Uganda’s ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives is planning to end the country’s membership in an international association of developing nations.
Ministry permanent secretary Julius Onen on Wednesday told Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Uganda can no longer be part of the South Centre, having failed to pay subscription fees.
The South Centre an intergovernmental organisation through which developing nations combine efforts and expertise to promote their common interests in the international arena.
The matter came to the fore while the committee was considering queries raised in the Auditor General’s report for 2015/16.
In total, the trade ministry has outstanding obligations owed to international organisations estimated at Shs 7.9 billion.
Uganda is associated to four such international organisations namely the World Trade Organisation, COMESA, UNIDO and South Centre.
Annual subscription fees required by the ministry total Shs 3.8 billion.
But the ministry’s undersecretary for finance, Fred Ogene, said that ministry of finance only allocates Shs 400 million for the purpose each year.
Deputy PAC chairman Gerald Karuhanga admonished Onen for not giving the issue the priority it deserves by allowing subscription fee arrears to mount.
“We want to see candidly what you’ve been doing with ministry of finance to ensure you get this money.” Karuhanga pressed.
Onen responded that several attempts to solve the problem of unpaid dues to international organisations have failed. He revealed that the government one time mooted the idea of placing all obligations under the ministry of foreign affairs but no one wanted to take responsibility.
“I think our priorities are not straight as a nation I don’t think we would fail to pay this money if we prioritise it.” Onen said.
The permanent secretary told the committee that the problem was widespread, with nearly all the sectors in the country failing in meeting their international obligations.
Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga observed that if this was the case, it could be practical to pull out of some of the international organisations to avoid embarrassing the country.
“Must we continue subscribing to some of these organisations for the sake of keeping up appearances?” he queried.”
Onen told the committee that the ministry has started discussions to pull out of the South Centre this year following cabinet approval.
“That support now we don’t think is very critical and therefore we are reassessing our position,” he disclosed.
According to documents provided by the ministry the outstanding arrears in subscription to South Center stood at Shs 740 million in the 2014/15 financial year.
Ambassador Julius Onen (center) responds to a question,