Fellow Ugandans, we are already aware that a new strain of corona virus, COVID-19 that was initially discovered in the Huabei Province of China has now affected the entire world, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare it as a pandemic.
It is also imperative to note that until now, there is no vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19.
In his address to the country March 18, 2020, President Museveni outlined several preventive and containment measures including but not limited to closure of all educational institutions and congregational prayers of all denominations for the next 32 days.
Whereas JEEMA welcomes the aforementioned measures, there are remarkable gaps that require serious consideration.
What is the 32 days’ shutdown intended to achieve since we have no confirmed case of the virus? When China placed a seven-week quarantine on Wuhan, it was intended to slow down the virus and/or minimize/obliterate it completely.
They closed entry from all affected countries and discouraged travel to the worst hit areas. What will happen after the 32 days shut down in Uganda, will the quarantine be lifted in case there are no reported cases of the virus or it will continue as a precautionary measure?
We recognize that prevention is better than cure but it is also important not to act in a panic mode. A self-imposed quarantine may have far reaching negative ramifications economically, politically, spiritually and socially hence calling for a delicate balance.
Some of the measures proposed by government require further scrutiny. For instance, wouldn’t it be easier to control learners in boarding schools than at home where some parents may not exercise enough restrictions on their children and those in day schools guided on the best behavioral tendencies?
Secondly, how will government and school administrators account for the 32 days off to the parents that paid fees for a full term or semester? We also believe that the said measures would have been accompanied by appropriate legal instruments and implementation/monitoring mechanisms. There should have been clear sanctions for any eventual breaches and violations of the proposed measures, to create clarity and effectiveness.
JEEMA is equally concerned that the President did not address the economic impact of the virus and the measures to address them. COVID-19 will definitely plunge the country into an economic imbroglio. Already the tourism sector, a leading foreign exchange earner that contributes about 10% to our GDP is suffering drastically.
The country is likely to lose close to Shs 10 trillion this year if the impact persists. How does government plan to support that sector? We propose that government should consider announcing adequate fiscal and monetary interventions to create a stimulus for the economy.
To this regard, we propose that government considers capping and/or lowering interest rates to facilitate borrowing, extend loans and accessible credit facilities to businesses and vital sectors like the tourism, travel and hotel industry, extend tax cuts on sanitary chemicals/products, give tax holidays and exemptions to struggling businesses and entities. Since hygiene is a key containment aspect, we propose a reduction on water and power tariffs as an interim measure.
JEEMA also expected the President to comment on the current status of the health facilities in the country. This financial year, Shs 2.6 trillion was allocated to the health sector. Not only is it insufficient but COVID-19 was not anticipated.
We are also aware that the Contingency fund in the budget has been depleted to cater for the locusts’ invasion and the Bududa landslides. Government needed to give assurance on the financial resources available to deal with COVID-19.
We propose that money be availed from other sectors to avail at a free or subsidized cost face masks and sanitizers to at least the most vulnerable and impecunious communities like the elderly and disabled. We also propose that government considers training volunteers to handle simple basics.
Finally, JEEMA is aware that President Museveni held a meeting with an American Professor Sarfaraz Niaz, a reknown inventor of pharmaceutical patents but the details of the said meeting were not disclosed in his address.
We applaud the Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda the Rt Hon Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga for disclosing to the country the works of Prof. Niazi especially his efforts in making healthcare affordable. Rather than denigrating and bashing the Speaker for her revelations and good intentions, bodies like the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) should be working towards understanding the scientific works of the said scholar and advising on how best the country could benefit from his vast knowledge and expertise.
It is unfair for UMA and some sections of the public to dismiss the Speaker’s statements without verifying the authenticity of the assertion that there is an effective disinfectant against COVID that the country can exploit and that the said professor was its developer. We hope that the said matter will be clarified by UMA and other relevant authorities.
On the whole, JEEMA considers President Museveni’s address on the current situation of COVID-19 as timely but falls short of addressing the salient key economic stimulants and incidental issues as herein above enumerated. Nonetheless, we call upon all Ugandans to adhere to the said guidelines and/or regulations for the good of our country and for the wellbeing of everyone.
FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY
Asuman Basalirwa is a Member of Parliament for Bugiri Municipality. He is also the Justice Forum (JEEMA) party president.