With few months away to the 2011 presidential elections, HUSSEIN BOGERE asked presidential hopefuls NORBERT MAO and KIZZA BESIGYE what they would do about some of Uganda’s most outstanding problems if they won.
If tomorrow you assumed power, how would your government deal with the issue of corruption?
I believe the best way to deal with corruption is through personal example. You can set up an Anti-Corruption Court, you can appoint an Inspector General of Government, you can have an auditor general, you can even involve the intelligence community, but if you are perceived as corrupt at the top, no one is going to change their ways.
So, three things are required to tackle corruption; leading from the front through personal example, ruthless measures against well known thieves, and the society frowning upon and shunning those in possession of ill-gotten wealth. As long as we praise thieves, thieving will be considered normal. And that has undermined the reputation of politicians.
Politics is now seen as an avenue for eating, not an avenue for leadership. Personal example is the key in fighting corruption. As we say, you cannot preach water and drink wine; you must walk the talk. I have said before that the fish rots from the head. The rot in the society needs major surgery. As president, I would tackle corruption ruthlessly, as opposed to what Museveni is doing which is similar to treating a cancer using Vaseline. The cancer has got to be cut out.
There seems to be a breakdown of public infrastructure in spite of the large amounts of money pumped in, how differently could the sector be handled?
The NRM government has been trying to undermine what was done in the past simply because they don’t want to acknowledge that the UPC government ever did anything good. But the public works department saved us a lot of money. It had employees who maintained specific sections of the road by making sure that no road was neglected. We would revive the public works department.
We will also invest in the railway because it would take away the burden from the roads so that they are largely for light loads. We would also empower local governments with equipment so that most of the work is done by government employees as opposed to private contractors who charge several times more than the normal cost of the road. We would revise the procurement process so that it is tighter. We would disclose the amount the government is willing to spend to eliminate competition based on pricing.
The breakdown of the infrastructure is partly to blame for the congestion within the city, but how can it be decongested?
Actually, we believe in another capital city. I think Kampala should be a commercial city and we build a new administrative city. Nigeria has done it, Tanzania has done it, and Brazil did it decades ago. A government led by the DP would definitely consult and come up with a new political capital. As for the congestion in Kampala, there are only three things to be done.
We have got to ensure that we have bigger roads and that means enforcing building regulations. It is not too difficult to enforce building regulations. Our government would go into a joint venture to provide public transportation. For those who don’t want to use passenger service vehicles, the licence fee would go higher. That will help deal with how many taxis or boda-bodas we have, particularly for the central business district. If you are operating there, the cost of the licence will determine whether you really get involved in that kind of business.
UTODA can be a Uganda government joint venture where government can guarantee huge loans for them to bring in buses. We also need to create some parks within the city and we should have at least 15 bus terminals in the area around Kampala with clearly demarcated bus stops, and that means we must get the expertise needed to plan a public transportation system. We will also enforce the traffic court. Right now our city is a free for all.
How do you rate the health sector?
Our health is in a shambles; that is why those who can afford it go abroad. Most Ugandans know that our health system was better in the decades past than now. Those days Mulago was a world class hospital. I still believe the government can transform Mulago into a world-class hospital and we can transform other health centres into modern facilities.
There has got to be a combination of public and private health services. We would procure modern medical equipment. The reason why people go to India and other places is because in Uganda we don’t have the basic equipment. There is a long queue in Mulago for those who want examination by endoscopy. Basic diagnostic machines are not available.
Secondly, we would increase the pay for health workers, probably anything up to Shs 3 million and more. Our policy would be to stem the brain drain. They need houses, good working conditions, assurance that they need to keep their body and souls within Uganda. We would also have to invest in training specialists. Uganda needs a younger team of specialists.
New diseases and epidemics are breaking out in Uganda. We must be able to invest in that kind of specialisation, and also in research. Our government would publish a patient bill of rights. A patient needs to know that when I go to a hospital these are my rights and no one can put a discount on them. We would have strategic partnerships in the region.
