Kampala. President Museveni, in power for 32 years, yesterday exuded confidence and optimism about Uganda’s future as he delivered this year’s State-of-the-Nation Address (Sona).
Article 101(1) of the Constitution commands the President to, at the beginning of each session of Parliament, deliver to the House “an address on the state of the nation”. He also formally opened the 3rd session of the 10th Parliament.
The head-of-state is not limited on what to say during Sona, but must give a comprehensive account of the government’s feats and hurdles in the ending year and sketch the direction for the country going forward.
Sona is also an opportunity for citizens to know beforehand the government’s priorities in tandem with allocations detailed in the national budget which, in Uganda’s case, will be read next week.
Thus, Sona is more than a President’s speech. It is a political accountability duty and, as such, the President is scrutinised for what is said, omitted and even the body language.
In yesterday’s address, Mr Museveni covered significant ground on broad sectors. He bandied statistics on economic growth, international trade, road and electricity infrastructure development as well as less-than-satisfactory per capita earning for a leap to middle-income status by 2020.
Below are five issues of national importance omitted in yesterday’s agenda-setting speech:
Bank of Uganda figures show that as of December 2017, the country’s total debt portfolio stood at Shs37.9 trillion, higher than the Shs32 trillion budget for the 2018/19 Financial Year that Parliament approved last week.
Economists warn that the debt portfolio is near unsustainable. Almost Shs3 out of every Shs10 in the national budget goes to servicing both domestic and foreign debt.
Although the President said 58 per cent of bitumen road upgrades is funded by the government, big-ticket developments such as Karuma and Isimba dams are bankrolled with money borrowed from mainly the Chinese government.
The downside is that the works are contracted to mainly Chinese companies that repatriate the profits. Put another way, the money finds its way back to enrich citizens of the lending country.
Early this year, the President directed for merger of the more than 120 agencies and parastatals to create a leaner and more efficient government.
The plan received ready public approval in the hope it would curb duplication and wastage of limited resources.
The President, however, did not provide a report on the progress of the initiative.
The Sona would have also provided a lasting solution, or an attempted one, besides a note on the status of the long-proposed Salary Review Commission to standardise and harmonise pay for all public servants. Neither was the issue of minimum wage tackled.
The public service is the oxygen of government. Civil servants implement government programmes and, therefore, make or break government. They are the point of contact for end users of tax payer-funded services.
However, unprecedented cycle of industrial actions by disgruntled civil servants in 2017, including by doctors, over inadequate salary and unsatisfactory working condition present an ever-present danger for citizens.
The government’s well-intended liberalisation of the education sector is churning out thousands of graduates each year to virtually no or fewer jobs.
The youths are more vulnerable: without resources, gullible to manipulation, susceptible to recruitment for criminal enterprise and a wasted talent. The President did not give a figure of how many licensed firms in the ending year began operations and how many of the expected jobs they created.
In March, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga buried their political differences. “Never again shall a Kenyan die of elections,” declared Mr Odinga.
The political construction and realities of Uganda and Kenya vary. However, the quest for a resolution of Uganda’s intractable political problem endures.
A talk between President Museveni and opposition leader Kizza Besigye brokered last year by Sweden, and before than by a coterie of organisations and individuals, all remained waiting in the wings. Sacked Security Minister, Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, last month revived the need for such a dialogue for a more predictable future and harmony in the country.
PRESIDENT’S MAJOR QUOTES IN ADDRESS
Vision. “A nation without a vision perishes.”
IGG mistrusted. “Why don’t victims of corruption report incidents to the IGG (Inspectorate of Government)? The IGG should reflect on this. Are her staff credible? Why does the public not trust that institution? We need answers.”
On road carnage. “Why should you drive so fast? If you see my vehicles speeding, know that I’m not there…because I regard myself as a useful item and I don’t want to squander my life.”
Ending poverty. “I don’t accept to live with neighbours who are stuck in poverty.”
Political populism. “Unfortunately, many leaders are not bothered by the substance of leadership. They are concerned with public relations; attending church services, weddings and burials…you get yourself into debt for nothing.”
Selling govt services. “I can’t fail to talk about mercenarism and corruption of public officials. The mercenarism interferes with patriotic attitude of freedom fighters. People expect money for every little task.”
On sub-dividing land. “The use of shares for inheritance is better than the physical fragmentation of land and property.”
Critics without substance. “We are rich in everything, except solutions…if you don’t listen to what I’m telling you, your grandchildren will be cursing [you in the] grave].”
Tribalism useless. “The Banyankore (my tribemates) didn’t educate me. The people who were buying my father’s cows to educate me were Baganda.”
UN blamed. “The terrorists of Allied Democratic Front (ADF) [rebel group] are still in (the Democratic Republic of) Congo, preserved there by the United Nations and the Congo government.”
Not my fault. ““There is no good reason why the President and the central government should be harassed for this whole hierarchy of [local government] structures not doing their job.”