KAMPALA – MPs on Parliament’s Budget Committee on Thursday, 29 October 2020 refused to approve a request by officials from the Finance and Education ministries to approve the proposed expenditure of UGX.336.8 billion to purchase radio sets for promoting home learning.
State Minister for Planning David Bahati and his Higher Education counterpart John Chrysostom Muyingo told the Committee that government seeks to procure 9 million radio set receivers as one of the strategies of supporting long-distance learning given that schools are closed due to Covid-19 pandemic.
But the Budget Committee Chairperson Amos Lugoloobi together with other MPs tasked the officials to explain whether the procurement process had been based on an assessment survey to establish the need for radios as a model for teaching and their practicability in facilitating learning.
The legislators also sought answers on whether the Ministry of Education had conducted a survey to establish the impact of the previous methods of learning for example printed education materials to establish their success.
Alex Kakooza, the Education Ministry Permanent Secretary said that although the procurement of radios has been placed, they have not yet signed the contract due to the absence of funds.
The Permanent Secretary said that 5 million radio receivers are to be procured locally and supplied to homesteads after 60 to 90 days of signing of the contract. The committee also learnt that the remaining 4 million radio receivers to be imported would be delivered by December 2020 (2 million) and January 2021 (2 million).
Documents before the Budget Committee indicate that the imported radios will be supplied by four companies at different unit costs including Shillings 33, 925, Shillings 35,435, Shillings 38,000 and Shillings 42,182 inclusive of taxes. The locally procured radios are to be supplied at a unit cost of Shillings 37,465.
In regard to the practicability of using radios given that many homesteads have more than one learner, Kakooza said that the radios will be provided a schedule of the lessons to be conducted on radio and that this program for delivering lessons has been scheduled in a way that accommodates the various learners.
Responding to queries on the power sources for the radios given that the target population has impoverished people who may fail to afford dry cells, Kakooza said that the solar system specified on the radios is of mono crystalline material and they will not need to be put under direct sun to charge.
The Permanent Secretary noted that the World Bank had carried out a study and established that teaching through radios was possible. However, a document he presented to the committee to support his argument was disregarded after the Chairperson Amos Lugoloobi noted that it was only highlighting countries were radios are used for learning.
But MPs insisted that they cannot approve the proposed budget until the Ministry carries out a needs assessment. West Budama South MP, Richard Othieno said that Parliament could not approve procurements in anticipation.
He questioned how the Ministry would manage the project worth 336 billion Shillings when it failed to manage the printing of education materials worth 40 billion Shillings.
Bulamogi County MP Kenneth Lubogo also wondered why government was procuring 9 million radio sets yet 4 million households already have radios. He instead proposed that the ministry uses the money to purchase soap, temperature guns and sanitizers for schools that are struggling.
Kasese Woman MP Winifred Kiiza asked when the Ministry intends to start teaching when the last batch of radios is expected in January. Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal also raised more questions in regard to lack of research for the program to guide the ministry as opposed to other teaching models.
“The supply will be in December at the height of political campaigns. Who will monitor this? We are only leading people into temptations,” she said.
In his explanation, Minister Bahati said that statistics from Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) indicate that out of the 8.9 million homesteads, only 4.3 million have access to radios. He hastened to add that given this situation, Cabinet resolved to buy radio receivers for all homesteads so that there is no any excuse that students failed to learn.
Bahati reported that the required budget would be financed through a bigger 6.2 trillion Shillings loan request recently tabled before parliament to finance a budget deficit. The loan is currently being scrutinized by Parliament’s National Economy Committee.
Minister Muyingo noted that home learning had become the new norm and even without Covid-19, there is need to be prepared. Muyingo’s statement about scientists indicating that Covid-19 was still with us was shot down by members who tasked him to explain what would happen to the radios incase a vaccine is discovered and children go back to schools.
Lugoloobi ruled that the Ministry responds to all the committee questions in writing and that this will help them generate consensus on the matter in their report to Parliament.