To cut cost of government vehicle maintenance, issue fuel cards

I applaud the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development for listening to citizens and taxpayers’ concern over government extravagance, especially the high expenditure on government vehicle fueling and servicing. The partnership of the Finance ministry and the United Bank of Africa (UBA) to issue a fuel card for government vehicles is a positive step that should, if well managed, reduce costs  as part of ongoing reforms in the ministry.

In 2013, Uganda Debt Network carried out a six-month campaign on the “Misuse of Government Vehicles” highlighting the government’s high expenditure on a big fleet of vehicles. This campaign is now yielding results.

The government policy instrument on vehicles provides for the standardisation of vehicles of government officials. However, this policy instrument continues to suffer abuse by the same officials who are obligated to keep government property in good condition. The fuel guzzling vehicles are costly to maintain, which is ironic given the poor service delivery in the country.

With the ever-increasing fleet of government vehicles, maintenance costs equally escalate in terms of garage costs, fuel, oils and lubricants. This has an implication on government expenditure and consequently hikes our already huge domestic debt. In the end, Uganda finds herself locked in this vicious cycle of debt and debt repayment. Fiscal indiscipline is one of the main causes of debt arrears as indicated in the Auditor General’s Report of 2010.

Government’s uneven expenditure in key priority areas has led to increased instances of hefty allocations to public administration in the annual budgets and more stringent allocations to service delivery, say in hospitals where the common man benefits and this questions government capacity in setting its priorities.

As per the Public Service Standing Orders, in addition to the maintenance of inventories for vehicles, plant and other equipment; log books or operating records must be maintained by recording a vehicle’s history, performance, servicing, overheads, and repairs in sufficient details for periodic assessments to be made of its performance, compared to its cost of upkeep. A public officer shall be held financially responsible for losses incurred on government property which are due to his or her neglect or fault.

By end of Financial Year 2005/06, there were at least 8,090 government vehicles on Uganda’s roads, burning Shs29 billion on fuel and another Shs29 billion on fleet maintenance. The size of fleet and cost of maintenance was even higher since this cost excludes government motorcycles at the national and Local Government levels. Government also spent Shs18 billion on purchase of new vehicles, bringing the aggregate expenditure to Shs76 billion in the same Financial Year. In Financial Year 2006/2007, the fuel bill was approximately Shs24 billion while that for vehicle maintenance stood at Shs68 billion, bringing the total expenditure to Shs92 billion. By Financial Year 2009/10, government expenditure on vehicle maintenance alone had escalated to more than Shs100 billion according to the Auditor General’s report, June 2010.

Since the figures have been showing a drastically increasing trend, Uganda Debt Network welcomes the move by Ministry of Finance to regulate government spending on fuel, which is a good start of what most people would call patriotism.

In respect to the 1995 Constitution of Uganda, Article 17 (d) and (i) that provides for protection and preservation as well as combating corruption and misuse or wastage of public property, it is the responsibility of public servants to take save the taxpayers’ money by spending responsibly.

Ms Agaba works with Uganda Debt Network.