By Agather Atuhaire
Museveni’s New Year message shows lack of focus and solutions to urgent problems, experts say
On November 30, 2011, the Euro Rate Forecast, a website designed to advise clients about currency valuing noted that the Euro had shot up by 2.25 cents to the dollar and called it an “exchange rate volatility”. The year had opened with the Euro trading at 0.730 to the dollar and closed at 0.770; a 4% shift based on monthly averages.
Meanwhile, the Uganda shilling over the same 12 months swung from Shs 2,300 to the dollar in February to Shs 2,900 by September; a 26% spike in just seven months. But when President Yoweri Museveni addressed the nation on New Year eve December 31, 2011, he said “the exchange rate of the Uganda Shilling has not suffered major volatility”. Museveni actually said “economic performance was robust last year.”
In the same speech, he said “inflation has been in single digit over the years and the recent surge caused by rising food and fuel prices has abated”. On the day he spoke, the pump price of premium petrol had shifted from Shs 3,800 per litre to Shs 3,950; a 4% rise in price in just one day.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, Annual Headline inflation for the year ending December 2010 was 3.1%. By October 2011, it had spiked to 30.4% and had eased just a bit to 27% when President Museveni announced to the nation that inflation “has abated”. The government’s stated annual inflation target is 5%. Not surprisingly, therefore, some who listened to Museveni’s New Year message concluded he was not sincere.
“The president needs to be honest with himself first and move quickly to allay the fears of Ugandans,” said Nicholas Opio, a Lawyer and political analyst.
Masaka municipality MP Mathias Mpuga, who doubles as coordinator of Activist for Change led protests against inflation and the rising cost of living that characterised most of 2011 said he had not expected the President “to look into the faces of Ugandans and tell them that lie”.
“At least not this time when it is obvious,” Mpuga said, “He has told lies and given false figures of the growing economy and that is how he has landed us in this economic depression.”
Since the speech Ugandans who had hoped for a relatively better 2012 have lost faith in President Museveni’s ability to improve the economy.
Nicholas Opio says after listening to the address, it is clear there will not be changes in most government policies this year.
He says for there to be changes, there is need for acceptance that there have been fundamental failures in government. Unfortunately, according to him, the President proposed nothing new and will not change anything if according to him everything is well. He predicts 2012 could be worse as the President might be more autocratic in an attempt to quell protests if the social and economic situations do not change.
Indeed, President Museveni did not make a single proposal on how he will intervene in the volatile economy. At a time when the country was seeking short-term tactical interventions to ease the burden of rising prices and concrete proposals stave off further volatility, the President regurgitated only long-term strategic objectives. He re-enunciate the priorities set out in the budget in July 2010, before the full impact of the economic meltdown was felt in the last half of last year. Focusing on infrastructure (roads, railways and energy), improving agriculture, creating jobs, and improving service delivery are strategically prudent but tactically inadequate.
Museveni’s promise to transform agriculture from subsistence to commercial by moving farmers away from using rudimentary methods has been made time and again and many have wondered how he will transform it if all he did was scrap taxes on hoes; a rudimentary tool, in this financial year’s budget.
His plan to ease congestion and traffic jam in Kampala city by expanding key highways, constructing flyovers, and introducing the Bus Rapid Transit System in the city was first approved in 2004 and has not happened eight years later. Will the new-found friends, the Chinese government that promises to fund these projects and others prove more productive than the World Bank/EU? The same question can be asked about the proposed new Kampala- Entebbe Express highway.
The President did not mention that riots that erupted over the erratic power supply and inability of Umeme to efficiently and effectively distribute the meager power generated. Business people who battled acute power shortage in 2011 and are demanding the ouster of Umeme wanted to hear Museveni’s position. Instead the President repeated his attacks on the 6th parliament which he claims sabotaged the early construction of Bujagali Dam. He, however, did not explain why the 50MW promised from Bujagali by 2011 have not come? So who is to believe his promise that Bujagali will be completed this year and work will advance on Karuma, Ayago and Isimba dams?
