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SACCOs have left Busoga poor

By Isaac Mufumba

Are they a means to a political rather than social-economic end?

For most of the last part of 2009, government was dolling out food to sections of the population in West Nile, eastern and northern Uganda, following a famine that ravaged those areas leaving at least 50 people dead.

The famine struck nearly four years after President Museveni traversed the country to ‘educate’ Ugandans about Prosperity for All or Bona Bagagawale, which was later tied to NRM’s 2006 campaign promise to transform Uganda into a ‘united, stable, peaceful and modern industrial country’.

While officially unveiling the programme on October 08, 2007, Museveni portrayed a country of households with enough food and with financial security derived daily, short and long term incomes translating into Shs.20 million a year.

The realisation of this dream was not pegged to a timeline, but three years since it was unveiled, production is on the decline and food and financial insecurity lurk.

Statistics from FAO indicate that more than 68 percent of Ugandans are food insecure and unable to meet the recommended food calorie intake of 2000 calories per day. FAO’s Country Representative, Percy Misika, also at the time warned of the possibility of drought and hunger caused by climate change.

Perhaps sensing the futility of its claim to make every Ugandan peasant rich, the government switched the language to the more digestible Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisations (SACCOs).

Unfortunately the creature’s hair might have changed but its offspring did not.

It’s now emerging that Former Vice President and now President Museveni’s advisor on microfinance Dr Specioza Wandira Kazibwe on SACCOs is under the spotlight for squander Shs 300 million of SACCO money.

Those developments look like an indictment of bona bagagawale. Doubts about its practicality abound and one cannot help but ask whether it is not a means to a political rather than a social economic end.

Former Jinja Municipality East MP, Daudi Kamusaala, now a lecturer at Mbarara University, is quick to dismiss it as ‘a charade and an impractical joke’.

He argues that unlike programmes like the Poverty Eradication Action Plan, bona bagagawale lacks a blueprint to govern its implementation, adding that the closest you get is an obscure paper titled ‘The plan to achieve prosperity for all Ugandans: Understanding bona bagagawale’, which lists 14 areas of intervention.

Quoting the paper, he says that government is relying on the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) and the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) to ‘train farmers in the use of fertilisers, pesticides, farm machinery and irrigation provide improved seeds and show farmers how to plant’ while ‘UPE and USE are expected to improve the people’s managerial capacity.

This reliance, he says, is not governed by policy; it lacks specific funding for its activities and has created a scenario where public officials are being politically pressured to perform functions outside their job descriptions.

Such working conditions, he says, have led to haphazard implementation and failure.

But Government Chief Whip, Daudi Migereko disagrees.

‘Hon Wabudeya tabled a paper before parliament so it is not true that there is no blue print, but what is wrong with different government programmes working together?’ he asks.

However, doubts about the practicality and genuineness of the programme are not confined to apparent lack of clear policies. There are issues evolving around mismanagement and embezzlement of funds, broken promises, shortfalls in funding and lethargic implementation of the programme.

Laxity in supervision levels has led to cases of abuse and embezzlement as these cases show.

2006: Youths blow Shs 300 million

Early in 2006 local youth leaders and Gen. Salim Saleh’s aides dipped their sticky fingers into a Shs.300 million kitty meant for youth economic empowerment projects in Busoga.

Meant to be a revolving fund to finance youth activities in agriculture, poultry and animal husbandry, horticulture and aquaculture, the money was released at the height of the general elections’ campaigns and channeled through the Seventh of July Youth Cooperative Movement.

The aims of the cooperative which was formed on July 7, 2005 and launched by General Saleh were to foster unity and improve incomes of the youth in Busoga.

It had therefore been expected that by the middle of 2007, youth-led farms churning out food crops, fruits, dairy, poultry and piggery products, would be in all Busoga’s districts, but that was not to be.

So grotesque was the debacle that Gen. Saleh while appearing on talk show on  Jan.08, 2008 acknowledged that money had been squandered.

‘In Busoga the youth were given Shs.300 million, today they can’t account for a single shilling,’ said Saleh, who was at the time the Micro Finance State Minister.

He blamed the fiasco on ill-preparedness and lack of capacity to handle the funds, but insiders blamed it on ill timing of releases of funds and lack of supervision which enabled unscrupulous individuals to change leadership and access the money.

The insiders say that release of the money in the middle of an electoral campaign was always going to make it look like a campaign token.

Though the cooperative was formed by Richard Mulondo, Emmy Mitala, James Musaazi, Geoffrey Byanfisi, Abubaker Kirunda and William Tidhomu, no sooner had the money been released than a palace coup occurred. Mulondo’s executive was ejected and replaced with one that had Abubaker Kirunda as Chairman, Richard Mbaziira as Vice Chairman and James Musaazi as Secretary. This reportedly kicked off the money grabbing.

A summary of disbursement of funds, which was sent to Gen. Saleh in January 2008 as preliminary accountability shows that Associations got Shs69,705,250; Administration Shs45 million; a technical team comprised of Gen. Saleh’s aides got Shs 42 million, while individuals and directors got Shs 142,715,510

Now that bona bagagawale is structured in such a way that it evolves around households, the youths being simply parts of the households are ineligible for funding and are anxious to find funding for their activities. One way is by reactivating the organisation, but just how possible is this?

‘There is no doubt about government’s commitment to fight graft. You have firmly heard the president, its zero tolerance to corruption. We shall study this case and see how best to intervene’ he says.

2005: Unfulfilled promises

In January 2005, Busoga was divided into seven zones. 1,000 farmers from zone were to be trained and facilitated to move into commercial farming. For five years starting with the financial year 2005/2006, Busoga was meant to receive Shs 2.2 billion, but not a single penny was ever released.

Moses Kizige, who was meant to marshal the programme in Busoga says that it was not followed up after he lost the Bugabula North seat in 2006.

‘The money was budgeted for, but I lost the election. MPs were twice summoned by the Kyabazinga, Kadaga and Migereko, but they did not show up. We even sent them documents, but they did not follow up the matter’ he says, but this raises eyebrows.

How can the implementation of a major government programme be dependent on the whims of a handful of MPs?

Unrealistic projects

Yet even if the money had been released, it is doubtful that it would have had a major impact because division of Shs 2.2 billion among 7,000 farmers would see each of them get a paltry Shs 314,285.

Activities that had been lined up included fish, dairy, beef and poultry farming;   piggery and goat rearing and farming in bananas, coffee and horticulture.

Moses Magumba who was until in charge of fish farming outreaches at the Fisheries Resource Research Institute (FIRRI), says that at least Shs 3.3 million is required for one to start a 600 square meter fish pond.

Dairy and beef farming might appear realistic as it might be possible to get a three months old hybrid calf at Shs 600,000, but how would the farmer construct infrastructure, feed and treat the animal?

Such deficits would definitely dictate a shift to non-capital intensive activities like vegetable and fruit farming, which would make it practically impossible for the farmers to earn the Shs 20 million per year which Museveni dreams of.

Even if the funding shortfalls are bridged, there are still concerns about lack of definitive markets, an under-developed agro-based industrial sector and inadequacies in the post harvest management systems.

Migereko, dismisses talk that the cocktail of broken promises, unrealistic funding levels and the apparent lethargic implementation of the programme are indicators that the programme is just another means to a political end.

‘This is not a means to a political end. No one knows more than President Museveni that it is easier to lead an economically liberated people. For that reason alone, he would like to see it through’ he says.

After more than five years of waiting for the bona bagagawale gravy train, one wonders whether it will ever make the journey.

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