Financial Crisis Hits Uganda’s National Library

National Library of Uganda Grapples with Budget Constraints Amid Government Restructuring
PHOTO - NLU - National Library of Uganda Grapples with Budget Constraints Amid Government Restructuring
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The National Library of Uganda (NLU) is currently facing financial difficulties as it implements its plan, which has been extended for the third consecutive year. These challenges stem from the government’s ongoing restructuring of agencies, commissions, and authorities.

The government had set the latest commencement date for this restructuring for December, following a communication from the Public Service Ministry on May 23. The actual changes are expected to take effect on July 1, 2024, under an adjusted blueprint. However, the implementation of these changes depends on the conclusion of the legal framework review.

As a result, the Ministry of Public Service directed affected institutions in May to only recruit new staff in critical areas and to award contracts that do not extend beyond June 2024. Contracts awarded prior to February 2021, when the rationalization process began, are exceptions and can run beyond 2024, provided they include termination clauses based on the recommendations of the rationalization without additional costs.

According to Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, this approach is an attempt to shield the government from potential litigation arising from the reforms, which could result in job losses and changes in job grades and pay.

The National Library of Uganda’s financial situation has been significantly impacted. Adonia Katungisa, the library’s director, revealed that they currently have access to only Shs210 million of their Shs940 million annual budget. This equates to just Shs52.5 million available each quarter.

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To cope with this financial strain, the library has reduced its operations and staffing levels, keeping only nine staff members active while advising the remaining 12 to stay home as they await the results of a supplementary budget request. Major planned activities, such as the inspection of public libraries, professional development training, and rent payments, have been suspended. The available budget is now primarily allocated to covering utilities and staff salaries for the eight retained employees.

An incapacitated library may be unable to fulfill its 22 functions as outlined in the National Library Act of 2003, which includes providing Ugandans with free access to information. The library also faces potential eviction from its rented premises, putting the employment of professional staff in jeopardy, as contracts cannot be renewed without adequate funding.

Furthermore, out of the 157 government agencies reviewed under the Rationalization of Government Agencies and Public Expenditure Exercise (RAPEX) of 2018, 80 agencies were retained as semi-autonomous, 33 were returned to their line ministries, and 35 were merged into 19 entities. These changes have reduced the budgets of affected institutions to only 20 percent of their original allocations and suspended the appointment of new governing boards since 2018.

The planned transfer of the NLU from the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development (MoGLSD) to the Ministry of Education and Sports, originally scheduled for July 1, has been postponed to the next financial year.

This restructuring is expected to result in 1,565 government employees losing their jobs, with some being absorbed into newly created departments. The government anticipates annual savings of Shs1 trillion ($267.8 million) after successfully implementing the restructuring roadmap.

The National Library of Uganda, located on Buganda Road in Kampala, was established by a 2003 Act, replacing the Public Libraries Board founded in 1964. It serves as Uganda’s legal deposit library and is responsible for collecting, managing, preserving, and disseminating the nation’s documented heritage. This includes books, periodicals, and research reports, often obtained through donations and legal deposits by authors and publishers.

While there are approximately 60 public libraries across Uganda, these are managed by local governments, with the NLU providing guidance and support. However, many public libraries face challenges, including inadequate funding, staffing, and resources.

The Uganda Library and Information Association (ULIA) has petitioned the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development (MoGLSD) to address the NLU’s budgetary concerns. ULIA President Francis Ekwaro’s August 15 petition highlighted the library’s lack of budget support and expressed concerns about potential job terminations without notice or compensation.

ULIA has made seven demands in its petition, including the immediate restoration of normal operations at the NLU, respecting the work contracts of professional staff in accordance with the law, protecting the right to work and pay of professional staff, and allocating adequate resources as previously allocated before the rationalization.

Additionally, ULIA has called for government support for the NLU and other libraries, preservation of the country’s national documentary heritage, and the assignment of a new piece of land for the construction of a modern library.

In response to ULIA’s petition, MoGLSD urged patience, awaiting the outcomes of the rationalization process as guided by the Ministry of Public Service. However, ULIA remains unsatisfied with this response and plans to escalate the matter to higher authorities.

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