Why can’t East African countries invest in a health facility where heart surgeries and other complicated surgeries can be done? We can bring those specialists from Indian and we have a hospital within the region. There is no reason why we should not have a facility in our region where people can have these advanced medical examinations and treatments that would save our people the expenses of going abroad. I also believe that the health budget is too low.
We have got to increase the health budget so that essential drugs are available, but above all, our government would invest more in preventive healthcare. We still don’t have the financial muscle to do all the things we would want to do. There are simple things that citizens have to do; drinking boiled water, sleeping under a mosquito net, using pit latrines, basic sanitation. And also, health is not about hospitals and medicines. We would make sure that our approach to public health is holistic.
If you don’t provide clean water to the people, there is no way they are going to be healthy, if they are too poor, their diet is going to be predominantly starch; then they end up with diabetes. We would revive the public health sector.
There must be vigorous enforcement of the public health laws. We would also protect our citizens from being victims of dumping. Most of the drugs that come into the country are fit for disposal. Uganda is used as a dumping ground. For a country at the level of economic growth of Uganda, prevention would make economic sense.
We need to protect our citizens from quacks; we need supervision of health workers, an army of public health inspectors to ensure that people know that they have a responsibility to the public. I think the government has left the citizens at the mercy of private clinic owners. The government must ensure that it is present in the health sector. It is not enough to claim that people are buying drugs or training a few doctors. What the citizens want is that those who mistreat citizens pay a price.
You have been known to be critical of UPE and USE introduced by the NRM government, how differently would you approach them?
By having an education system that is not equitable, we are developing two Ugandas; the Uganda of the rich and one of the poor. It was actually good for government to offer universal education and a level of access in secondary education. But access isn’t enough, we also need quality. The world is very competitive. Many of the kids who go to UPE schools are doomed to 3rd rate education.
The only ones that escape are the lucky ones that get a sponsor. The education in the university depends on grades. You cannot get good grades unless you go to the good schools. That means the poor are being marginalised. I believe that by only concentrating on access as opposed to quality, the government is just giving the poor some painkiller, not a cure.
In my view, our kids go to school so that they can learn social skills, how to take care of their bodies, to figure out solutions to problems that are going to confront them in their lives, so as to deepen their faith. In other words, we need a holistic education system. We cannot just have an education system that is exam centred. The education system should not just be about printing certificates.
We would review the education system completely. What is required is that government should upgrade the schools around the country; that teachers have houses. Our teachers should also be well paid. The low pay for teachers has turned them into laughing stocks. I believe we have got to make UPE schools suitable for anybody. Right now anybody who has got a bit of money is scared of taking his kid to a UPE school.
Another issue that is co-joined with education is employment, or the lack of it. Is this a problem in Uganda and if so, how can it be tackled?
Uganda needs to concentrate on polytechnic education. There are many people clad in neckties and suits with clipboards chasing very few jobs. The Ugandan economy creates less than 20,000 jobs every year yet more than 50,000 people graduate every year. So, we are only meeting 40% of the job needs and the figures are cumulative.
What we need now is to tap into the global economy by having information and call centres the way India is doing, so that we can give international jobs locally. Secondly, we need an education system to equip our people with skills to make something, whether chairs or candles, or table clothes; you have something to sell and that means all you need to do is get a buyer.
But if all you can do is to say that you can do anything when asked, then it is a disaster. It is important, in my view, that our universities be linked to the job market, diversify our education system, teach people trade that equips them with means to make something that they can sell, tap into global trends using technology, harness the power of the internet to create opportunities for our people. We also need to consider the need for relevance.
We need to invest in sciences. There will never be a shortage of opportunities for those who are skilled in computer, mechanical, or even civil engineering. We need to train more doctors and look after them. We need to interest our people in fields like agriculture.
People must know that you can get rich through organic farming, green houses, you can tap into international markets. In the next election, the question of employment is going to be very crucial. A problem like unemployment requires innovation, that is why we are proposing that our government would invest in sectors that are modern; science and technology, computers, call centres and tour guides.
