the budget is here, but the wedding isn’t

CONSIDER the national budget in simple terms – not content-wise, that’s too much for this section of your Sunday; focus on the process and your role, ordinary citizen.

Unfortunately, most Ugandans only know two types of budgets: a) the national budget, which they think is delivered from on high in a briefcase styled on Moses and tablets with the Ten Commandments and; b) the wedding budget. Few go as far as c) Personal budgets. 

We all know how b) works but here’s a refresher: First, your relatives or friends decide to get married and draw up a long wish list covering introduction ceremonies to honeymoon. On that wish list they include the most expensive clothing, day-long limousines, and a banquet feast at Munyonyo or the Serena with food at a plate value that could cover their parents’ feeding for six ordinary months.

Notice links to ‘a) the national budget’?

They then get friends to form the Committee, starting with the Chairman who gleefully takes up his role of organising mostly the reception – the fun part – with a focus on raising funds.

The bagole and inner circle Committee agree the wish list budget, make bookings, then call fundraising meetings. These days, the Launch meeting consists of a party at which drinks and eats are served some times at a cost to raise funds, or free of charge so that invitees are loosened up to pledge big money contributions.

The budget, however, is received as a set of suggestions, and over the next month or two (longer, if tedious) people at weekly meetings will make changes a la, “Why are we going to Munyonyo when your combined monthly salaries can’t cover the one round of drinks?” and “Who are these 500 people you are inviting when your muzigo can only host three people at a time thereafter?” and “Limousines? When you are both boda people? We get Premios!”

The Committee then breaks up into sub-committees for transport, food, drinks, church, clothing, managing crazy ex-girlfriends at that crucial moment in church, and so on and so forth. These sub-committees investigate the suggested costs, negotiate with suppliers and report back to the main committee at every meeting.

You, friends and relatives (who have little choice) attending fund-raisers, take copies of the budget updated weekly and at every meeting contribute money in different ways while questioning decisions and suggesting more changes as above.

By the wedding day, the bagole will have taken on donors or tax-payers via family and friends, and maybe a bank loan. Afterwards, they retire to their muzigo or Kololo bungalow after a honeymoon in Mukono or the Seychelles, with loans to pay off over the next ten years, or maybe a surplus with which to buy land on which to build a house.

Now, go to ‘a) the national budget’ and it’s exactly the same – especially the fact that with ‘b) the wedding budget’, the reading of the budget at the first meeting – the Launch – is not fait accompli.

The Budget Reading is simply the Minister, on behalf of the Executive, the bagole, presenting the government’s wish list, alongside accountability for the past year.

For months before the Reading, the government consults ‘stakeholders’for views and suggestions – but you probably didn’t notice this, as usual, just as in b) above.

The Minister Reads it on behalf of the President, and moves a motion to make Plenary a Committee of Supply – to supply money to the government. For the next few months, Parliamentary Committees scrutinise the budget and meetvarious people, then later present their findings and final recommendations to Plenary sitting as that Committee of Supply.

The Minister of Finance thereafter introduces the Appropriation Bill (to the Budget Committee) to legalise what the Committee of Supply approves, and it is only THEN that the wedding takes place.

So today, after Budget Reading, it’s not over yet and we shouldn’t cry over taxes or allocations.

Your copy of the national budget might be smaller than all the wedding budgets you’ve collected so far this year – so go get it. Read it. Go tell your MPs what YOU think – because it is YOU paying for the wedding.

Certainly not the bagole.

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