Our challenges are job creation and expansion of opportunity
Posted Friday, January 31 2014 at 02:00
The issue of access is glossed over and yet this is the measure of improvement in quality of life. Thus missing are figures on employment and job creation, food self sufficiency, the proportion of the population connected and accessing electricity and water, etc.
I recently watched a TV discussion between a minister and a Makerere University don on the impact of Museveni’s (NRM) 28 years in power. The minister was lyrical on the growth in GDP, tax collection, reduction of contribution of agriculture and increase of services, manufacturing and financial sectors to GDP and the focus on investment in trunk roads/highways infrastructure.
The don, on the other hand, argued that real growth has not occurred since the proportion of the population in agriculture remains the same around 80 per cent and their tool remains the hoe and that if real structural change had taken place, then there should be population in services, industry and those other sectors that now contribute a big share of GDP.
This TV debate summarises the raging conversation among the people in Uganda. In every speech, the President reads a list of trunk roads tarmac surfaced, the numbers of health facilities built and children attending school, the areas connected to electricity, etc. The issue of access is glossed over and yet this is the measure of improvement in quality of life. Thus missing are figures on employment and job creation, food self sufficiency, the proportion of the population connected and accessing electricity and water, etc.
Quite often, people - even informed people - criticise opposition parties that they have no alternative policies to offer, exposing their ignorance, laziness or bad faith because all parties which participate in elections issue their alternative policies (manifesto) to the electorate. For example, the FDC manifesto listed as number one policy, the creation of employment in order to raise the standard of living, followed by improvement of productivity in agriculture, infrastructure, education, health, social protection, etc. The underlying principle was/is social justice. What does that mean? It means a shift in focus and emphasis. Take the hyped improvement in tax collection. The current taxation regime is based on indirect taxes; Value Added Tax, import duties, excise, PAYE but not on direct taxes on income, company profits, property, etc. Indirect taxes are generally onerous to the poor.
Is emphasis on infrastructure important for economic development? Definitely, but it does not directly add new productive capacity even if it may boost existing businesses. If existing roads were well maintained and the funds spent on re-surfacing roads are instead invested in the sectors with the highest incidence of poverty – subsistence farming, fishing, pastoralist livestock, informal sectors - which have the highest job creation potential, it will result in more job creation, reduction in poverty and cost of living.
Food is the biggest driver of cost of living and, therefore, pro-agricultural investment that would increase productivity would add more to GDP than investment on sleek highways. Otherwise, why is it that with consistent growth rates of 7/8 per cent for more than 20 years, most of the population does not see this growth and poverty is still the biggest problem in Uganda? Those who have gone to South Africa marvel at the good roads, but how have they improved the standard of living of the majority of the people? Invest in sectors that create jobs, increase productivity in agriculture; invest in the people and GDP will grow by more than 10 per cent.
Finally, there is good news from South Sudan; seven of the 11 political leaders were released and handed over to Kenya (why not Uganda?). This will improve the ceasefire situation if the other four leaders could be released as well and all combatant foreign troops leave the country. Nationalist consensus based on rejection of Khartoum hegemony having disintegrated, the task in South Sudan now is to build an inclusive national consensus based on a new uniting focal point, e.g. national development, democracy, etc.
Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP. email@example.com