Why President Museveni should dissolve Parliament

Museveni-addressing-journalists-on-age-limitIn one of his recently frequent communiques, President Yoweri Museveni reportedly threatened to dissolve the Parliament if they are forgetting where their power comes from.

His buddy, Omar El Bashir, on the other hand, did not have the patience to ask for rectification before he  shut out those ‘state-funded noise makers.’

Only three days after President Museveni’s threat, we heard the news: Sudan’s Bashir dissolves parliament.

Many believers in the concept of democracy in Uganda were so angry that they rushed to blast President Museveni over social media platforms. Indeed, they would have been right if Uganda had ever been a democracy. Unfortunately, the obvious fact is that Uganda’s institutions are rubber stamps to the Executive’s will.

For instance, while the Constitution clearly states in Chapter One, Article One that, “All powers belong to the people who shall exercise their sovereignty in accordance with this Constitution,” how many times have the people of Uganda actually freely exercised their powers to decide the fate of their country? As it is now in Uganda, all powers belong to the president.

As for Parliament, we are told that it has five major roles: Legislation, debating matters of national interest, oversight over other arms of Government, vetting persons appointed by the President and budget approval. But do we see the Legislature carry out any of its roles independently? Do they even know what their roles are?

Taking an example of the recently approved over the top tax (OTT), levied on Social media connections, we clearly saw the level of ignorance of our MPs, many of whom openly confessed that they did not understand what they were approving.

It is not surprising that of late some of them have started crying out that the institution of Parliament pays for them the OTT tax so that they can use their iPads, also bought using the Ugandan taxpayer’s money without interruption.

We know that Uganda currently has at least 455 Members of Parliament. Each of them pockets a monthly pay of not less than Shs24 million, meaning on average, Ugandans pay Shs10.92 billion every month in salary and allowances to the MPs.  In a year, Ugandans lose at least Shs131 billion as maintenance cost for the MPs. Other benefits include cars bought using the taxpayers’ money and mileage (fuel) allowance to the furthest point of one’s constituency.

But still, whenever there is any matter that requires consultations, we hear of millions of shillings wired to their individual accounts under instruction of the executive, the president to be specific, in the name of facilitation. It is not surprising that many of them have ended up not representing the views of their voters but taking the position of the President.

We have always seen MPs on the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party ticket either go to State House or the President’s country home in Rwakitura to receive lectures on what to do whenever there is a serious matter due to be decided upon by the House. At the end of the day, the position of the President is what the House passes.

Considering these, therefore, do we still need Parliament? Do we have value for the money spent on the Parliamentarians? I think not!

If President Museveni dissolved Parliament today, Uganda would save not less than Shs200 billion annually. If used well, this money could gradually mechanise the agricultural sector, set up irrigation schemes to counter climate change, improve the welfare of our public servants and buy more medicine so that our hospitals don’t run dry.

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THE SEARCH FOR MEDICAL CARE ABROAD: An epidemic that must be treated urgently

In 2003, Ugandans rose up in ‘verbal arms’ against what was largely viewed as unnecessary spending (call it wastage if you like) of public funds by President Museveni’s family when they flew their eldest daughter, Natasha Kainembabazi to Germany for antenatal care.

The practice however, seems to have been embraced by most Ugandans. Over the past years, we have heard about a number of Government Ministers travelling for medical care abroad. We have heard and even fundraised for cancer patients, those suffering kidney failure and many other kinds of diseases to travel and access medical care abroad.

In the recent days, we have seen Mukono Municipality Member of Parliament, Hon. Betty Nambooze, Kyadondo East MP, Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine), Mityana Municipality’s Francis Zaake and the former Inspector General of Police, General Kale Kayihura, travel for medical care in various countries abroad. We have also seen a number of patients travel to India for ‘specialised medical care’ under musician Moses Ssali (Bebe Cool)’s initiative, Golden Heart.

While the importance of the human lives saved from those foreign facilities cannot be under looked, it is also clear that many people fail to be smiled at by such lucks, especially those far away from the city/urban areas where they can easily access and use the media to fundraise for them. Let us take for instance, how much does each Ugandan who travel for medical care abroad spend on their visa application, fee, air ticket, hospital bill, feeding and other basic needs in those foreign countries? And how many households in Uganda have or can afford to raise such sums of money?

As of 2016/17 national household survey, the poverty level in Uganda grew from 19.7 to 21.4 percent. And majority of those who are most affected are people living in rural areas. Yet, not everyone who is not part of that percentage can also afford medical care abroad. This implies that millions of Ugandans are ruled out of life should they get such diseases that require such specialised care.

