Civil society organisation hunts for signatures to halt new taxes

By Deo Wasswa

Civil society budget advocacy group under their coalition “Tax justice alliance Uganda intends to come up with a pledge book to solicit at least 250 signatures from members of parliament to oppose new taxes the government is proposing to introduce on mobile money.
According to the coalition, introducing new taxes on mobile money transaction and leaving out bank transactions untaxed, its a symbol that the government is protecting banks against mobile money business.
Kimera Henry, a member to the coalition says taxing mobile money will affect more of local people who don’t have any idea about the bank services.

The sources from the coalition shows that 41% and 48% of districts out of 112 districts in Uganda lack access to any bank branch and ATM respectively.
Over 6000 schools in Uganda  use mobile money to receive school fees.

The highest proportion of mobile money transaction users, 61% of transact is less than Uganda shillings 45000/=.

Premier Rugunda announces government plan to send food supplies to schools across the country

Government plans to supply food to schools across the country due to a shortage triggered by a prolonged dry spell, Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda has said.

Rugunda told parliament last evening that food will be provided through the District Education Committees in all the 116 districts. The committees will then determine the schools that need urgent relief noting that severe food shortages have impacted on school attendance.

Rugunda added that the matter will further be discussed at a Cabinet meeting today.

The commitment followed a passionate and heated debate on an action plan to mitigate the food insecurity situation in the country. This was part of a joint statement presented by Agriculture Minister Vincent Ssempijja and State Minister for Disaster Preparedness Musa Ecweru.

Ecweru said that the most food insecure regions include Teso, Karamoja, Bukedi, the Cattle Corridor, Busoga, Lango, Acholi and parts of central Uganda. He said that these areas had started receiving relief food from the Office of the Prime Minister.

He added that the food crisis situation had impacted severely on the attendance in schools especially in the rural government primary schools where children find it hard to go to school on empty stomach.

Ecweru told parliament that the current relief stocks stand at 30,000-100kgs bags of maize flour, 7000- 100kgs bags of beans and 119,660 50kgs bags of rice. He said the food items worth 22.2 billion Shillings were a donation from the government of China.

Ecweru told parliament that the Japanese government has pledged to support particularly the Karamoja Sub-region through the World Food Program towards feeding in schools.

Agriculture Minister Vincent Ssempijja said that bean seeds are scarce due to the drought and that government can only provide 600,000 kilograms worth 2.4 billion Shillings.

Members of parliament demanded for adequate funding to the agriculture sector.




Education ministry to approve private and government school budgets

The Ministry of Education has directed both private and government schools to submit their school fees structures for the last three years not later than March, 10 2017. Schools will equally be expected to seek authorization before increasing charges.

The directive comes amid public outcry on the ‘unrealistic’ and ‘prohibitive’ school charges a trend which could deny Ugandan children access to education.

Last week, a Civil Society Organisation – the Initiative for Social and Economic rights (ISER), petitioned parliament challenging high tuition and non-tuition fees charged by government aided schools.

The CSO presented a breakdown of fees structures which they described as problematic citing non-tuition charges like development fees and entrance fees among others that need to be justified.

They presented a circular from St. Mary’ College Kisubi indicating special development fees of 500,000 Shillings required from each student prior to admission.

They also presented is an admission circular from St. Henry’s College Kitovu indicating payments like maintenance fees of to 391,600 Shillings, Centenary project fund of 120,000 Shillings, Pastoral care of 35,000 Shillings, and development fund 120,000 Shillings among others.

But Education Minister Janet Kataaha Museveni says that such exorbitant fees compromise government’s objective of providing affordable education for all.

She said that the fees are in most cases raised arbitrarily and without recourse to established official procedure which requires a head teacher who intends to raise school fees to seek and obtain official permission from the education ministry Permanent Secretary (PS).

She directed that no secondary school shall increase school charges for whatever reason without authorization from the Permanent Secretary Education Ministry.

Kataaha added that some secondary schools have been operating without approved budget estimates as required by the law.

She said that she has already instructed the education ministry PS Alex Kakooza to re-issue the existing guidelines that should be followed by all head teachers and secondary schools boards of governors and enforced by authorities at the central and local government levels.

Public Schools will be now required to submit their school fees structure to the commissioner in charge of government secondary schools while privately owned secondary schools shall submit to commissioner private schools and institutions.

Schools in Kampala not worried about escalating food prices and shortages

Schools in Kampala are downplaying fears of a possible food shortage arising out of a long dry spell that has driven food prices up in the recent past. A survey by Uganda Radio Network indicates that schools stocked enough food to feed pupils throughout the first term which started barely two weeks ago.

The assurance comes in the wake of a heavy burden to consumers resulting from the late and erratic rains and an early cessation of rainfall experienced last year. As several parts of the country battle abnormal dryness, gardens are all drying up with little prospects of rainfall, raising fears of a looming food shortage.

According to the latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin (FPMA) by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), local prices of maize, sorghum and other cereals have more than doubled in Uganda. Prices of beans, cassava and maize flour is about 25 per cent higher than a year ago.

