Museveni. A corrupt general who has stolen from state coffers and stolen the last five elections now says he’ll “fight” corruption. Photo: Facebook.
[View From Uganda]
Uganda’s economy is mired in a slump, yet dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni forecasts better times ahead amidst shuttered businesses, high unemployment, and vanishing job growth.
He has again promised, perhaps for the hundredth time, to root out corruption even though the fish stinks from the head as a U.S. federal court corruption trial involving bribe payments to Museveni and his foreign minister Sam Kutesa proved. The vow to fight corruption may be meant for consumption by the IMF whose board of directors are considering a $900 million loan request by Uganda.
Although Museveni’s optimism seems blind, he might have reason to be happy about a post-Covid-19 boom as economic cycles usually follow a bust and boom trajectory as sure as night is followed by day. So the pandemic is likely to be followed by a period of growth as businesses reopen and Ugandans resume their normal activities.
This economic rebound will bring down unemployment marginally, drive up wages, again, marginally, and may foster marginal growth. This will happen if the vaccine rollout hits the 20 million vaccinations president Museveni has promised it will, and the structural changes he has vowed to make in order to tackle corruption as a subsystem.
Corruption is so deeply embedded in the system that it’s led the economy to overheat, pushing up prices as inflation follows a patronage system which puts money into the pockets of freeloaders while taxing achievers into a financial grave. Sure, taxes might be crucial in oiling the wheels of Museveni’s corruption, but loans to finance phony public works are its mother’s milk.
It all starts with African Development Bank (ADB) Director General, East Africa Regional Development and Business Delivery Office, Nnenna Mwabufo giving us loans in areas such as Roads and Transport, Energy, Water and Sanitation, Health, Agriculture and Local Government.
All these areas are hotbeds of corruption as they recruit ne’er-do-well cronies to the NRM and give contracts to the same. In the shadow of Covid-19, the government claims that Uganda’s economy realized a positive growth of 2.9% in Financial Year (FY) 2019/20, adding that in FY 2020/21, the economy is projected to grow by 3.1%.
The minister of finance Matia Kasaija, says the budget for FY 2021/22 will focus on interventions which will sustain recovery from the socioeconomic setbacks caused by Covid-19 and other domestic shocks such as locust invasions and floods.
However, the real focus of the budget, as the comedy icon confesses, will be on maintenance of security, peace and good governance, all three of which barely exist as Uganda’s political atmospherics continue to be like a bar on the verge of a brawl. Kasaija admitted that public debt is projected to rise to 51.9% of GDP in FY 2021/22. Yes, Kasaija said this without his usual comedic irony, thank God.
The rise in total public debt is on account of increased external and domestic borrowing to finance White Elephant projects such as Karuma hydropower project, Isimba dam, Oil roads, expansion of Entebbe international airport, Meter and Standard gauge railway, Development of Kampala industrial park etc.
We call these White Elephant projects because their costs include a lack of transparency in awarding contracts, corruption as said costs are inflated to bloat a patronage system based on rewarding cronies with jobs and, ultimately, the shoddy work done in the name efficiency.
To be sure, Uganda is not known as the “the world’s pothole capital” for nothing. Sadly, too, we see that the government has failed to realize that we cannot mitigate the adverse effects of Covid-19 by spending on public works which don’t work for the public.
Instead, a rescue package to bolster small to medium-size businesses would work wonders and the tax bases expanded thereof would plough back private sector profits into public sector development.
But the government prefers to borrow to bury us in debt and thereby dump our local investors down multiple rabbit hoes as government officials make money, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is filled by so much resentment that an economic war between the two is inevitable.
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