By Apollo Munghinda
Some time back, around June 2018, the Ministry of Finance (MoFPED) undertook a mindset change training and rebranding exercise, where the staff pledged to improve the image of the Ministry in the eyes of the public.
The Ministry had received various reports from the public suggesting that, it was insensitive and its operations were opaque, and divorced from reality as well as the needs and aspirations of Ugandans!
With this kind of report, it was summarily agreed at one of the budget breakfast meetings that something had to be done to redeem the image of the Ministry. It became apparent that these misconceptions could actually be addressed through a number of initiatives aimed at demystifying the Ministry.
This is how the Budget Week was born, driven by the desire to demonstrate to the public, that indeed the Finance Ministry was sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people, transparent in operations and focused on effective service delivery.
That year, 2018, the Ministry invited members of the public at it offices for a talk, basically to bond and bridge the existing communication gaps.
That budget week (FY 2018/19), attracted other 48 exhibiting institutions, with over 230 visitors showing up for the service excellence exhibition.
As they say, the rest is history, the budget week transformed into the budget month and became a premier activity of the Ministry.
In FY2019/20, the national budget month (NBM), jointly implemented by MoFPED in partnership with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) attracted 143 exhibiting institutions (122 Government agencies and 21 Civil Society Organisations) and an estimated 4000 visitors to the exhibition stalls.
Government directly interacted with over 14,000 Ugandans and indirectly reached out to the wider public via traditional and social media platforms. There were over 73,000,000 impressions created on social media about the national budget.
83.5% of the participants at the regional budget breakfast engagements indicated that they were better informed about the national budget and its impact on citizens.
The budget month activities were on top of Uganda’s social media agenda from the time they were launched, up to the time the last activity was held, occasionally trending in the top position with the hash tag ‘knowyourbudget19’.
Come March 2020, and enter COVID-19; we were in the middle of preparations for a mega engagement with the public. Alas, this was not going to be possible. Could we just give up? The answer was No, we could not miss an opportunity to engage the public on the budget for FY 2020/21.
Together with Partners: URA, BoU, CSBAG, PSFU, SEATINI and ACODE, we agreed to a scientific approach to implement the budget month for FY2020/21 under the theme: “Stimulating the economy to safeguard livelihoods, jobs, businesses and industrial recovery using the hashtag ‘Knowyourbudget20’.
With great determination, amidst COVID-19 threat, a number of activities were successfully implemented including; the high-level pre-budget speech dialogue, launch of the PFMA 2015 index, the Budget Speech, Post Budget e-conference, Post Budget speech media engagements and the launch of the Open Budget Survey results for 2019.
Radio, TV and Social media platforms were maximally used to reach out to the public across the country, to enhance awareness about the national budget, which is essentially the people’s budget.
Leveraging partnerships, the 2 day Post budget e-conference 2020 was aired live on all major TV stations and from the feedback obtained, many Ugandans were reached and are aware of the different government interventions put in place by government to stimulate economic recovery including financing under UDB and Emyooga.
The hashtag ‘KnowYourBudget20’ registered an online message reach of 7,640,403 and garnered 220,039,627 impressions.
Since its inception, the budget month has enhanced public awareness and understanding of the national budget, particularly the resources allocated to Ministries, Departments, Agencies and Local governments (MDALGs).
It has also increased the level of public knowledge about their tax obligations, which has in turn facilitated tax compliance.
The recently released Open budget survey 2019 results indicate that Uganda’s overall score in budget transparency at 58%, is above the global average of 45%, and is the best in East Africa and second in Africa after South Africa.
This performance is due to increased availability of budget information and opportunities for the public to engage in the budget process and we are very grateful to our Partners.
As part of the budget transparency initiatives, the Ministry of Finance will continue to engage citizens in budget formulation to improve budget transparency and public participation.
We are also aware that these engagements have heightened accountability for public resources by MDALGs and facilitated citizens’ involvement in monitoring government programmes in their communities.
Even as Government embarks on the implementation of NDP III, and the economic stimulus plan during and post COVID-19, the identified service delivery gaps and feedback obtained from these engagements will feed into the government planning and budgeting framework.
The writer is a Principal Communication Officer/Head Communications at the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development