Gov’t using COVID-19 as a cover up for its failures

Security forces have tortured, maimed and killed citizens in an attempt of curtailing political dissent.

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Mathias Mpuuga Leader Of Opposition in Parliament (LoP)

On Wednesday, August 4, the leader of the opposition in Parliament (LOP) MATHIAS MPUUGA delivered to Parliament his response to the state of the nation address which was delivered by President Yoweri Museveni on June 4 at Kololo independence grounds. The LOP’s address was housed under Rule 53 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure.

Here is an abridged version of his statement to Parliament.

While we are constituted from different shades of opinion, it is our obligation whether singularly or collectively to diligently serve the interests of the citizens of Uganda.

As I mentioned when the House was notified of my appointment, effort will be taken whenever possible to pursue a bipartisan approach in the spirit of accountability and service. It is our conviction that Parliament is a front that we should use to liberate the country from autocratic governance and biting poverty levels.

The Constitution provides that the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy are the gist of government operations. They pertain political, human rights, socioeconomic, cultural, accountability, environment, foreign policy and citizen objectives.

Specifically Objective I(ii) requires the President to report at least once a year the extent of realization of the policy objectives and principles. The provision does not deter the State of the Nation Address from being used as the reporting mechanism. Otherwise without the clear benchmarks, the “State of Nation Addresses” tantamount to a mere speech. Going forward, for the subsequent years, the President should conform, structure and deliver the State of Nation Address based on the National Objectives.

COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 has become a cover-up for almost every government failure. Of late, the President and his government attribute to the pandemic the contraction of the economy, rising poverty levels, escalating public debt and poor service delivery among others. Before the pandemic, these concerns were already manifest.

The lifeline of the economy and indeed government has for long been borrowing. The tax revenues are insufficient to fund the government’s expenditures. As a result public debt has risen from $2.9 billion in 2006/2007 to $ 17.96 billion (Shs 65.83 trillion) in December 2020.

It has been projected that Uganda needs over 94 years to clear its public debt without acquiring new debt.

The sectors of tourism, hotels, banking, music, sports and professional services, irrespective of their potential have for a long time been neglected by government. The President has even referred to them as luxurious. For instance, this exhibited in the budget allocations towards the tourism and hospitality sector. Irrespective of its present capacity of generating $ 1.6 billion (close to Shs 6 trillion) per year, the government only invests Shs100 billion. This has been the case for years.

It is only natural that any sector will dwindle in productivity with continued deprivation. This has been the case for the agriculture, education, health, information, innovation, technology, public service and trade sectors. Almost every sector of government has been deprived except for security and physical infrastructure. Based on this, it is not surprising that the NRM regime is gambling in its response to the pandemic. Let therefore not the pandemic be used as a distraction from government’s poor planning and prioritization.

Instead of addressing its planning and prioritization shortfalls, the President has resorted to apportioning blame to the citizens. He attributes the worsening pandemic to citizen’s failure to adhere to the standard operating procedures. Wait a minute. Who is responsible for controlling immigration? Are citizens responsible for taxation regime, regulation of trade, recruitment of medical workers, purchase of beds, installation of Intensive care units and oxygen plant as well as vaccination of the country among others? It is clear that government has violated Article 189 of the Constitution by its decimal performance in the delivery of public services.

Inequalities

The President asserted that people who are in the middle class are not prone to what he termed as home poverty pressure. They are the best suited for appointment to positions of authority. Based on this assertion, people that have been raised from humble backgrounds are less appropriate for government service because they work for money not passion.

The President has deliberately entrenched the stratification of the citizenry according to access to power into the rulers and the ruled. The rich and the paupers. The privileged and under privileged. Instead of engaging the entire country in a dialogue on how to address the prevailing social and economic inequalities, the President assured us that the solution only lies in his children.

The rest of the citizens have been reduced to a status of followers and there are deliberate attempts to preserve their deplorable lives.

It is increasingly impossible for several children from peasant households to access tertiary education that has seemingly become a preserve of the affluent. Irrespective of levels of competencies, it is common knowledge that many people have been granted jobs and appointments based on nepotism and sycophancy.

The recourse to the rest of the citizenry is to continue the struggle to free ourselves from captivity of political and economic vultures in government. Only then can we blossom in a new Uganda in which every citizen is guaranteed successful future. A new Uganda in which citizens are not discriminated against based on their economic status, belief system, cultural inclination, political affiliation, proximity to rulers or any other factor. A country in which opportunities will be accessed and granted based on merit. Leaders will be appointed and jobs attained based on competence.

Unemployment

Unemployed youths staging a protest

While the President was silent on youth unemployment, it is rampant in the country. It is a security threat that requires urgent and deliberate attention. The educated youth are increasingly getting frustrated due to lack of employment opportunities. There has been a remarkable mismatch between skills attained during education and the available opportunities. For those that are lucky to find some form of paid employment, they are barely living. Wages are low to sustain their lives and aspirations.

Surprisingly, government has frustrated the passing of the National Graduate Service Bill (2018) that sought to partly address the mismatch of skills amongst graduates.

Initiatives such as Youth Livelihood Programme, Youth Enterprise Scheme and Skilling Uganda and Youth Venture Capital Fund have failed to bear satisfactory fruits. They have failed to stimulate labour demand and uptake. Unfortunately, no comprehensive evaluations of the initiatives have been undertaken to inform effective replacements. As consequence the scarce public funds continue to be spent with no satisfactory impact. The funds need to be freed towards actualizing the National Human Resource Development Plan that has been flagged in the Third National Development Plan.

