19 April 2017

Uganda: To Understand Why Economy Is Failing, Look At the Otafiires

Photo: New Vision
Justice and Constitutional affairs minister Major General Kahinda Otafiire (file photo).

It is budgeting time in parliament. To allow consideration of sector budgets, the speaker suspended the sitting of parliament (plenary) to an unknown date.

The suspension is to allow MPs attend committee meetings that are scrutinizing budgets for various ministries and public institutions.

Each ministry is allocated money according to the importance that the president attaches to it. The ministry of finance theoretically develops a criterion each year, according to the priorities of government (Mr Museveni).

This year, Mr Museveni thinks his government will collect Shs 15 trillion from Ugandans (taxpayers) and borrow or receive grants worth Shs 13 trillion. That is why the budget has been revised from Shs 30 trillion to Shs 28 trillion. In fact, many sectors will receive less money than they received this financial year.

The Constitution, Public Finance Management Act and other laws require government to present this budget to parliament for approval before it is read to the country. The reading by the finance minister is a mere ceremony.

Like the finance ministry, parliament theoretically has powers to revise this budget. Unfortunately, we, at parliament, work on the projections by the finance ministry. They are the ones who claimed next year's budget would be Shs 30 trillion and, again, they are the ones that revised it to Shs 28 trillion.

Of course parliament can reduce or increase amounts allocated to a certain sector, but with NRM majority, that is also difficult. That, in a way, reduces our efforts into another ceremony. For us in the opposition, we make proposals, but they are treated like talk show opinions.

It is, therefore, under this arrangement that the justice and constitutional affairs minister, Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, appeared before our committee on legal and parliamentary affairs last week.

To his credit, Otafiire, a generally nice guy, kept time as he arrived at 10am for an 11 o'clock meeting. Otafiire likes jokes. After cracking some in the corridors of parliament, he asked for the venue of the meeting. I teased him that how could a person like him, who has spent his entire adult life in parliament and government, be so ignorant about where the legal committee sits.

"I came here long ago. Now there are all sorts of creatures like you," he shot back.

We later met in the committee and the light moments continued. Ministers such as Otafiire represent three fundamental things. First, they have served up to the last drop of their energy. They are, therefore, extremely tired and fatigue is written all over their faces.

Otafiire was born on December 29, 1950. He is, therefore, 67 years old. He has been either head of a security organization or a minister in this 31-year-old government. He was part of the five-year Luweero war that brought this government to power.

Although contested, Otafiire claims he is a member of the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) formed in 1971 to fight the Idi Amin government. That means he has been in public life for nearly half a century. Even if he was born a superstar, his body is tired. He is one of those photographed frequently dozing during national functions. With him, you can understand why retirement age in public service is 60 years.

That is the point I made when we were vetting the appointment of my friend Dr Ruhakana Rugunda as prime minister. Rugunda, now coordinator and supervisor of all government programmes by virtue of being prime minister, was born in 1947. He is now 70 years old. These men are no longer looking for school fees for their children.

I have nothing against old people. In fact, my father is now over 90 years old, but we cannot place our country on their tired shoulders. And even if they were not old, they have lost the drive to serve. And that is why it is common to see Otafiire laughing even when a serious matter is raised.

They have no drive to work because they have already lived their future as well. And their boss, Mr Museveni, will officially make 73 years in September.

And as they celebrate their 73rd, 70th, 68th, or 80th birthdays, they are reporting a failing economy to parliament. Of course they work with youthful and young people, but these are mere self-seekers, referred to as aides. The real drivers are the Jjajjas.

They set themselves no targets; if they do, they ignore them within days. That is why Dr Stella Nyanzi is in Luzira prison. Her crime is that she reminded them of the sanitary pads campaign pledge, of course using vulgar language. And it is the vulgar language that they saw and used as an excuse to send her to Luzira for pointing out their flaws.

I spent the Easter holiday in my village Bijaaba, in Kyazanga, and old age is doing wonders there. Trees have started growing on what used to be bare hills.

Reason: the owners of the land have aged and can no longer climb to plant maize and beans there. Of course, banana wilt has also demoralized this once-famous banana-growing area.

With the population growing, it is not possible that we will continue sharing the little the old people are able to produce. Restructuring of administration should have started yesterday. Can the old people be kind enough and retire now?!

The author is Kira Municipality MP.


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