I think all development economists and practitioners would agree that transparency is crucial in the distribution and spending of funds. After reading this article about President Museveni in Uganda, though, I question whether everyone is using the same definition of transparency.
Here is the now infamous photo of Museveni giving $100,000 worth of cash in a white garbage bag to a youth group. Note that he also gave out a minibus, a truck and 15 motorcycles at the same gathering. The photo has stirred outrage in Uganda, as it is an obvious tactic to buy the youth vote in an area of the country where the president is weak. The government, however, declares that the bag of cash was done in the name of transparency:
“Minister for the Presidency Frank Tumwebaze defended the donation, ‘Quite a few times people have requested the president for money and have stolen it. Giving it in broad day light means that the youth can see who has their money,’ he said. ‘The president is not taking the money to Las Vegas, he’s supporting income-generating schemes.'”
Unfortunately, Museveni has never shown a lot of respect for transparency. For instance, he typically runs out of money halfway through the year and asks for supplemental funds. The article notes that “Lawmakers approved $23 million for the president’s official household in the last budget, but at least $74 million has already been spent and more will be needed before the year is up, according to lawmakers handling the presidency’s latest budget proposal.”
The critics, making some sound counterpoints, note that:
a. “It sets a bad example in a country that depends on foreign donors to finance about 25 percent of its budget.”
b. “There should have been a system to make sure the youth spend the money properly.”
c. “There’s no system of accountability to make sure we get it back if these youth mismanage it.”
Indeed, it’s one thing to show the donation in public, it’s another to just hand over bags of cash with no accountability, no bureaucratic system of fund distribution, and no follow-up.