A 50-kg bag of rice costs between 150,000 and 190,000 Shillings on the open market up from 120,000 Shillings around the same time last year. Maize flour costs 88,000 for each 50-kg bag while beans cost an average of 165,000 Shillings per bag. Sugar prices now average 178,000 for each 50-kg bag up from 160,000 Shillings.

Mario Zappacosta, a senior economist for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that sharply increasing prices are severely constraining food access for large numbers of households with alarming consequences in terms of food insecurity.

But despite the alarming trend, Peak Adventure, one of the companies that supply food to schools around Kampala says that school supplies many not be suddenly affected by change in market prices. Andrew Gidudu, a director at Peak Adventure says they have enough stocks to feed schools over the next three months.

Gidudu however anticipates that stocks could be depleted by May, 2017 which could trigger a change in prices then.

David Ssengendo, the head teacher of Buganda Road Primary School told URN that the school has not experienced the worst in the increase of food prices. He however says that there are indicators that prices will shoot up in the near future adding that in the event that prices increase, the school will be forced to ration food.

Pupils at Buganda Road Primary school contribute 21,900 Shillings each for school meals every term. However, according to the head teacher, the school runs a cash budget and can only stock food for a month.  Their menu comprises of posho, beans, rice, milk tea and porridge.

Edward Kanoonya, the head teacher of Kololo Secondary School believes that adjustments will be made to enable them provide enough food for students in the event that prices are hiked in the near future.

He says the adjustments could include omitting costly items from the menu. He highlighted rice; peas and meat which he says are served once in a while at the school.  Kololo SS consumes 350 Kgs of Posho and 150 Kgs of beans on a daily basis, according to Kanoonya.

But Lohana schools comprising of Lohana Academy, Lohana Primary and Lohana High School says that price changes will not in any way affect their menu and rations.

Catherine Nakayima, the in charge of procuring food for the three Lohana campuses told URN that the schools will be able to maintain their schools menus and portion due to supply agreements between the school and their suppliers.

On a weekly basis, the schools consume around 1000 Kgs of rice, 225 Kgs of beans, 100 pieces of fruit and 140 cabbages. According to Nakayima, their suppliers are mandated to supply them with food at the same price and quantity regardless of changes in price over a given period of time.



Unending civil war in Sudan causes institutions to relocate to Uganda

A number of South Sudanese religious and educational institutions are relocating to Uganda as the civil war in the country intensifies.

Close to a million people have fled to West Nile in Uganda amidst claims of ethnic cleansing by the warring factions.

Already a health training institution from Kajokeji town has relocated to Arua district with all its students. In Moyo, preparations are almost complete to relocate the Catholic Diocese of Kajokeji to Moyo town.

Kajokeji is located in Yei River State, one of the 28 states in South Sudan. Before the creation of states, it was part of the six counties of Central Equatoria. It is approximately 150 kilometres south of South Sudan capital, Juba, and 50 kilometres from the Uganda border post at Nimule.

William Anyama, the Local Council Five Chairperson of Moyo district says land and structures have already been put in place to accommodate the bishop and other diocesan leaders from Kajokeji diocese in the district. Anyama says over the last few months, several people have been displaced from Kajokeji and have taken refuge in Moyo district. He says the situation in South Sudan is alarming and calls for the residents of Moyo to offer shelter for the fleeing refugees.

Anyama says the influx is placing a heavy burden on the district to share the little resources available.

In Arua town, Kajokeji Health Training Institute has already opened its gates for the students to continue learning. Founded in 2013, the institute produced its first set of graduates last year after three years of training. The school located in Kajokeji town had its own premises complete with facilities. In September last year, unknown gunmen raided the school, killing two students. The raid forced the school management to close the institution and decided to relocate to Arua.

Santa Gudoa, the Administrative Assistant at the institute says since all the people in Kajokeji have fled, there was no need to continue operating the school there.

The relocation exercise has also come with a heavy burden on the management of the institution. Isaac Draciri, the Deputy Principal of the institute says the cost of relocating has been heavy. He says the current facility they are renting is costly. He says they are paying 3,000 US Dollars a month and the landlord forced them to pay for six months. According to Draciri, this has eroded the resource base of the institute.

Draciri also says the relocation has had an effect that a number of students have dropped out because they cannot afford to pay the high fees charged in Ugandan currency. He says this also affects the financial base of the institute coupled with the high costs of renting and provision of other facilities.

On a positive note however, the deputy principal says the cost of hiring tutors has lowered. Draciri says while in Kajokeji, they used to hire tutors from Arua and Gulu, with very high costs. He says they would pay for the visas and transportation from Uganda to Kajokeji. He now says they have cut down on the costs because the tutors are readily available at a reduced cost. He hopes this will improve the standards of the institution.

To the students it is a new experience. Betty Peter Elisa, a second year student studying nursing says she feels more at peace in Arua than when she was in Kajokeji. Elisa says after the death of her colleagues she was traumatized and wanted to leave the institute. She says when they were told that the school would be relocated to Arua, she and her colleagues were excited because they knew they would be safe.