Last year did not end in style. Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) is under pressure to collect as much money as possible to fill the gap that has been created by the withdrawal of donor aid.
The donors, mainly Nordic countries and Great Britain, withdrew their aid to Uganda after massive corruption was discovered in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
The scandals in the OPM and the ministry of Public Service (Pension department) saw billions of shillings diverted by staff in those offices to personal use. These unexplained stories left the donors with no choice but to withdraw their aid until we learn how to account for the donations.
In the end, URA has to face the pressure to ensure that we balance the budget since our benefactors have withdrawn their generous hand. That also means serious belt-tightening for the tax-paying community. It has not been easy because the government is the biggest business person in terms of initiating requests for supplies. Trouble is, the government does business with individuals and companies, but it never pays in time.
In some cases, it means that some companies will have to borrow money from banks in order to pay URA, lest they face punitive fines for failing to meet their tax obligations in time. This has an impact on the circular flow of money in the country. Those who are contacted to offer a certain service, like employees, may not be paid in time. And this causes some strain on the relationship between workers and employers.
Some workers have loans which have to be repaid on particular dates, and if they fail, they may be fined. The workers cannot save as they have to borrow to sustain themselves and when they get paid after inflation has battered their salaries, they pay back to the creditor. It is basically digging one hole to fill another. As if that is not bad enough, Standard and Poor, a global financial credit rating agency, lowered Uganda's credit rating from B-stable to B-minus.
This downgrading can have disastrous effects on a country's ability to borrow money and attract investors. Investors, who may need government guarantees, may not succeed in getting them and if they do, they may not be honoured by the lending agencies. Ultimately, a Ugandan who may not even have benefitted from the loot of some few individuals will suffer.
The money will remain with the corrupt, services like hospitals will remain inaccessible to the poor, and investments will be restricted to only those who have access to capital.
But the government can change all this. The fight against corruption is not as complicated as they want us to believe. Government should allow institutions such as the Inspectorate of Government and Police to do their work; we need to have laws that respond to our needs and circumstances that obtain on the ground.
This gloomy picture notwithstanding, we celebrated 50 years of independence even if we had more ruins than achievements to show for the half a century we have been in charge of our destiny. We can't explain why we have children suffering from nodding disease, a condition that some doctors attribute to poor nutrition. How can a country so gifted by nature have people suffering from malnutrition?
Busoga also threw up some strange scenarios. Our brothers and sisters there failed to agree on who should be their Kyabazinga, as yet another epidemic of jiggers broke out. Medical experts say this is a preventable problem if people can keep clean. It is an indictment on the leadership of a community, from family to country, if elementary principles of personal hygiene are not well-observed.
And we still have ministers who believe in the rule of the gun in order to enforce order. The minister of state for Works, John Byabagambi, wants Police to be given powers to shoot on sight whoever is found removing road signposts. Byabagambi says when Police try to arrest the culprits, they slip away, but he believes they wouldn't run away from the bullet. He adds that stealing road signs is equivalent to murder. So those who steal them, in the minister's wisdom, should be killed without trial.
The Uganda National Roads Authority has lost about 120 signposts to vandals, who use them for all manner of private purposes. This is criminal. But our response manifests our biggest challenge: It is not the problems we face that will shape our destiny. Rather, it is our ability to correctly analyse the problem and the strength to swallow the bitter medicine that will separate us from failed and anarchic states.
The author is the Business Development Director, The Observer Media Ltd.