Government seems to have embraced externalization of labour as an escape route of dealing with the youth whose aspirations it failed to fulfill. Regrettably, it has failed to effectively regulate the labour externalization. Cases of sexual harassment, trafficking, non-payment and underpayment are reported but not adequately addressed. As a result, there are many distressed Ugandan workers abroad. This is largely attributed to inadequate monitoring and inspection of recruitment firms and work stations abroad.

Corruption

While one may agree with the observation that corruption is an enemy to development, the resolve by the President and his government to fight it is a mere rhetoric. The President indicated that he had established that corruption started from the Ministry of Finance through the development of bloated projects. The bloated projects are the main drivers behind the continued securing of debt or loans which the country is not ready to absorb. This has not been helped by the entrenched procurement entrepreneurship by some government officials. Consequently, stock of public debt has risen astronomically from $2.9 billion in 2006/07 to $ 17.96 billion (Shs 65.83 trillion) in December 2020. This translates to an increment of 84 percent.

Unfortunately, almost all of the Ministers responsible for the bloated projects were never dropped in the newly appointed Cabinet. Instead, they were reappointed and some transferred to other dockets. These have joined others that were censored and convicted for corruption. Is this how corruption is fought? Surely not! In our absurd case corruption is rewarding. Probably the

President would like to share with the country if indeed his fight is not dispirited or indeed, he is not a captive of the corrupt!

Anti-corruption agencies have domineered public posturing instead of curbing corruption. Parades, press conferences and security convoys service the egos of those appointed to head the agencies. They never pursue their master and his colonies.

Instead, they loyally follow their directions for seemingly vindictive investigations towards those that have fallen out of favour. It is high time that an audit is instituted into the Presidential appointments and creation of convenient parallel anti-corruption outfits. Subsequently, appointments to anti-corruption agencies should be subjected to open vetting.

Insecurity

The President laments the insecurity in the country irrespective of the billions of shillings that have been committed through domestic and external debt to finance the security sector. Notwithstanding the massive classified expenditures, there has been a spike of mysterious and unresolved murders of Muslim clerics, women, police officers and army officers among others. Instead of lamenting, the President as the Commander-in-Chief should account for the funds so far spent on bolstering the security apparatus in the country.

While addressing Parliament in 2018, the President proposed measures to contain the insecurity in the country. Apart from some form of progress registered regarding CCTV and forensics laboratory, the rest of the measures are yet to be implemented. With the support of Parliament, domestic borrowing of Shs 380 billion ($100 million) was approved to finance classified expenditure and a syndicated loan facility of more than Shs 395 billion ($104 million) to bolster CCTV network.

Unfortunately, the recent attempted assassination of Gen. Katumba Wamala exposed the inefficiencies in the network and intelligence gathering. The involved criminals could not easily be identified and tracked.

Three years down the road, not all guns are fingerprinted. Undertaking of ensuring that helmets of motor cycle riders are illuminated and monitored in a central hub is yet to be realized. Revival of 999 still remains a dream. Social media sites such as Facebook were blocked contrary to the commitment of monitoring abuse. If this is not a recipe for continued insecurity in the country, it is a recipe of continued loss of insecure lives.

Criminalization of Opposition

The State of the Nation Address was the first, immediately after the most violent and most fraudulent election since independence! The election was conducted in the disgraceful and shameful manner, never seen before. All state agencies were pitied against the opposition.

FDC President Patrick Amuriat Oboi was arrested by the police ahead of his nomination for the 2021 presidential elections

It became an indictable offence in the eyes of the state machinery to profess opposition. Many were arrested and held in illegal military detentions without charge, while others were held on politically motivated charges by all manner of operatives without a clear line of command. Security forces have tortured, maimed and killed citizens in an attempt of curtailing political dissent. This was done under the full knowledge and tacit collusion of the official state security machinery. This was the year of the notorious “drones”! Did the President immediately forget about the notoriety of the drones, bought by the tax-payer and used to vest suffering to the same people? That he made no mention of the killings, disappearances, maiming vested on citizens tells a lot about the official direction of the state.

Security structures particularly the court martial try civilians in disregard of civil courts. The regime is endeavouring to rule by law and the not under the law through tramped up charges.

NUP leaders holding posters of their supporters who were in detention as at February 26, 2021. || Daily Monitor Photo 

Rt. Hon. Speaker and Hon colleagues, grossing over the grave injustices of the last 10 months should concern and cause worry to every peace-loving Ugandan, especially leaders at this level. The growing levels of intolerance for divergent political views is not only bad for our fragile democracy, but a recipe for disaster.

Rt. Hon. Speaker and colleagues, we have so many families whose loved ones disappeared since last year. They were picked by security operatives in drones and all manner means available to the state apparatus, as part of settling political differences.

So, we have a mass state party, 35 years in power full of political cowards presiding over the state, and we need to remind them of our political history for them to respect the choices of citizens. This is a great shame! The State of the Nation address did not offer any assurance for justice to the affected families, let alone a humble mention and admission of circumstances! I invite the 11th Parliament to summon its Constitutional powers to reign into a runaway state that is acting through extra-legal means! Let the state account for all citizens that were picked up by security operatives.

Rt. Hon. Speaker and Hon. Colleagues, I want to speak to these families, somebody rise on the floor of this August House, the Peoples House of Parliament and advise me how to speak to these families on the state of the nation!! Are we preparing this country for retribution and revenge!

Politics and political space should be occupied for a positive purpose. Our political space is laden with negativity and survival. It is dangerously occupied by self-seekers and regime hangers-on who have become the single biggest danger to national security and political predictability.

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