By Peter Nyanzi
President’s frustration, lamentations at poor service delivery fail to lift population from hopelessness
Of course it will be built, the question is when?” was a mechanic’s terse response to President Yoweri Museveni’s assertion during the State of the Nation Address on June 7 that the 600 MW Karuma dam “would be built.”
Ideally, the address is supposed to fulfill a constitutional obligation by giving accountability of what has been done in the past 12 months as well as appraising the country about the plans and strategies of government for the next twelve months.
Analysts said the address did little if any to the achievement of those objectives. Though some NRM legislators said the speech was a rallying call to fellow leaders, critics were of the view that the president failed to decimate a sense of hopelessness in the population.
Karuma Dam, seen as the missing piece to solving Uganda’s perennial energy puzzle, has been in the President’s speeches for the last so many years. But by the time the president made his speech on June 6, the procurement process for the dam had hit a dead end, as allegations of corruption took their toll on one of the country’s flagship projects.
Originally, the plan was that the government would foot the bill for the dam’s construction from the Energy Fund – set up by the government to ensure that the country does not depend on donors.
In an apparent shift in policy out of apparent frustration over the delay, the president said that there is “even the possibility that we may get good and cheap funding for it so that we can switch our own money to something else.”
Reacting to the address, various analysts said the MPs , who go through a hassle to listen to him, and citizens who spend a long time preparing to hear the address, expect a lot more than promises of “possibilities” from the chief executive officer.
Angelo Izama, an energy policy analyst, went as far as describing it as “institutionalised procrastination.”
But apart from the citizens, the apparent procrastination has left a lot of people frustrated, including the President himself – his “main concerns,” which include the socio-economic transformation of our society and economy, notwithstanding.
In fact as a fighter, Museveni described his main concern as “the battle for socio-economic transformation”. But it is a battle that has apparently exasperated him and left him wounded and exhausted.
By his own confession, the bottlenecks or “the 10 strategic bottlenecks” as he referred to them, are well known, but conquering them once and for all is proving to be harder to crack than the pre-liberation enemies of the NRM. Long wars can be frustrating and energy sapping, especially if the enemy you are fighting is well-known to you.
According to the President, the “bottlenecks” include: ending ideological disorientation; building the State pillars to ensure that the State is capable of governing people and protecting them; developing the human resource through education and the improved health for all.
The others are; promoting the private sector, developing the infrastructure (especially electricity, the railways, the roads, ICT, etc); modernising agriculture; modernising services; integrating the African market to assist the private sector; and ensuring democracy.
So what have we achieved on all those fronts in the past year? That is what the critics have been quick to ask.
MP Muwanga Kivumbi says every year, Ugandan tax payers and donors give President Museveni’s government trillions of shillings to improve social services and develop the country. The state of the nation address, he said, is the one opportunity that tax payers have to get accountability for those resources.
Basing on out-puts instead of inputs, how many classrooms have been added to the education infrastructure? What addition has been made to improve health services? Indeed, the critics said the address lacked these critical details about government performance particularly on key issues.
Also, the President remained tight lipped on security issues, particularly the recent ramblings in the army, the closure of media houses for more than a week, peacekeeping effort in Somalia, the suspension of millions of dollars of aid by development partners over corruption and the Maladministration in Kampala City.
“If the President does not talk to Ugandans about these issues, who will?” an analyst who did not want to be named asked.
Instead, the president decided to dwell on regrets over what would have been achieved if people had done this or that. The real policy actions that the government would undertake to deal with the so-called “strategic bottlenecks” were conspicuously absent from the speech, according Kivumbi.
Uganda Federal Alliance president Beti Kamya described it as “too superficial” and a re-launch of Vision 2040, which in itself is more of an NRM Manifesto” and not a document for all Ugandans.
“It has been going for the last 27 years and it has become a ritual, a chant, completely devoid of conviction and passion,” she said.
A few months ago, the President actually launched the Vision 2040, an ambitious plan that will set the development agenda that will propel Uganda to middle income status by 2040. However, he only made a passing reference to it in his speech, which some have described as a “missed opportunity” to sell the plan to the citizenry.
The speech was littered with things and generalities that needed to be addressed, but no mention was made about who will do them apart from urging this or that ministry to do this or that and urging “everybody do their assignment.”
Despite the usual bravado, underlying frustration was clearly evident when the president lamented the “failure of some of the actors to do their assignments.”
But at no time was the frustration more evident than when he came to the oil and gas, which he said is taking long because of his “haggling” with the oil companies.
“Although we did not, initially, have interest in a pipeline, our commercial partners, the oil companies seem to have a big interest in it as do their financiers we are told,” he said. He pointed to the “failure” by these parties “to understand the new dynamics in Africa.”
Even the gag on the Third world being an “endangered species” did little to conceal the frustration. “I have agreed to this re-packaging because, whatever the packaging, much of the money is ours – whether it goes through the refinery or through the pipeline,” he said, as he called on everyone to support the pipeline. “We need the money to build our infrastructure and to do other important things,” he said.
On investment, the President lamented that the Code of Investment and a one-stop-centre for registering and enabling investments “have never worked.”
It was easy to see why most of his listeners smiled sheepishly when he said he would “insist that this Investment Authority becomes a real one-stop-centre.” While the president urged various public institutions to “correct their ways” and lamenting about projects that “we have long been promoting without success” critics were wondering what policy actions are in place to support local investors. It was not lost on them that part of the problem is that Museveni has turned himself into one-stop-centre of everything.
The glaring lack of leadership on promoting the agriculture sector was also apparent from the speech as he cited “disappointments” in agriculture and fisheries. “What is amazing is the lack of seriousness by many of our actors,” the president said, adding for instance that the zoning strategy had failed to work since 1996.
“It is a big shame. It is a type of suicide,” the President said referring to over fishing in Lake Victoria. However, critics pointed to a glaring lack of policy direction on the fishing industry in the country, which the government and not the individual ministers, is mandated to address.
The president further appeared to vent his frustration on the media for “jubilating” that Museveni will have a hard time making the State of the Nation Address this year, because the promises he made in 2012 were not fulfilled.
Citing “limited resources,” Museveni said the media and the opposition should not think that Ugandans cannot understand the situation. However, critics said Ugandans are wise enough to know that the main problem is because the money was stolen by officials in his government and the donors withheld theirs in protest over the wanton thefts.
If anything was needed to show how little faith Ugandans have in the President’s efforts to fight corruption, it was the laughter and jeers when he said something was being done about it.
“The evil of corruption is being handled,” he said, amidst wild jeers. “You saw what happened to the officers who were accused of stealing money in the office the Prime Minister and in the Ministry of Public service by holding ghost seminars, in 2011.”
His assertion that the thieves were “easier to handle” because the NRM had handled “bigger problems” appeared to fall on deaf ears. Even his promise to “give a special address on corruption” did not appear believable.
This is because in the same speech in 2011, he promised to constitute a Committee to investigate political leaders and senior public officers implicated in corruption-related scandals, which is yet to be implemented.
No wonder, Kamya says, there is a need for Parliament to review the whole concept of the State of the Nation address so that Ugandans can have “a more impassioned speech.