12 April 2019

Uganda: It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman, No, Hell, It's Just an Insulting Army of Frogs

opinion

The Banyankole of Western Uganda have a saying about a suitor who offers an insulting bride price to his intended in-laws.

The Banyankole culture revolves around cattle and even the poorest family will accept nothing less than a cow for their daughter's hand in marriage.

The suitor in the saying, instead of offering a cow, offered the girl's parents a few frogs! When they protested, the foolish man raised the number of frogs and he was chased away.

Deputy Speaker of parliament Jacob Oulanya, currently steering the House alone because Speaker Rebecca Kadaga is away with health problems, last week felt and sounded like an Ankole parent of a girl whose suitor tried to offer him frogs for her hand.

The Ministers of Works and of Finance, Monica Azuba and Matia Kasaija respectively, had been in and out of parliament's budget committee where they kept making poor presentations about the relaunch of the national carrier, Uganda Airlines, for which they sought billions of shillings from the taxpayer.

Botched up shareholding, patched up company registration papers and repeated apologies characterised the ministers' presentations.

Looking like he wanted to throw up, Oulanya said inept government officials were lucky he is not Uganda's president, otherwise he would have sacked them.

But parliament all the same had to pass the money the ministers were requesting because it was an emergency, otherwise the country would in a few days miss a contractual deadline and lose its deposit to the aircraft manufacturers.

The night before Deputy Speaker Oulanya vented his frustration, government spokesman Ofwono Opondo wanted to cry at the confusion exhibited by the ministers before the budget committee.

So disappointed was Opondo that he recounted on camera an earlier unfortunate presentation by the finance minister before parliament.

It is however not surprising that well-meaning public officials are joining the public in moaning about the performance of colleagues from the same ruling party. The government right now can do with a bigger dose of public confidence following recent episodes of poor economic oversight.

The Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises has just finished scrutinising the way the central bank closed seven commercial banks and the findings were shocking.

No reports detailing the procedures followed in closing the banks could be found and embarrassing improprieties in bank supervision were unearthed.

And now here is another state enterprise being created when its registration and shareholding is unclear to the line ministers. Usually, the state invests in an enterprise under an Act of parliament.

Last time it invested in a hotel without such an Act, again under time pressure because a Commonwealth summit was coming to town, three Cabinet ministers were slapped with criminal charges. Hopefully ministers Kasaija and Azuba have their lawyers on standby.

Uganda certainly needs an airline, with Entebbe Airport handling 1.6 million passengers a year, of whom 60 per cent are Ugandans.

But because there hasn't even been a proper burial of the old Uganda Airlines, whose name was actually grabbed by some speculators, and with panicky ministers registering the carrier under a different name to avoid the old airline's creditors as the government spokesman disclosed, it is not surprising that some people are seeing frogs instead of cows in Kasaija and Azuba's package.

Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala.

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