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Should teachers dance over four chicken?

By Isaac Mufumba

Museveni’s electioneering at state of the nation address raises intriguing questions

What do you say about a president who promises to increase the nations electricity power supply by 3,200 megawatts in five years when he has been in power for 24 years and, over that period, managed to increase the nations electricity power supply by only 540 megawatts (Mw)?

In the state of the nation address, President Yoweri Museveni said when he took power in 1986 Uganda was generating only 60Mw of power. Currently, the nations power supply stands at 770 Mw, inclusive of 170 Mw of thermo power.

Museveni’s projection is that the Bujagali Hydro-Power Project will add another 250 Mw by 2012 and the Karuma 700 Mw.

What is not clear is how he plans to produce the 3,800 Mw he promised by 2015.  Are the presidents numbers believable?

Museveni said, in the same address, that the economy grew at a rate of 8.4 percent in 2009. But the IMFs Regional Economic Outlook of April 2010 says Uganda’s real GDP growth for 2009/10 will be 5.6 percent, down from 7.1 percent in 2008/09.

Which numbers should we believe?

The President is obviously keen to paint a prosperous present and promise a rosy future.

Little wonder that his former Local Government Minister now leader of the opposition Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), Jaberi Bidandi Ssali described Museveni’s address as “a vote catching sort of speech.

Bidandi told The Independent that Museveni is faced with declining popularity and sought to recapture the promise of a fundamental change which sent his popularity soaring in the last half of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Bidandi is miffed by, he says, Museveni’s obvious lack of preparation for such a major speech.

There obviously was a contradiction between a speech which he did not prepare and ideas that he wanted to put across. That is why he would say you will read for yourself as if he was addressing parliament and not the nation.

Some of the achievements Museveni spoke about are solid; completion of the Jinja Bugiri road, the Northern Bypass and the Soroti-Dokolo-Lira road.

No question about it, telephony rose from 8.6 million last year to 12.1 million mobile telephone subscribers with an estimated 2.5 million people using the internet regularly.

Even some promises are believable based on past performance. Museveni said last year, the government paid examination fees for 463,631 pupils who sat for PLE and the number would rise to 500,000 this year.

But when he says 15 new secondary schools, 4,000 classrooms, 405 science laboratories, 144 libraries, 41 administration blocks, 71 teachers houses and 2,129 five stance latrines in 763 Universal Secondary Education Schools and hostels in Public Health Nurses College Kyambogo and Mulago School of Nursing are to be constructed, we must ask: How?

Which are the 313 projects worth US$ 1,344,755,319 and projected to create 69,365 jobs that were licensed by the Uganda Investment Authority? Where are these jobs? Which major investment is Museveni talking about even in the oil sector?

Same skepticism over promises that the National Referral Hospital Mulago and other regional referral hospitals are to rehabilitated and equipped, while solar systems are to be installed in more than 400 health centers across the country.

Museveni’s claim that the government will begin paying scientists wages that compare to international standards or that the government spent Shs.48.23 billion on value- addition technology are doubtable. Which scientists are involved? What did they achieve and how has the country benefited? We all know about Museveni  own mutete grass toothpaste, baked millet flour bread (by his daughter), the powder matooke (by his sister). Money was sunk in their research. So why are they not on our shop shelves?

Why did the government give a Shs 185 billion contract to a German firm, Muhlbauer High Tech Group, when the Faculty of Information Communication Technology at Makerere University, which has shown capacity, had offered to provide software and run the registration for national identification programme at a lower cost?

Presidential spokesman, Tamale Mirundi, says that it is not a case of the presidential spin. He argues that governments and international financial institutions have different ways of measuring growth.

What do Ugandans see on the ground? The question is whether there is growth or not he says.

The problem is that while the President appears contented by the rate at which the economy is growing, the common folk (even those who are actually getting richer) want the economy to grow faster.

When Museveni happily announced that 2,398 teachers in hard to reach areas will be getting an allowance of up to 30% of their basic salary, many of them asked: 30 percent of what? A beginner primary school teacher earns 200,000 per month. Therefore, 30 percent of that is Shs 60,000 or the equivalent of the price of four chicken. Should teachers dance over that?

Kawempe North MP Sebaggala Lartif was disappointed that unlike last June when he said “if there is anybody who can fight corruption in Uganda, it is the NRM, it took the taunts of yellow flies, yellow flies from his audience for Museveni to comment on corruption. And his solution was as bizarre as it was brazen. If you want to solve some of those problems give powers to the Court Martial If you want to use the system that you have, then we shall use that…” the President said. Despite CHOGM corruption being headline news for most of the year under review, Museveni had confined corruption to just two sentences in his written speech. Court martial? Phew! Many see Museveni solution as an admission of his failure to fight corruption.

Tamale Mirundi disagrees: “Ordinarily you call him a dictator, why then are you saying that he has failed because he says that your institutions are weak?” he asks.

If Museveni wants to score real points, he must do more in areas that affect people – like agriculture which in 2009 grew by a paltry 1.4%.  Up to 80% of Ugandans work in this sector. It means their welfare grew by 1.4 percent, far below the average rate of inflation at 14 percent and the population growth rate of 3.3 percent.

On a more general level, Museveni spoke about the Bududa landslide that killed hundreds, and the heavy toll of accidents on the bad roads. However, many wished he had noted the increasing cases of human sacrifice, the September 2009 Buganda riots, the Kasubi fire, and how he will ensure free and fair elections.

Museveni, like any other politician, used the state of the nation address to parliament as a campaign platform for the 2011 general elections. Did it work? The pundits say it did not, but Museveni is not worried. The real vote is in 2011.

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