Basing on those facts therefore, I am moved to question how sustainable this kind of ‘investment’ is. Is it the best thing we can always do to save our people? Are we unable to set up well equipped medical facilities as Ugandans that can handle those ‘extreme’ medical conditions? Do we have the facilities but only lack the professionals? If yes, why not hire them in stead of continuously ‘exporting’ our patients to incur excessively huge costs?

Do we just lack the will of having those facilities in our country as a people? With the high number of investors coming into this country, why not attract those in the medical field too to invest in the country if the government cannot?

Unless we find the answer and prescribe a permanent cure to this disease, hundreds of thousands of Ugandans will continue to die out of curable diseases.

Disbanding NIRA is something all Ugandans should celebrate

In the midst of the boiling anger among Ugandans both within and without over political mishaps, torture and president Museveni’s social media excitement, we wake up today to the news that cabinet, chaired by the president, came up with a resolution to scrap a number of government agencies and merge other, among them the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) and Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA).

From the time i heard the news, i have interacted with a couple of people on the subject. The first question that many of them quickly asked is; where are they taking the employees of those authorities? Well, as far as things still stand, their fate is yet to be determined. Though a number of them may be sent back to job hunt.

Those who follow my page on Facebook must have seen my earlier post in which i said, at least for once i am at par with the government.

Anyone who cared to know should by now be aware that most of those agencies, if not all, were created simply to reward party loyalists and their families. In other wards, one could also put it as, “created to loot from the state coffers,” depending on how they look at the relevance of each authority. Many of them were duplicating roles to be played by departments under government ministries. For instance, UNRA, Uganda Road Fund and the Transport Licensing Board, all taken from the Ministry of Works and Transport, rendering the mother ministry almost jobless.

Forgetting the number of people who will lose their jobs as a result (which jobs they may be able to create or even create better ones due to the extravagant sums of pay most of them have been getting), how much shall we be able to save as a country after the agencies are finally closed?

Most of those agencies are simply spending agencies and not income generating, yet some could not function. Take NIRA for instance. Since its creation, how many National Identity Cards (IDs) have they produced? How many do they produce in a day?

I was at Kololo Airstrip where the authority is headquartered in May. The first day i went there, i reached at 3:48PM. They told me that i was already too late to apply for my national ID renewal. They asked me to go back the next day. I could not find time, so i went about a week later. It was about 2:30PM when i reached the strip. They only gave me the application forms and asked me to return on Monday. It was a Friday.

I filled the forms and returned to submit them in on Monday. I reached at 8 O’Clock in the morning and they told me that i was already late. I had to return the next morning. They told me to be there by 5:00 AM or i fail to apply again. I had a busy schedule for that day and the next two days so i could only return to Kololo on Friday of that week. By 5:05, i was already in Kololo. About twenty other people were already there, chasing the same thing.

I joined the sitting cue. One hour went by and there was no one to attend to us. Two hours clocked and still there was no one. A man appeared minutes after 8:30Am and started addressing us. He directed that those who were not seeking replacements had to relocate to a neighbouring location. Those whose police letters had taken more than two weeks were to go to a nearby police outpost and re-register the loss of their IDs and obtain new letters. And lastly, that those who had only one payment receipt should go and make a second payment in the bank. A fee of shillings 1,000 had been freshly introduced and it was to be paid in the bank alongside another bank charge of between shillings 2,000 to 2,500 depending on the bank you went to.

As people scrambled to go and make the second payment or obtain new police letters, i and one other man engaged the man dressed in civilian clothes. We asked him why the sudden introduction of the new fee and what the fate of people with police letters without expiry dates would be. My letter did not have any expiry timeline. He said the letter was invalid. I asked him why? I had got my letter from Jinja Road Police Station. Actually, i had bout it at a fee of shillings 500.

When we asked him more questions, he got angry at us and started bubbling a lot of non sense. We exchanged bitter words before i left. I have never gone back to apply for the reprint of my national ID. The unfortunate thing is that they charge people the shillings 1,000 to issue another National Identification Number (NIN). They behave as though the numbers they issued on the previous IDs were not stored because, honestly, if you have the number on the system and you can verify that the applicant is the very one, why charge them for another ID number? Why does the immigration office not charge us for another passport number?

Through the days i went there, i interacted with several people. Some of them had applied for the national IDs about a year ago but had not yet got them, yet they promise three months. Even the three months is too much. Immigration office processes passports in just two weeks, yet hundreds of people apply for both new and renewal of passports every working day.

The disbanding of NIRA is therefore, too long overdue. It should have been ten months back or never even formed at all. I am therefore, in a celebratory mood over the disbandment.

Kenya’s crisis exposes the ugly face of the IMF

In the recent days, starting Saturday, September 1, Kenya found itself in a serious crisis caused by a conditional loan the country took from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) years back.