Public infrastructure also offers opportunities for jobs every time we have highways and dams being built, school and hospital projects. All those are opportunities for jobs. We must make sure that there is a hub where Ugandans can get information on job opportunities. It is possible we can create 100,000 jobs every year.
One of the avenues the NRM has used to create jobs for its cadres is through balkanisation, will your government reverse the process?
As a general policy we don’t need new districts because that has not improved service delivery. Our challenge is to strengthen sub-counties so that they can give us access to services that districts can give. The districts have now become a lounge for job seekers. I am not an apologist of these new districts. My view would be to build stronger sub-county governments.
The discovery of oil is another issue that is proving to be contentious, how can it be handled to avoid conflict?
Uganda, as the cliché goes, is gifted by nature but, we are cursed with corrupt leaders. The question, as we go into 2011, is who would you trust with Uganda’s oil wealth? To manage oil wealth requires a government which is not tainted with corruption. If we elect NRM, then we know our oil is going to be sold to the highest bidder and the proceeds shared between a clique, which is in charge of government and probably some foreign interests.
The ordinary citizens may not benefit. But what would we do with the oil? I don’t know what is going to happen in Southern Sudan, but if it is independent, then it is possible for Uganda to collaborate with Southern Sudan to have one oil refinery in Uganda to refine the oil in Sudan and the one we are to extract.
So, it would require some cross-border collaboration. Secondly, we will also ensure that we get involved in some retail business because cash flow is very important. Countries like Venezuela are benefiting from having petrol stations in North and South America. I have proposed before that Uganda could consider acquiring the outlets of Shell.
Other people think that government should not be in that kind of business but I believe you can have efficiently run parastatals like National Water and Sewarage Corporation. Thirdly, this oil doesn’t belong only to those who are alive today, but also the unborn. It is our duty to create a future fund where the money from oil can be kept so that even those who will be born when there is no more oil flowing will benefit from the oil money.
It works in Norway. We would offer better stewardship for oil than any other government on account of our fight against corruption. So the challenge is of good stewardship and this means that you must know that this is a public asset, not private.
And finally, federalism and Buganda issues which have become a hot potato in our politics. Have your views changed on federalism?
Not at all, I belong to DP and since 1961 it has supported federalism. You could call it democratic federalism; there is no contradiction between being strongly republican and also being strongly decentralised. There is no overwhelming reason why our government shouldn’t support federalism.
Implementing federalism would also reduce this winner-take-all mentality. It would reduce the life and death struggle for power which we currently witness in Uganda. It would also make the sharing of national wealth equitable. Right now, local governments receive 20% of the national budget. Under federalism the figure would increase, giving the local government more say in prioritisation and allocation of public resources.
I also believe that the struggle for power would reduce because if power is at the local level, the struggle to capture Kampala would be less fierce because there would be power at these levels. DP will hold a national conference to discuss this matter and then the question will be put to a national referendum so that it is settled once and for all.
How will your government improve the wellbeing of its citizens?
First of all, we would guarantee a minimum budget of agriculture at 10%. That is not too big; it is actually what was agreed on in Maputo. In Uganda, the agriculture budget is being cut very frequently yet it employs over 70% of our people. I think that is where most of our money should go. Secondly, we would create what we call a citizens’ empowerment fund to support small and medium size enterprises.
Thirdly, we shall not be shy to lock out foreigners from retail trade. Our government would invite investors in wholesale trade, retail trade would be exclusively for citizens. I think it is important that we have a policy that protects certain sectors. We also believe that we should project our strength by negotiating on issues of trade.
We should be able to export some of our organic fruits to these foreign markets and make sure we project our strengths. Our government would strengthen our ability to bargain because much as we are weak, we are not as weak as we think. It is only that we haven’t known our strength. We can negotiate as a block, either as East Africa or Africa.
In short, our agenda for fighting poverty would be promoting exports, investing in agriculture to support small and medium enterprises, opening more retail avenues for our people, and also re-tooling our people. We will also revive cooperatives. We believe cooperatives allowed access to markets to even the people in the villages. We would also need to open a farmers’ bank. The cooperative bank was shut down so farmers need to contend with these loan sharks.