands of village boys, in the hands of Matia Kasaija, Keith Muhakanizi… but the test of the pudding is in the eating. Let’s wait and see what happens.

On a personal level, what do you think about your new job?

I am very confident. After all, I have been learning quite a number of things during Honourable Kiwanuka’s tenure. And as far as I am concerned, there is nothing that I am not aware of there is nothing that I don’t know. So, it’s just a matter of switching from this office to the other.

What are you doing about the depreciation of the shilling against the dollar?

I can comment on the depreciation of the shilling because we have been working on it together with Bank of Uganda. Why is the shilling depreciating?

There are about three factors. The dollar all over the world has been appreciating against all currencies of other countries, and Uganda, therefore, cannot be an exception and many people are now rushing to America with their money . I don’t know what magic the Americans have applied, but that is the truth of the matter because the Euro, the British pound [I was in China this week, the Renminbi], are all depreciating against the dollar.

But more fundamentally, and I am appealing to my friends, the Ugandan businessmen: our terms of trade are bad because we are importing more than we are exporting. So, demand for the dollar locally is extremely high and that is why the shilling is depreciating. Please the business community, let us do more exports to earn more dollars than importing.

The other reason, which is not much talked about, is that money is very afraid, fragile and it doesn’t want noise. Money doesn’t want to see any sign of insecurity.

My appeal to all Ugandans is that let us all remain stable as a country we have a government fully elected by the people. We are in full control of the economy we know the parameters and what to apply, but when investors start to hear this loose talk, they get frightened. Instead of bringing in their money, they go away.

I would be very honest with you: there is a particular investor from India who was bringing in his $5m, but because there were certain events here between our leaders, this man said that let me wait and see how it plays out and some other people are now looking at how the 2016 elections would go.

But what is going to happen in 2016? We have gone through elections before. So, what is going to happen for people to be making all sorts of noise? It [election] will come, those who will win will win those who would be defeated will be defeated like it has happened in the past.

Let us not make frightening statements which scare away investors, because when you scare them away, they don’t bring in their money like that Indian investor I have told you.

Then tourists also don’t want to go where there is a problem. That is why we should all thank the Uganda Police and intelligence system for having been spot on in trying to prevent terrorist attacks.

Why do you bank so much on foreign investors?

Sorry, maybe, I have overemphasised foreign investors today, because for them they come from outside. But Ugandans are also important because anybody who has money, whether foreign or Ugandan, if he sees some possibilities of instability he will not invest that money . That is why we should really remain stable now that there is peace from the east to north, west to central.

These frightening statements shouldn’t come from any Ugandan leader we should all ensure that Uganda is stable. Any differences we can sort them out in courts, and other fora.

Source : The Observer

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