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Budgetary Cuts to Further Cripple Foreign Missions


What you need to know:

  • The parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs has unearthed a raft of problems in the sector compounded by the 40 percent budgetary cuts that have dented the priorities of the sector.

Uganda spends at least Shs14.5 billion annually on rent for chanceries and official residences of ambassadors, an expenditure lawmakers say is costly and unsustainable.

The cost of rent, amounting to Shs145.5 billion in the last 10 years, is one of the many glaring issues affecting Uganda’s missions abroad and the Foreign Affairs ministry that have compounded into the inability to execute the mandate of “promoting and protecting Uganda’s interests abroad.” 

In their report on the Budget Framework Paper (BFP) of 2023/2024 for the Foreign Affairs ministry, the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs has unearthed a raft of problems in the sector compounded by the 40 percent budgetary cuts that have dented the priorities of the sector.

“The Ministry and Missions Abroad are underfunded to effectively carry out their mandate of promoting and protecting Uganda’s interests abroad. It is worth noting that Uganda has a physical presence in only 38 countries,” the report notes, adding, “The budget cuts for travel abroad means that the ministry and missions abroad cannot represent the country in capitals where they are accredited.”

The report further reveals that some of Uganda’s diplomatic properties, which were acquired several decades ago, require periodic renovation. These include, among others, Uganda’s mission in New York, Copenhagen (Denmark) as well as Uganda’s High Commission in London at the Trafalgar Square and the official residence, which, legislators note, have not received major renovations in a long time. The House, for one, wants Shs237m put aside for tightening security at Uganda House in London.

‘Hardly ideal’

The legislators conclude that several properties do not constitute an ideal living and working environment for “our diplomatic staff and they portray a negative image of our country Uganda”. Parliament has recommended that Shs600m be put aside to cater to the accommodation of heads of missions while their respective residences are undergoing renovation.

Most of the missions, the lawmakers observe, lack official vehicles, and hence Uganda has no official representation in those countries such as Algeria.

“The Committee recommends that the government of Uganda should invest in construction and or acquisition of properties [through mortgages] for missions that are currently operating in rented premises, renovation of the existing but dilapidated properties and development of the vacant plots of land,” the report notes.

Parliament also wants the government to avail funds to provide safe shelters, helplines, and emergency support to Ugandan migrant workers in the Middle East. Ugandan embassies also lack adequate locally recruited staff to handle the ever-increasing number of distressed Ugandan migrant workers in the Middle East, for example in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Parliament has tasked the ministries of Public Service, Finance, and Foreign Affairs to carry out a review of the staffing needs to ensure that relevant staff are deployed to missions that have unique requirements.  This should also be followed by adequate wage bill adjustments and provisions.

Realignment

More than Shs18.1 billion had been cut from the budget of Uganda’s foreign missions, which Parliament wants reinstated. The money was budgeted to support activities, including human capital development, agro-industrialisation, manufacturing, tourism, community mobilisation, and mindset change.

Legislators want both the Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries to explain how Uganda’s missions abroad are expected to implement the planned activities under Economic and Commercial Diplomacy (ECD) without a budgetary allocation

Through ECD, embassies are expected to enhance mobilisation of external economic and commercial inflows into Uganda from abroad, among other things.

Both Uganda’s missions abroad and the Foreign Affairs ministry lost Shs16.1 billion in budget cuts on travel abroad, workshops, and seminars. In recommending the reinstatement of the budget, MPs argue that this severely affected the ability of the missions to ably execute their mandates in the countries to which the missions are accredited.

The Foreign Affairs ministry is supposed to pay annual subscriptions to international organisations amounting to Shs32.3 billion. Uganda has also accumulated Shs34.5 billion in arrears arising from nonpayment of funds to different international organisations. The ministry has been allocated Shs6.3 billion in the coming financial year.

As a result, Uganda will not be able to second or nominate candidates to fill any strategic positions within the international organisations where money is owed. Uganda is also not able to attend, contribute or even vote in the different meetings of such organisations.  Parliament wants the Foreign Affairs ministry to be given money to cover the shortfalls, including all the arrears.

COST OF LIVING

The available resources are not commensurate to the cost of living of foreign service officers, legislators say. For example, the education allowance prescribed by the current standing orders and the circular standing instructions is insufficient for the staff to adequately provide basic education for their children once posted.

“Various regulations in different countries where Uganda’s missions are found, have stringent provisions. For example in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, children of expatriates, especially foreign diplomats, are not allowed to study in public schools, therefore staff are supposed to get placement in private international schools where they can be taught in English since Arabic is the national language,” the report says.

Likewise, the cost of living changes with the prevailing circumstances. In Brussels, the lawmakers say, the cost of electricity went up by 109.6 percent, while fuel went up by 30.4 percent due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, something that applies to most countries in Europe.

Additionally, the committee noted that while officers in Grade “B” missions receive $2,000 per child annually, those in Grade “A” missions receive $2,500 per child annually. In comparison to the $10,000 per child per year minimum needed in the majority of host countries, the provision by the government is too low.

Elsewhere, the government’s fixed wage distribution does not account for the required yearly salary increases in other nations. For instance, in London, the pay budget for local personnel has remained constant for the past 15 years despite the fact that the cost of living has skyrocketed and employees are obligated by UK labour law to receive an annual raise. In Geneva, Switzerland, and many other places, the same holds true.

Source: Monitor

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