Key issues Ugandans expect in Museveni nation address

Wednesday June 3 2020

 Traders attend to customers

Traders attend to customers after the partial lifting of the lockdown which prompted many to open shops in Kampala yesterday. PHOTO/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA 

By Franklin Draku, Patience Ahimbisibwe, Tony Abet & Amos Ngomoya

Economy
They say the key issue the President must talk about is the performance of the economy and measures government is putting in place to address the shocks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Julius Mukunda, the executive director of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), yesterday said the first thing the President should tell Ugandans is how to revamp the private sector by clearing all domestic arrears worth Shs2.7 trillion.

‘’We are also interested in the area of financing our import substitution policy - Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU). If we are importing tomatoes and vegetables worth billions of shillings, how can this country be able to produce the same quality of potatoes being imported to meet the demand of the local market? So we want to see more money supporting NARO to produce new varieties which farmers can be able to produce and then we reduce on our import bill,” he said.

Dr Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, said: “The question of public expenditure should be tackled. During the lockdown when we are under financial constraints and the economy is not doing well, he should put in measures to reduce public expenditure.”

Mr Xavier Ejoyi, the executive director of ActionAid Uganda, said there must be accountability on the rampant loans government is taking, and explain to Ugandans what they are being committed to paying in future. In May, Uganda said it had borrowed over $491.5m from the International Monitory Fund to address balance-of-payments and fiscal needs.

“It is now 75 days since government discovered the index case. How has government used this resource (borrowed money) in terms of time, space and finance that the Ugandans put in the hands of the government? It will be good to get complete countdown of how much money has been borrowed for what conditions, and how much is still being borrowed,” he said.
Job losses
Dr Fred Muhumuza, an economist, wants the President to address job losses. He said if there are no jobs, there will be no salaries from which government can deduct to provide social services.

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“He needs to fix this because there are also other consumption taxes that are related to working. People work and consume goods produced by factories where excise duty tax is levied. So generally, people must work to get money and pay taxes which can support the economy,” he said.

Statistics released by PricewaterCoopers in April indicate that at least 700,000 jobs were lost in the Hotel and Tourism sector.

Mr Wilson Owere, the National Organisation of Trade Union chairman general, said government must come up with a plan to save jobs.

“I want to hear him highlight the economic recovery plan in line of saving jobs and creating more because Covid-19 has affected the economy,” Mr Owere said.

He also said Mr Museveni must talk about domestic arrears owed to private suppliers of goods and services to government.

“I would like to see how they will pay domestic arrears to companies demanding a lot of money that can help to pay their workers recover their jobs,” he said.

He said the issue of NSSF Act is being amended should be left to Parliament. “I don’t want to go into the NSSF issues at this time. It will over shadow what we are discussing now.”
Health
On the Ministry of Health, which has been at the centre of response to the pandemic, the medics associations said President Museveni should address the issue of supplies to the health workers.

Dr Mukuzi Muhereza, the Uganda Medical Association general secretary, said the President must address the issues of supplies to the health facilities and salaries.

“We can have adequate supplies in hospitals. Private hospitals are closing or sending away health workers. We would like to see public-private partnership strengthened to enable these investors save jobs. Stop those expensive treatments abroad. Build capacity back home and facilitate institutions,” he said.

“Motivate health workers with better pay. Those words of thank you are good but our pockets have nothing. We did a combined bargaining agreement on salary following a strike three years back. It was supposed to be a three-year phased salary increment. It started with Shs2m. It was supposed to go up to Shs5m. We are still at what we started with,” he added.
Dr Muhereza also said government should recruit more health workers to fill the existing gaps with urgency.
“We have realised that in treatment centres, the longer a health worker takes, the more mistakes. We are requesting that government recruits more workers and fill the human resource gaps,” he said.

Dr Edward Kanyesigye, the president of Uganda Public Health specialists’ Association, asked Mr Museveni to cease use of force to achieve behavioural change.

“Government should focus on increasing the level of awareness about Covid-19 by working with public health specialists. Behavioural change is not achieved by using force but people change their behaviour when they listen from an informed person, expert,” he said.
Job security
Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, a former presidential aspirant, challenged Mr Museveni to address unemployment that has threatened all those employed by the private sector.

“Most of those people working now are earning less than what they were getting before Covid-19,” he said.
Mr Patrick Kaboyo, the secretary of Federation of Non-State Education Institutions, wants government to come up with clear guidelines on what to do during this period.

“Government should communicate a clear roadmap to tackle Covid-19. We want to see what has been achieved in this period, the challenges and what to expect going forward. They should realign the budget to critical areas like health, education, social protection and livelihood and address criminality by investing more in intelligence gathering,” he said.

Environment

The current rising water levels on Lake Victoria and other major water bodies are some of the issues the President must handle, environmentalists say. Mr Frank Muramuzi, the executive director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists, asked Mr Museveni to come clear on how he plans to address the problem of floods.“The President must clearly state how he is going to handle the issue of the floods and the wetland degradation across the country. National Environment Management Authority has given licences to foreign companies to do sand mining in Lwera and they also failed to defend forests such as Rugarama,” Mr Muramuzi said.
He said floods and extreme conditions like drought affect farmers.
“We have not got food from any foreign companies but it was these local farmers feeding the nation,” he said.


Security
Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, the coordinator of Alliance for National Transformation, said the President needs to come clean on the issue of security. “He needs to understand that he is driving this country to the edge. A sense of justice is necessary for sustainable stability in the country. Anyone in security knows that there is no way you can depend on force alone and think that you can sustain stability. He also needs to be interested in areas of injustice.

We are moving to a situation where you cannot extend elections beyond May next year and if you get into that kind of situation politically, you will find there is a deep mistrust,” Gen Muntu said.

“In a state of that kind of uncertainty, the regime would need to have started building an atmosphere of goodwill on the political side,” he added.

Gen Muntu’s sentiments were echoed by Dr Sewanyana who said Mr Museveni must consider security ahead of elections.

“So many people have been arrested and tortured because of curfew. Do we expect similar treatment during this time? He also needs to come out clean on the question of torture and use of excessive force because this will become the norm that our security forces can get away with it,” Dr Sewanyana said.

Governance
As Ugandans head to 2021, it is not clear if the polls will held because of Covid-19. Last week, the ruling NRM party secretary general Justine Lumumba Kasule said scientists will determine the fate of the elections. Dr Sewanyana tasked the President to state whether the elections will be held or not. “I would expect the President to confirm if 2021 elections will stand and that even the current Covid-19 pandemic will not inhibit people’s participation.

He should also speak on whether these elections will be observed and how the complaints will be handled. Dr Sewanyana also said Mr Museveni should explain whether the funding for the election is available. “He should also address how campaigns will be conducted given that we cannot have face-to-face meetings, public rallies.”

Bishop (rtd) Zac Niringiye said the only thing he expects Mr Museveni to address is his resignation.
“I want him to announce that he is retiring; that he is leaving power. He is incapable of delivering anything good for the country. The trend in social services shows budget allocations to health and education have reduced in the last five years,” he said.

He says the president should also talk about electoral reforms which have never been introduced even after the Supreme Court ordered government to introduce them in 2016.
“He also needs to address himself on the issue of electoral reforms. There were proposals that were made by parliament. He should come clean on those proposals because even if the parliament passes them and he does not accent to them, they cannot be implemented,” Sewanyana said.

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