Thursday May 1 2014

$25m on a parking lot? Can someone please return Uganda’s conscience?

By Daniel K. Kalinaki

There is a word in Luganda that is complete in its simplicity, austere in its seriousness, and ruthlessly damning: Tuswaleeko. The English equivalent would probably be a mouthful: “Let us be ashamed of ourselves”.

Some of the events that go on around us are so out of this world that we have to go native, dig through our innate primal moorings, to try and contextualise them. And while we can then see and believe them, we can never really understand them.

I am talking about this business of the parking lot at the House of Parliament. There is nothing exciting about parking lots. They are either empty and unnerving, or full and frustrating but this particular lot is mired in plots of towering injustice.

Those who drive in Kampala know how hard it is to find parking. Most cities try to ameliorate this problem by building towering parking lots. The first of its kind in the city, to the best of my knowledge, this lot cost Shs36 billion to create space for 510 cars. That, according to my rough mathematics, is about $28,300 per parking spot.

Feel free to localise that figure to number of tractors that could have been bought, mosquito nets bought, valley dams sunk, teachers’ salaries paid, or kidney dialysis machines that could have gone to Mulago hospital.

At its opening, presided over by no less a personality than H.E. The President, the lot was described as “state-of-the-art” with lifts, fire-fighting equipment and an air extractor – I suppose to separate Honourable Members from the flatulent, inflated airs of self importance.
The lot was so state-of-the-art in fact, that when the first heavy downpour came down, we discovered that it could also harvest rainwater, until someone realised it was just flooding and hurriedly called in the cleaners.

The lot is back in the news because someone – the police or Parliament, no one will take responsibility – has asked for Shs28 billion to buy “modern security gadgets” for the parking lot. A contract has already been signed with a Chinese firm, we are told, but no details shall be provided, as this is a “classified” expenditure.
My fellow Ugandans, Tuswaleeko!

What kind of security gadgets are these? Are we installing mini nuclear reactors to power Parliament? Power stands to charge electric cars? Robots to park MPs’ SUVs and make them cappuccinos while they wait?

How can a country spend an inflated $14.5 million to build a five-storey parking lot and then spend $11.2 million to buy CCTV cameras and entry barriers?

In a city where KCCA recently borrowed $200 million to fix a few kilometres of road, we spend $25 million (about Shs62b)to create parking for 501 cars we bought for MPs? And the National Referral Hospital at Mulago goes 10 days without water over an unpaid bill of Shs3.2 billion while we build empty monuments?

What should worry us most is not that we are corrupt; it is that we have lost any sense of shame or remorse. Well-known conmen are serenaded and welcomed in droves from prison; accomplished thieves bravely and brazenly bounce around declaring themselves whistleblowers and cadres, walking cadavers in a country of ghosts.

Will this obvious scam be investigated? Will the responsible people be nailed? Will the conniving firm be blacklisted from future contracts in the country? Don’t hold your breath! We go after real criminals, like detectives we suspect of leaking secret recordings of the police boss meeting low-level political informers.

It will join the long list of forgotten scandals: different actors, different scripts, same ending – impunity. This is no country for good men; we are a country of shameless people.
Twitter: @Kalinaki