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We are a country in crisis

There have been many distressful stories in the Ugandan media in the last couple of days.

The breakdown of a 1995-donated radiotherapy machine at the Uganda Cancer Institute, Mulago, threatening lives of over 40,000 is the highest-profiled one. It was even in regional newspapers like Kenya’s Daily Nation.

Then, there was that moving story in Daily Monitor of donors threatening to stop funding the Senior Citizens Grant (SCG) that covers about 600,000 of our grandparents. Each senior citizen, in the districts where the programme operates, is given Shs 25,000 monthly.

The donors (Irish Aid and UK’s DFID), according to Daily Monitor, provide Shs 247bn annually, with government supposed to contribute Shs 17.5bn this year so that more 20 districts can benefit from the programme. Government has only provided Shs 9bn, which is the reason donors want to stop providing their contribution.

First of all, it is embarrassing that our grandparents are provided for by foreigners, whom the president has asked to stop lecturing him on Uganda.

Secondly, that for a whole month, we are only able to give them Shs 25,000.

Thirdly, that even Shs 25,000 is about to stop because government has stubbornly refused to meet its side of the bargain.

As outgoing chairman of the parliamentary committee on parastatals, I learnt from National Social Security Fund (NSSF) that Uganda’s social protection schemes cover only 4% of the population.

That is the only percentage of people who have been compelled by the law to save for their old age. Do you know why? The public sector (government) employs slightly over 275,000. These are the jobs that are available in government.  The NSSF has 1.4 million workers on its register that are employed by private businesses, and only 600,000 are active (saving for old age).

Mr Museveni has illustrated this point even further, by stating repeatedly that 65% of Ugandans are still engaged in subsistence farming. This translates into approximately 23 million people.

Subsistence farmers don’t save for old age because they are a hand-to-mouth group. This is the society (economy) Mr Museveni has built in the last 30 years. He wants it transformed in five years. Museveni will make 72 years this year. In fact, he is, himself, a candidate for SCG, if he wasn’t a president and employed in the formal sector.

Uganda’s total workforce is estimated at 15 million people. Many of these are not working. In towns, young people flock betting clubs as early as 8am, and in the villages, they begin drinking at 10am out of frustration. You know that 83% of the youth are unemployed.

In Malaysia, the social protection now covers 98% of the country’s total workforce, and in Singapore, it is 99%. In Kenya, it is now at about 11%, and in Uganda, I have told you, it is 4%.

And it is in old age that hospital becomes a second home. Those of you with aged parents can bear me wittiness. And what are the stories from Uganda’s hospitals?

At Uganda Cancer Institute, the only radiotherapy machine, which costs just about $1.8 million, has broken down. Mind you, this was a second-hand machine that was donated to the institute. Do you know what Museveni’s budget is next year?

He has Shs 84.2 billion for donations, Shs 35.5 billion for fuel (travel inland), Shs 20bn (travel abroad), Shs 38.7bn classified expenditure, Shs 4.7bn welfare and entertainment and Shs 3.8bn for special meals. The total budget for Mr Museveni’s residence is Shs 257bn. And this is just the budget for his residence. I have not included the budget for his office.

So, the hospitals, which are the second home for our grandparents, to use the words of Museveni’s doctor Dr Diana Atwine, are in shambles; they are like markets.

And the head of Mulago hospital is saying the breakdown of the cancer institute machine is half the story. The full story is that Mulago doesn’t have an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine as well.

“You give me money for essential services and you demand super services,” that is his dilemma.

And do you know what? Even the x-ray at Butabika hospital has broken down, and since it has done so many times, it is not possible to repair it. For a whole month, the ministry of health is looking for Shs 400m to buy a new one.

And the National Medical Stores (NMS) has announced – because of the currency depreciation – loss of Shs 60 billion worth of drugs, which is the shortage we should wait for in public facilities.

That is the story of Uganda, and the instructions from the head of state are that no foreigner should lecture him. For us, we will continue praying because that is all that citizens are still allowed to do.


The author is Kyadondo East MP.

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