Officials from the defence ministry have declined to reveal the number of Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers, instead asking legislators to approve an extra 22 billion Shillings for food.

Members of Parliament sitting on parliament’s budget committee had asked for the force number to determine the food consumption per capita of each UPDF soldier. But the defence Permanent Secretary (PS) Rosette Byengoma said matters relating to the number of the force are confidential and classified.

Her response left the MPs confused as to how they can budget for a force number they do not know.

At this point, budget committee chairperson Amos Lugoloobi appealed to the Ministry of Defence officials led by state minister Col. Charles Okello Engola to be considerate of the small resource envelope when budgeting for items like food which he said takes a huge sum of money.

Lugoolobi appealed to officials from the ministry to come up with innovative ways of trying to lower the cost of feeding soldiers.

According to the PS Byengoma, the ministry was in the financial year 2016/2017 allocated a total food budget of 35.9 billion Shillings against the required 68.6 billion Shillings hence a short fall of 32.7 billion Shillings.

She noted that only 22 billion Shillings was given for supplementary budget still leaving a gap of 10.7 billion Shillings of unpaid food bills that her ministry is going to cross over with in the coming 2017/2018 financial year budget.

Byengoma mentioned increase in the number of soldiers due to recruitment and increase of food prices as causes for the shortfall. She said that beans are bought between the range of 2450 to 3000 Shillings per kilogramme while a kilogramme of posho is bought at between 2,100 and 2,800 Shillings.

Byengoma further noted that her ministry purchases a kilogramme of rice at between 4,000 to 4,500 Shillings while a kilogramme of Sugar ranges between 3,900 to 6,000 Shillings.

Lugoloobi, the Ntenjeru North MP noted that prices at which the ministry purchases food items is a matter of concern saying that a wholesale buyer cannot purchase goods at a retail price.

Kachumbala County MP Patrick Isiagi noted that the country is relatively peaceful and that the defence ministry should recruit less than those retiring so that the budget is not strained.

According to the defence ministry, the item of feeding caters for troops in operations, troops in units across the country, soldiers in training schools, personnel on recruitment exercise, patients, and soldiers participating on different ceremonies among others.

– URN