By Frank Kamuntu
Kampala: Parliament has declined approval of the Shs 336.8 billion supplementary expenditure request for the purchase of nine million radios to facilitate the long-distance learning programme.
The request is part of Shs 353.867 billion supplementary expenditure request that was laid before Parliament by the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development on 20 October 2020.
Parliament’s decision was informed by a report of the Budget Committee, whose findings render purchase of radios an unwise decision on the side of government. The report was presented to Parliament during the sitting of Thursday, 19 November 2020.
The committee chairperson, Amos Lugoloobi, told Parliament that an assessment of radio assisted learning programme conducted by the Ministry of Education and Sports falls far short of the effectiveness of radio-based learning.
“The report indicated that students and parents were not given an opportunity to ask questions directly and time seemed not to be enough for the teacher, because the teacher was rushed to ensure he concludes the lesson,” said Lugoloobi.
Lugoloobi added that his committee observed operational challenges that may render implementation of radio assisted learning unsuccessful. He said that the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), the national broadcaster supposed to partner with other radio stations and ensure that radio-based learning is implemented, is not mandated to supervise other radio stations.
His committee learned that UBC is financially handicapped with debts of over Shs 40 billion and no provision has been made by the education ministry to pay for broadcasting airtime.
Lugoloobi noted that there is no provision in the education ministry’s budget on how radio-based learning will be operationalised. “Information on costs of delivery of radios, payment of teachers’ outstanding arrears and other related costs was not presented to the committee,” said Lugoloobi.
The committee was dismayed to discover that the identified local manufacturer; Orion Transformers & Electrics does not deal in radio production. “The committee established that the company’s core activity is the production of electrical transformers, no production line was seen for the production or assembly of radios,” said Lugoloobi.
The company, he said, may require up to six months to train its human resource in the production of radios, yet the current academic calendar would have come to an end, hence defeating the whole rationale of the immediate procurement of radios.
The Kasilo County MP, Elijah Okupa, recommended that since schools are likely to open early next year, the amount requested for procurement of radios should be moved to other critical areas in the fight against Covid-19. “We rather move this money to the Ministry of Health to or help schools to re-open because they are failing to meet the standard operating procedures, they are failing to raise money to buy sanitisers and soaps,” said Okupa.
Some MPs wondered why the government could not feel sympathetic towards other critical needs such as Shs 7 billion requested as candidates’ examination fees which were much lower than the cost of radios.
“We asked the government to provide Shs 7 billion for candidates as examination fees, so if the government has failed to pay only Shs 7 billion how can they feel sympathetic to those who are at home who need Shs 336 billion?” asked Maurice Kibalya (NRM, Bugabula South).
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga also recalled that last financial year, Parliament requested the government for Shs 5 billion meant for the higher education financing scheme and wondered how the government is now ready for a much higher expenditure. “We asked the government to add only Shs 5 billion for the higher education financing scheme and the government had no money but now they have money to buy radios,” said Kadaga.