Having committed itself to collect loans and refund the money, the East Africa country blindly stocked her eggs in a damaged basket. Years went down the road before the country realised that its basket actually had holes and all the eggs had fallen off on to rocky grounds. Stuck with no choice and yet it also has to prove itself to the fund, Kenya has imposed a 16 percent tax on fuel products in a bid to try and raise money.

Consequently, fuel dealers have refused to stock fuel after pump prices went up. Matatu operators in response hiked transport fares by an average 18 percent. Agro-chemical dealers hiked their product prices while farmers struggle to increase crop production and set in place food security in the country.

Middle class Kenyans now have to sink their fingers deeper into their pockets in order to fuel their cars, yet their earning either remain constant or even decreases.

For those of us who lived to see Uganda in the early to mid ‘90s do remember when the same fund attached ‘retrenchment’ and privatisation as conditions for our government to access its loan.

Our fathers, mothers, uncles, brothers and many other relatives who served in the military and other government department and ministries lost their jobs. What followed was massive poverty, desperation and frustration.

To date, Uganda is literally auctioned. Institutions like Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB), Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) went down to the dogs. We now see foreign companies, some of which belong to foreign governments are over charging us on basic necessities including electricity which could have been provided by the government at a relatively affordable price.

Commercial activities including agriculture have gone down as farmers fail to get restrictive, high interest rated loans from the privately owned banks.

Given those examples, the loan conditions attached by the IMF is a clear manifestation of its destructive intent towards those that borrow from it. It is therefore, high time African governments asked themselves whether the IMF loans are there to help or destroy our nations.

Arresting midwives is not the solution to the problem of child mothers in Uganda

It is heartbreaking for those of us who travel to various parts of Uganda, seeing girls young enough to be in school, pursuing their dreams already expecting or carrying children they can barely provide for.

In the year 2013/14, i carried out a research in the Acholi districts of Amuru, Gulu, Nwoya and Pader. My finding was that an average 35 percent of primary school girls drop out every year. In Amuru district for instance, at least 20 percent of the school girls dropped out every term. I was to some extent shocked by the statistics. But when you travel the region and meet the women, you will have no option but to believe it.

Today (Thursday August 30, 2018), in the Daily Monitor newspaper (pages 2 and 3 respectively), i read two stories, both talking about the same subject. The first one talks about a World Bank official, Ms Margarita Puerto Gomez, tasking government to counter sexual violence on children . While the next story presents a threat from the State Minister for Youth and Children Affairs, Ms Florence Nakiwala, who reportedly said the government would arrest midwives who will not report the presence of child mothers at their facility to the police .

I will not comment so much on the first story because at least i know that there are stringent laws that deter sexual abuse against children. For instance, the law on defilement has a long time punishment upon the perpetuators that was deterrent enough. It is also being effectively implemented in most cases. However, parents of the girls in most cases fail the government attempt to protect their own daughters by not reporting the cases, accepting bribery to kill the cases or even forcing the girls into marriages.

My major focus will be on the second story. The minister reportedly, said there is no use compiling figures of teenage pregnancies without reporting them to police for apprehension because there is always someone responsible for the pregnancy. It is true that, for any law to be effective, all stakeholders and law abiding citizens must play their roles. But the bigger question is; will arresting midwives end the vice? From my point of view, it will not. Rather, it will worsen the situation in the already bad Ugandan health sector.

First of all, it is an open fact that Uganda is already struggling with inadequacy of health professionals. The rate of maternal and child mortality has been alarming in the past years until foreign governments and organisations came up with projects they supported and still continue to support across the country to reduce the mortality rate.

Part of the reasons for the high mortality rate was the common practice of women seeking antenatal care from traditional birth attendants, many of who were untrained and could not handle certain conditions. Arresting midwives will therefore, drive the country into scarcity, a result of which women will have to return to traditional birth attendants and die massively.

Secondly, should the midwives begin following such government directives, the young girls who are in most cases already traumatised, will not go to the health facilities, either out of fear, family influence or interference from the perpetuators themselves. And since many of them are usually too young to deliver, they will die undocumented in trying to hide from the arm of the law.

Thirdly, Uganda’s health sector is already overwhelmed by the number of patients that turn up everyday to seek medical care. And to say that midwives should report teenage pregnancies to police sound unbecoming because that will affect their service delivery. Where do we expect the midwife who is probably attending to five or ten other women at ago to find the time to run to police and report? And after reporting to police, who will follow the case to ensure that it is not interfered with, considering the nature of our police and justice system?

While the minister could be right in her reasoning, i find it unfortunate to suggest that arresting midwives would end teenage pregnancy in Uganda. Ugandans need more sensitisation and education than legal subjections.

Is Uganda now ready for a national airline?

Grounded
One of the grounded Boeing 707-321C at Entebbe International Airport

I was interacting with a friend of mine a few weeks back over this subject. As we exchanged our thoughts, i told him that i thought it was a good thing for Uganda to have a national airline once again.