Another monster of 2011 was corruption. The president in admitted that corruption remains a hindrance to development and that his government is committed to stumping it out. He noted that it was the reason the unit of constructing the Mbarara-Kabale-Katuna road is more than double of what will be spent on the Rwandan side. But few believed him when he warned he would catch the “selfish” officers skimming off the project.
President Museveni has talked about his government adopting zero tolerance on corruption in all his speeches. But Ugandans do not agree with this statement as the president has seemed keen on protecting corrupt officials last year more than ever, save for the former minister in charge of the Presidency, Kabakumba Matsiko, who many have described as a `sacrificial lamb’.
President Museveni has shielded some ministers implicated in the oil bribery scandal notably Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and internal affairs minister Hilary Onek when parliament demanded that they step aside to pave way for investigations.
While commending the work of the 9th parliament in exposing corruption, the President rightfully urged them to verify all claims and work with the investigative institutions. However, questions remain as to why he keeps the IGG in an insecure acting capacity.
“We welcome his move to join the fight but we want him to act quickly instead of keeping thieves around while they plunder the nation all in the name of investigations,” said MP Gerald Karuhanga (Youth West) who tabled the bribery allegations against the ministers.
“The president should act because if he does not we shall,” continued Karuhanga. “I for instance do not know why these fellows are still hanging around (Kiddu Makubuaya and Syda Bumba) because the president should have enough evidence against them.”
Former Attorney General Kiddu Makubuya and gender minister Syda Bumba are implicated for their role in the illegal compensation of city businessman Hassan Basajabalaba which cost the government Shs142 billion.
But MP Mpuga said Museveni lacks the will to fight corruption “and that is why it begins in his bedroom”.
Makerere university law professor Jean Barya said the NRM government is constructed on the basis of corruption and it has ensured it makes it a culture in all areas of the society.
“The president’s talk on corruption is only propaganda,” Barya told The Independent. He was pessimistic about the President’s ability to fight corruption if he does not make major changes on the way government is structured.
On the oil sector that has created a lot of controversy and confusion in the country lately, the president pledged to ensure a prudent management of the oil revenues through the establishment of a strong and appropriate legal frame work.
Observers have described president Museveni’s speeches as more of just a norm than a means of addressing issues affecting the nation. Political analyst and researcher Fredrick Golooba Mutebi says what the president says does not matter but taking action does. “The president always makes promises that he never fulfills,” Golooba told The Independent. “There is nothing he said this time that he has never said.”
Golooba cited the state of Mulago national referral hospital which the opposition legislators led by opposition leader Nandala Mafabi described as being “in intensive care conditions” when they visited the hospital last week. “You cannot have a national hospital in that state when the president has talked about improving service delivery year in year out,” Golooba said.
Karuhanga wondered why the president cannot promise only things he can offer rather than making his speeches a sham. “Let him deliver what he promised years ago,” said Karuhanga. “Does he think Ugandans will be fed by only talking?”
He said he has all doubts that even half of what the President said will be fulfilled. “This is not new and nothing will change unless he appoints a totally new cabinet,” he said. “You cannot succeed with a government full of thieves and selfish individuals.”
Nicholas Opio agrees with Karuhanga that Museveni needs to constitute a new and credible cabinet to rebuild the confidence of Ugandans.
Masaka municipality MP Mathias Mpuga said the president should have apologized to the country instead of making his empty promises. “He should have apologized to the country for his negligence and the atrocities his government has committed,” he said, “He has told Ugandans a lot of lies and wasted a lot of time saying things that are only good on paper”.
Jean Barya says Ugandans should not expect 2012 to be any better because the forces that made last year unbearable still exist and will not be curbed by Museveni’s empty promises.
“If nothing is done on this big and unnecessary government expenditure and the way the resources are allocated, Ugandans will continue to face tough economic times,” said Barya.
He said Museveni’s government has created a trend which if not checked will worsen the situation this year. “The economy might not do any better than last year if there are no fundamental changes in government policies,” he added.