President Museveni used the International Labour Day celebrations yesterday at Saza Grounds, Kamuge Sub-county in Pallisa District, to criticise the on-going relief food distribution, referring to the move as “very, very dangerous.”
He warned recipients of the food aid to look out for the smell of public infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals, which he said could waft over as they eat.
“The danger is that when you are eating relief food, you should chew carefully; you may feel that you are chewing a road, a school or a hospital…just chewing it you may smell a road there, a school or a health centre,” Mr Museveni said.
The President sounded a veiled criticism of Parliament, which last week passed an advisory resolution urging government to declare a state of emergency in the country in order to effectively tackle the acute hunger ravaging afflicting households in the countryside.
Sponsored by Ms Monica Amoding (NRM, Kumi Municipality), Parliament passed the resolution amid protest from ministers led by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, who was abandoned by the majority of ruling National Resistance Movement legislators.
“There has been some pressure, especially by politicians who want to use food for politics,” Mr Museveni said, adding; “This relief must be used very carefully because it can make recipients disoriented so that they don’t think about production because they talk about relief from government.”
The President said the government will only come in where there is a real problem.
He then dwelled on his pet theme of bottle irrigation as one of the strategies that can deal with the on-going drought, reiterating government’s commitment to support irrigation in the country.
Mr Museveni then turned to labour union leaders and urged them to talk about industries and job creation, in an apparent shift away from calls by several speakers for the government to set a minimum wage.
“You should be talking about more factories, more hotels and more companies; that is what you should be talking about on Labour Day like this one,” he said.
Mr Museveni said through revitalising the old factories, at least 1.4 million jobs were created, but said this won’t be enough for the more than 40 million Ugandans.
Mr Museveni blamed laziness in the countryside on uncontrolled sports betting and alcoholism, vowing to introduce measures to limit drinking and gambling hours.
Earlier yesterday, Mr Usher Wilson Owere, the chairperson of the National Organisation of Trade Unions in Uganda, told Daily Monitor that the President had agreed with the workers pushing for a minimum wage, but Mr Owere warned the unionists to navigate the issue carefully because government can easily back-track on its promise.
“When you are dealing with government, you have to be careful because they can say yes when they mean no,” Mr Owere said.
Mr Arinaitwe Rwakajara, one of the workers MPs, who has tabled a private member’s Bill to effect the minimum wage, had in the morning expressed optimism that the President will not make negative pronouncements against the policy.
Gender, Labour and Social Development minister Janat Mukwaya, in a telephone interview with Daily Monitor, expressed ignorance over the Arinaitwe Bill, saying a proposal to introduce a minimum wage is already before the Cabinet.
“I am not aware (about the Bill), but a policy is already before the Cabinet,” Ms Mukwaya said, without elaborating.
Central Organisation of Free Trade Unions chairman Chris Kahirita, requested government to revisit the Pension Act so as to make sure they’re no mistakes once the sector is opened to other players.
“Let us revisit the Act and reform it. Because we don’t want the NSSF act repealed but instead adopted” he remarked. He also asked that as the Act is revisited, consideration should be made for a win-win situation, where other pension funds and NSSF can compete and have the workers choose who they want and suits their needs.
The celebrations also saw several people awarded national medals.
Among the recipients was Maj Gen Peter Elwelu, the UPDF’s Land Forces Commander, who received the ‘Rwenzori star medal’. Gen Elwelu was recently thrust in the limelight following the bloody joint police and military attack on Rwenzururu King Charles Mumbere’s palace last year, which he commanded.
Declaring Uganda as “one of the richest countries I have seen on earth,” the President attacked corrupt civil servants whom he likened to ticks, and warned them about a spacious Luzira prison which can accommodate all of them.
“Another problem is corruption and lack of patriotism by the public servants who are delaying or frustrating investors; there is enough accommodation for them in Luzira,” saying by arresting “10 or 20 all the disease will be cured.”
Reported by Ibrahim A Manzil, Yahudu Kitunzi, & Mudhanga Kolyanga.