I told him about the thousands of young people who would get employed in the airline and the possible economic implications it will have from the household level to the national GDP. But he never saw sense in my argument. In simple terms, he told me that Uganda is just suffering from ‘rural urban excitement’.

His argument was that, the same system that failed Uganda Airlines back in the days is still the same system in authority.

For at least 17 years now, Uganda has been running without a national airline. This came as a result of the grounding of the airline in 2001. At that time, one of the Boeing 707 had crushed in Rome. The other one had been declared junk and unable to run. But the government hopes to see a new set of the carriers hit the sky in April, 2019.

It is said that, while the national airline could have survived much longer, the government forgot the importance of a national carrier and stopped funding it, yet many people who were recommended by government officials were being recruited and a lot of money being directed towards paying their salaries.

Besides, the government is also said to have over relaxed and not protected the national airline from its competitors, paving a wide path for its collapse.

After feeling the pinch of a life without a national carrier, the government is now backtracking to revive the now defunct national airlines. President Museveni argues that having a national airline will save Ugandans US$420 million per year, an amount currently spent on foreign travels and also create employment.

So far, 139 billion shillings has been budgeted in the financial year 2018/19 for the purchase of the aircrafts. The government has also contracted a British company to supply two Airbus A330 800 series and a Canadian company to supply four Bombardier aircrafts. In total, Uganda needs a sum of 1.3 trillion shillings to purchase the planned six aircrafts for the national carrier.

But are we ready for the national airline now? As it is already, Uganda is well known for corruption and nepotism. And as explained above, regime politicians irresponsibly filled in their children, relatives, in-laws and friends who sucked the airlines dry, leading to its collapse.

That practice has not ended yet. To date, many public offices are filled with those specific categories of people. And the revival of the national airlines will no doubt grant politicians more grounds to fill in their party cadres and relatives to offices they don’t deserve. That would not actually matter if only they would perform. But the fact that many of them may not posses the desired skills and still fail to perform, leaves a lot to be desired.

With such bureaucracy and micromanagement in place, the airline may not have the luxury to make independent, yet critical decisions on its own. And such could prove detrimental for its long-term survival, let alone possible corruption scandals that may arise and the unavailability of competent pilots and flight attendants for effective service delivery.

Unless the country addresses those questions, i think the revival of Uganda Airline is not timely. The trillions of shillings may end up in waste.

President Museveni’s car ‘stoning’: why it is not a good PR idea

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The alleged stoned vehicle of President Yoweri Museveni

In the heat of the Arua Municipality by-election due on Wednesday, August 15, Uganda is set on an almost equivalent level of tension as that of the evening of Friday, June 8 when the area Member of Parliament, the late Ibrahim Abiriga, was gunned down near his home in Kawanda, a Kampala suburb.

This follows the series of unfortunate and saddening events including the shooting dead of opposition Member of Parliament, Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine)’s driver, intimidation, confiscation of equipment and sudden disappearance of journalists, and the alleged stoning of President Museveni’s car.

From the surface of it, one wonders why a person would take such a risk amidst the tight security details of the President, let alone the illegality of the act. As the Fountain of Honour, the President’s motorcade is not to be stopped anyhow by anybody, let alone pelting a stone or bullet at it. The Penalt Code Act, Chapter 5:24 says,

“Any person who, with intent to alarm or annoy or ridicule the President – wilfully throws any matter or substance at or upon the person of the President; wilfully strikes the person of the President; or  (c) assaults or wrongfully restrains the person of the President, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.”

But anyone who has seen President Museveni travel knows how much he is guarded. Any attacker would not even get their stone an inch off their finger hold towards the motorcade before they are ‘put out of action.’

Watching the Uganda Police Force’s Spokes Person, Emilian Kayima, drenched in sweat, give the unimpressive narrative during the NBS television’s Morning Breeze show, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VPj-hAaJRQ i was saddened, not by the claim of ‘attack’ on the president’s motorcade, but by the unthought implications of that chosen public relations tool.

For any person who has an idea of public relations, it is very easy to think that security and the ruling NRM are simply presenting this to downplay the murder of Yasin, the killed driver of MP Bobi Wine. And in a way, they could have succeeded in doing that.

However, presenting that as a way of killing the story of the death of Yasin, must have not been properly thought because, outside the short term result, it puts to risk the life of the person of President. Many people are going online to search for what tool and how much force is required to break tempered bullet resistant (bullet proof) glasses. With such information at hand, wrong elements may use it to hurt the President and the country at large.

It is therefore, only prudent that at any time the police, the presidential press unit and all government spokes people do their job, they think beyond the ordinary. It is not just about lying to the country and getting away with it. It is about both the short and long term implications of what we give the public, how we give them and when we give them.