Barya: Striking Balance Between Voter's Demands and National Priorities

Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba

website like this sans-serif; font-size: small; line-height: 150%;”>As always, we will sit down, glue our eyes and ears to our TV sets, radios or rush to buy the newspapers just to get an idea of what our well-articulated Minister of Finance has us for us Uganda.

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The national budget, a fiscal instrument presenting proposed revenues and spending in the coming financial year, is normally our hope of solving the myriad of challenges faced by the economy and the population. The budget also shows us the priorities and scale of preferences in solving these problems. However, the determination of priorities, not only in Uganda but world over, has been affected by politicians’ interest in pleasing voters.

I hail from the beautiful district of Ibanda in South Western Uganda. Having been born and raised in Ibanda, I feel a great attachment to the priorities of development of my home district. On Saturday 31st May 2014, I travelled from Kampala to Ibanda via Mbarara and the road is tarmac all the way through.

On my return from Ibanda to Kampala, I travelled via the new tarmac road (commonly known as Kaguta Road) that passes via Kazo and joins Mbarara-Masaka road in Lyantonde; another first class tarmac road. In only 90 minutes, I drove comfortably, on the first class tarmac Kaguta road, from Ibanda to Lyantonde. I noted something unusual though!

All the way from Ibanda up to where the Kaguta road joins the Mbarara-Masaka road, there was neither a public transport vehicle (bus or omni-bus) nor lorry carrying goods. On this very good road, I only came across five cars throughout my 90-minute drive! I found it intriguing that a first-class tarmac road would be completely traffic free.

There are definitely users along this road that I could not meet in my 90-minute drive but one thing remains certain that this tarmac road is underutilized.

Like a typical scholar, I decided to inquire from businessmen who have interests in travelling between the districts of Ibanda and Kampala, including the bus owners. They confirmed my earlier fears. They told me that a bus/omini bus that travels from Kampala to Ibanda via Kaguta road would not carry passengers that stop in Mbarara and the neighbourhood like Bushenyi.


So by using Kampala-Mbarara-Ibanda road they are able to carry passengers that drop off in Mbarara and then load new passengers and continue to Ibanda. They told me that Kampala to Ibanda via Kaguta road does not have enough passengers. The same thing applies to cargo vehicles. Most of the cargo vehicles use Kampala-Mbarara road as the majority of clients are from Mbarara and its neighbourhood.

Ibanda and its neighbourhood don’t have a lot of goods for transportation to Kampala that would keep the Ibanda-Kazo-Lyantonde road busy. Also the Lyantonde-Kazo-Ibanda road links to the board of Rwanda and DRC through Kisoro and Kasese respectively, and thus the cargo and passenger vehicles to Rwanda and DRC from Kampala still opt to pass via Mbarara instead of Ibanda as it would take longer if they passed via Ibanda.

And then it dawned on me that indeed I was not wrong, this first class road is underutilized and yet it cost a lot of tax payer’s money.

It is so common that politicians will promise to do the easy-to-see and highly-exciting things like roads, while the electorate misses out on priorities that would impact their lives positively.

In the recent past in Uganda, we have witnessed a number of districts grow like never before in history. At a certain point, a voter in Tororo ate a live rat demanding for the creation of two new districts. Whether or not the creation of a district was such a priority that this voter had to put his life at risk is another question.

We have also seen several buildings being put up across the country under the name of health centre II, III and IV but without nurses and doctors among others instead of strengthening those already in place because the voters in each locality demanded for their own health centre (s).

We are now hearing of voters’ demands for a Technical Institute per county/ district instead of strengthening the existing ones that are not yet equipped and utilized to full capacity.

The same applies to rural electrification. Many villages in Ibanda District are being connected to the electricity grid under the rural electrification project. However, health and education services in this region have not improved for the majority of the people.

Ibanda hospital no longer has specialist doctors and most of the cases are being referred to Mulago hospital. The health centers in the area still lack sufficient qualified nurses and doctors.


Most of the schools still lack qualified teachers and where qualified teachers exist, they are of poor quality. Of course, there are a few schools that have very good teachers and the school standards are high. But these can only be afforded by few students from well to do families.

While politicians will gain more popularity and possibly be voted back into office because they have promised a district, electricity or tarmac road, in most cases their promises together with voters demands are at variance with the strategies in the National Development Plan.

For example, while the idea of rural electrification may seem exciting to the voters in rural parts of Uganda, what is its essence without clean water, quality health and education services to acceptable standards?

We need as Ugandans to educate the voters to lobby for a budget that focuses on national priorities that may not include fulfillment of presidential or election pledges. This calls for stronger coordination of government programs across different sectors. As we plan to become a middle-income country and then developed country,tarmac roads should cover the whole country.

However, at our current stage of development we should be concise not to focus on infrastructure like roads at the expense of other critical sectors likes education and health.

For instance we cannot address youth unemployment unless the youth have access to excellent health and education services. So, in the 2014-2015 budget, we would like to see increased budgetary allocations to agriculture, health and education.


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