It is the successor to HIV/Aids. No, not as a human disease or its impact on the affected individuals and their families. Covid-19 is the successor to HIV/Aids as a source of lucrative cash flow to the well-connected and the charlatans who shed their conscience so long ago that they see other people’s suffering as an opportunity to feed their insatiable greed.
Recall how every Ttendo, Ddiba and Harera rushed into the HIV/Aids industry for that is what it was – to cash in on the jobs that were on offer thirty years ago?
Clergymen,school teachers and politicians morphed into counsellors and advisors in the employ of the Uganda Aids Commission and similar organisations.
People started NGOs that claimed to serve people living with HIV/Aids. Fake remedies, some merchandised by a once great medical doctor, were offered to desperate patients who just wanted to live. While many people served the communities with diligence and ethical fidelity, others were heartless exploiters of the pain of the sick and their families.
The only other scandalous exploitation of people’s suffering that comes close was the NGO industry that harvested bags of money in the guise of helping people in northern Uganda during and after the long civil war that killed, scarred and deeply impoverished millions.
People flew in from Europe and North America to take their turn at sucking the marrow out of an exhausted community. Their work was made easy by their Ugandan partners who saw the survivors of the terrible war as mere commodities, not as fellow Africans whose human rights had been abused and whose psychological health had been shredded to pieces.
Memories of those days flood back each time I read about the current fight for cash that has been triggered by Covid-19. The recent spectacle of Ugandan MPs awarding themselves Shs20m in the name of fighting the new Coronavirus was a case of severe conscience-deficiency that Ugandans successfully protested.
One notes in passing that the MPs have yet to offer themselves in the fight against the Ebola outbreaks that occur now and again in parts of the country. Not even for ten times the price of their fight against Covid-19. I wonder why.
Not the type to surrender in a battle for free cash, the MPs seem to have secured a better deal than the one that incensed the public.
According to a report in Saturday Monitor, it appears that even as President Museveni was condemning the MPs for their greed – wink, wink, nudge, nudge - he was quietly arranging to pay them a heftier fee for their support, reportedly Shs40m ($10,000) each.
The report also quoted unconfirmed reports that another Shs60m ($15,000) may soon be dished out to MPs as a “token for last week’s resolution in which Parliament appreciated Mr Museveni for fighting Covid-19.”
In decades gone by, these transactions would have been called bribes. These days they are sanitised as “facilitation,” a practice that sucks the oxygen out of a legislature that the president controls with the agile finesse of a world class footballer.
If true, this latest “facilitation” is part of the political battle between Museveni and Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of Parliament.
We expect the same MPs who were making noise about defending Kadaga in this fight to quickly abandon her and declare their unwavering loyalty to the president. The entire thing is a commodity exchange, with the MPs happy to sell their support to the higher bidder.
I must confess to you, Tingasiga, that during the protests against the Shs20m scandal, I allowed myself to dream that Museveni was sincere in his objection to the legislators’ exploitation of their impoverished country.
Indeed, I told my wife and some friends that I was detecting a small and faint flicker of hope in the man we thought we had lost decades ago.
Perhaps old age and the pandemic had finally sobered him up and had opened his eyes to the folly of his unchecked patronage at the expense of investing in sustainable social foundations like an integrated healthcare system.
Of course, my dream was interspersed with a wakeful awareness that, with Museveni, everything revolved round his personal political security. I knew that the 2021 presidential election was part of all his calculations, even as he offered excellent leadership in the country’s response to Covid-19. One had to be constantly weary for, with Museveni, there was always one more trick up his sleeve.
He did not disappoint. It appears that the purchase of the MPs was already in the works even as he joined the citizens in condemning Kadaga and her parliament for their greed.
Museveni is winning another round of the contest. The question is where all this money is coming from. People who know the state of Uganda’s finances tell me that the coffers are running very low. I assume that this bribe money is not from Yoweri and Janet Museveni’s family savings account.
Unless some generous donor abroad, say from China, Persia or Arabia, has opened their wallet to help out a brother in Kampala, it is hard to imagine that a government in the last quarter of its financial year has the latitude to allocate more cash to the president’s political shopping cart.
Is it a recycling of the very money that parliament allocated to the presidency a month ago for the fight against Covid-19? Possibly.
However, the one area that the Ministry of Finance could legally raid at this point is the frozen travel budgets of the ministries. That money could be recalled and redirected to the presidency to “facilitate” our tireless MPs.
Then, of course, there is the classified expenditure budget which the president can use at his discretion “in the interests of national security.”
Securing the presidency from Kadaga’s meddlesome use of the speaker’s chair, this close to the next election, and Robert Kyagulanyi’s forces that are disturbing the natural order of things, is a justifiable reason for digging into the classified expenditure budget.
Covid-19 is a nuisance to the country. The defensive measures taken, albeit necessary, have inconvenienced the citizens and subverted the economy. However, the pandemic has also offered the greedy politicians and other wellconnected people new opportunities for cash infusions.
Covid-19 has offered Museveni an unexpected path to an easy re-election, partly aided by the opportunity to dispense cash like a bishop offering bread at Holy Communion.