Pioneer, an accident waiting to happen; and the easy ride to come
Posted Tuesday, February 19 2013 at 02:00
In a bid to be used as a pawn in a political fight, Pioneer received many waivers and these things got to their heads. They were special, the public was for them and so was the political establishment. Not even the Traffic Police dared to stop them.
Last week, many commuters in Kampala woke up to the terrible news. Pioneer Easy Bus a relatively cheap commuter service was being grounded by Uganda’s tax body, over non-payment of taxes. This was always something one expected, like an accident waiting to happen. At its inception, almost a year ago, many of us in Kampala including the doubters like yours truly, were happy.
At last, we had an alternative to the arrogance of the politically backed taxi transport management body UTODA. UTODA had run the show for close to a quarter a century as a monopolist. With the absence of competition, they did not try hard enough. Instead they bestowed on us a congested, noisy city, with a transport system that featured the hiking of fares as and when they wished.
Now there was someone giving standard fares in nice clean brand new buses. But that was on the surface. Deep down, trouble was brewing. These buses were hurried onto the streets of Kampala on the orders of the omnipotent ‘above,’ mainly as a political measure to counter the authority of the Lord Mayor Elias Lukwago in his incessant fight with the Executive Director of KCCA, Jennifer Musisi.
Remember Lukwago had ordered the taxi drivers not to pay the Shs120,000 monthly dues to the authority because it was decided upon outside the council that he leads.
The trouble for Pioneer was that in this haste they did not sit down to think about what lay ahead. In a bid to be used as a pawn in a political fight, Pioneer received many waivers and these things got to their heads. They were special, the public was for them and so was the political establishment. Not even the Traffic Police dared to stop them. But politicians are capricious and erratic. Depending on what they are looking for, they will be with you and make you look untouchable. Then drop you like the proverbial hot potato when they achieve what they want.
After the Lord Mayor had been silenced, it proved beyond the means of KCCA to secure the desired routes for Pioneer in far flung areas like Entebbe, Mukono and Wakiso. It was also realised that the promise of special lanes for the buses on the streets of Kampala which are almost the size of lanes themselves, became an insurmountable task. The sum total of these things was poor revenue and cash flows for Pioneer. Pioneer failed to increase its fleet to the agreed 500 or so buses. It crashed.
Meanwhile, taxis became increasingly compliant (with the use of some force.) KCCA was getting the money from the taxis. Now that the wings of the Lord Mayor had been clipped and the money was coming in, who needed Pioneer?
The common woman who was benefiting from the lower fares can do nothing in this game; she is also a pawn to be used in this game of power. At the end of the day the fare paid whether by Pioneer or UTODA, the fees deducted end up in the belly of the same KCCA.
It does not end here, and this is the scary part. Most of the officials of Pioneer interviewed in the media do not appear to be stressed as is the wont with people running a business in financial distress.
They are swift in accepting the obligations of the company but are also quick to invoke what have become the dreaded ‘C’ words, whenever investors are aggrieved. ‘Contract,’ ‘contravened,’ ‘constitution,’ ‘court,’ ‘costs,’ ‘collusion,’ ‘calculate’ (interest,) ‘compensation!’
The taxpayer should get ready for Pioneer’s next move that is likely to end with compensating the company whose contract KCCA and the government has apparently contravened. If luck is on their side and there is no reason why it shouldn’t, Pioneer will be compensated with outrageous interest after the fashion of Basajjabalaba and his markets.
They will have the last easy ride in these buses as they laugh all the way to the bank leaving the taxpayer stranded on the single lane streets of Kampala. They will live to tell the tale of Uganda being a good investment destination. Welcome back UTODA.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.