NAIROBI, 15 June 2007 (IRIN) - In their budget proposals for 2007-2008, Kenya and Tanzania pledged to boost spending on education and health, while Uganda set aside funds for rehabilitating the conflict-ravaged north, where internally displaced persons (IDPs) are returning to their villages.
Finance ministers of the three countries made the pledges when they simultaneously unveiled their national budgets on 14 June.
Kenyan Finance Minister Amos Kimunya announced that the education budget would be increased by 11 percent. Some of the extra money will be used to hire 11,000 teachers. The country's free primary education scheme, which is in its fifth year of implementation, would benefit from an extra 8.1 billion shillings [US$122 million].
Kenya's health ministry would also receive more money. "Our aim is to shift from curative services to enhancing immunisation coverage while prioritising preventive health services to effectively tackle HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other epidemics," Kimunya said.
Tanzanian Finance Minister Zakia Meghji announced substantial increases in spending on education, health and infrastructure: "Those sectors have a great impact on poverty reduction," said Meghji.
About 18 percent of the country's budget would be spent on education, 12.8 percent on roads and 10 percent on health, while 6.2 percent would fund agriculture and 5.1 percent will be used on water services.
Chellenges to Tanzania's education system include a shortage of teachers and teaching aids at all levels, according to Juma Ngasongwa, the planning, economy and empowerment minister.
Ngasongwa said the government was concerned over high maternal and infant mortality rates, blaming them on the limited number of dispensaries, health centres and hospitals.
He described HIV/AIDS as one of the major challenge to the country's development efforts, saying an estimated two million people were infected. More resources will be directed at enhancing awareness and making anti-retroviral drugs more readily available.
More funds for northern Uganda
Ugandan Finance and Planning Minister Ezra Suruma said funds would be made available for post-conflict reconstruction and development of the north. IDPs in the region are returning to their homes from camps where they have spent much of the past two decades as the government battled the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal insurgency that frequently targeted civilians.
"Continuing the pacification and development of Northern Uganda and the Karamoja region is a priority in the financial year 2007-2008 Budget. The resettlement of persons now residing in internally displaced persons camps that began last financial year will be completed in FY 2007-2008," Suruma said.
"In addition to maintaining the Uganda shillings 18.6 billion [$11 million] provision to support resettlement, I am allocating a further 5 billion [$3 million] specifically for the provision of water in Northern Uganda," he added.
Suruma told IRIN that aid donors would also fund rehabilitation programmes in northern Uganda, saying the restoration of peace in the region would stimulate economic growth.
Relief and Disaster Preparedness Minister Tarsis Kabwegyere told reporters on 15 June that the government would like to see more people return to their villages.
"Government policy is to empty the IDP camps and resettle people back to their villages as soon as possible. But people are still in the camps since the peace talks began." Peace talks between the government and the LRA intended to end the conflict in northern Uganda are under way in Southern Sudan.
Aid agencies estimate that about 200,000 people have gone back home, and that up to 1.2 million others, 80 percent of them women and children, were still in the camps.