Fight over fate of UTL is a bit like two bald men fighting over a comb

Thursday August 22 2019

By Daniel K. Kalinaki

A no-holds-barred war is raging between the Deputy Attorney General and the State Minister for Finance in charge of Investment. Initially it looked like a simple misunderstanding over process, bureaucracy and the law.

Then it evolved into the ‘do you know who I am’ level where one has to demonstrate one’s affinity to the Appointing Authority or the Bush War or both. Now it is at the gloves-off stage where press conferences are held, threats aired, domestic power bases activated and rallied, and sympathy sought from strangers in the gallery of public opinion.

And all for what? Let’s consider for a moment that some people are indeed asset stripping what’s left of the Uganda Telecom Limited and carting off its copper wires in the night. To a recent arrival to these parts, this might be interesting, even slightly amusing. But anyone who has been around the block for a reasonable number of years knows that this is really nothing in there.

Asset stripping was the condition-precedent for many of the privatised national enterprises, including most famously Uganda Airlines. For others like Uganda Commercial Bank, selling them off to the highest – or was it lowest – bidder was a convenient way of getting rid of the evidence of bad loans that had been recently issued with no intention of having them ever repaid.

A few more resilient ones have even been able to limp on despite being carved up and their sides eaten as they graze. There is Uganda Railways whose assets, from copper rivets to railway sleepers, have long been raw materials for the local steel industry, and whose housing estates are now the relics on which modern mansions have since been rebuilt. Do you see anyone fighting for Uganda Railways?

How many low-cost units has National Housing built since it was ‘sold’ under the table, like UTL, to the Libyans?

Tree huggers might have scored a rare victory in keeping the bulldozers out of Mabira Forest, but they did not stop the decimation of the Namanve Central Forest Reserve, the relocation of cattle herds into wildlife reserves or the grabbing and stubborn refusal to restore the Centenary Park here in central Kampala.

There are three main arguments to make here. The first is that UTL is a dead horse that will find few punters jockeying to keep it alive. I was once a landline and mobile phone customer, mind, and still maintain a post office box, which I love very much and which they once were in charge of.

But I regard with unapologetic suspicion anyone who still has a UTL number. Anyone fighting to save UTL has my support by way of patriotic obligation, but my sympathy is not available at the moment, please try again later.

Secondly, eating UTL – if that is what the barbarians at the door want to do – is the plan, not the aberration. The entire underlying raison d’etre of the current regime is to destroy and then create a new political and economic elite, complete with a supporting middle class.

Once that is in place then the nouveau riche can then be introduced to normative notions like rule of law and competent execution, as well as some of the Ten Commandments that address themselves to such exotic ideas such as not stealing, lying or killing.

This is why the Hon Anite might attract plenty of head-shaking and even the odd message of encouragement – we are with you – but little or no political support. She is merely fighting that which she is meant to facilitate. The importance of an audit to see what UTL owns and what it owes in order to determine whether to recapitalise the business or not cannot be gainsaid – but that should have been done many years ago before UTL was sold irregularly to the Libyans.

Even if we were to give Hon Anite the benefit of the doubt, a more cynical view is that she is guilty not of naivety, but of coming late to the party.

Much has been made of the minister’s previous public statements in which she threatened those opposed to the lifting of the presidential age limits with unspecified actions from the military.

She can’t call on this army in her time of need because it was never there for her in the first place. It was always there for its own self and would have been even if she had not invoked its name.

If she can find a few moments of quiet solitude, it might finally dawn on the honourable minister that being chosen for her role in Kyankwanzi wasn’t a sign of strength, but of weakness. Strong people don’t ask for things while on their knees.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.

write2kalinaki@gmail.com.
Twitter: @Kalinaki.