Kampala- After nearly two decades in limbo, Uganda Airlines, a national carrier, could fly again after President Museveni, in his first address to the new Cabinet yesterday termed the lack of a national airline “a big shame,” criticising Kenyan, Ethiopia and South African “brothers” for ditching the comradeship and instead opting to exploit Ugandans.
The president directed the new Minister for Works and Transport to conclude discussions with investors to help Uganda start a national airline as a matter of urgency.
“Ugandan travellers are suffering because of, apparently, not having a national airline,” Mr Museveni said, reading from a prepared statement.
“I thought that our brothers in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, etc. having airlines would serve all of us. That, however, is apparently not the case,” he said.
The Uganda Airlines, which was established in May 1976 under the Idi Amin government, was in 2001 liquated over heavy debts that stood at a tune of more than $6m (about Shs21b). The debt had been reduced from $12m (42.8b).
The liquidation, a painful reality, did not settle in well with a number of stakeholders, who blamed government for deliberately killing the airline.
Former Uganda Airlines managing director Benedict Mutyaba last year - at the height of news of Cabinet debating the revival of the national airline - told Daily Monitor that it was absurd that government could hurriedly sell an airline that had shown signs of recovery from a debilitating debt regime.
However, in an apparent U-turn, the President, without shouldering any responsibility for its collapse, told his new ministers amid cheers that “in these five years, Uganda will encourage the setting up of a national airline.”
Asked to explain the President’s change of heart, the minister for Information and ICT, Mr Frank Tumwebaze yesterday said Mr Museveni was concentrating on building first things first- the foundation he has talked about.
“How could a crumbled economy support an airline, for example? Now that the base is strong, the walls can also be embarked on,” he said.
While some stakeholders questioned the business viability of Uganda Airlines in the face of an impending stiff competition from Kenya Airways and other airlines operating in the region, the President said a national airline “would help us to save $420m per year Ugandans spend on travel”.
Apart from joining the Uganda Airforce, the President said the opportunities for graduates from Soroti Flying School were very limited, adding that “the airlines of our brothers and sisters that benefit from Uganda should have remembered to treat our children as their own because our purchasing power is supporting them”.
In a recent interview former transport minister Stephen Chebrot said government had hired Ernst & Young to evaluate the viability of the airline and “the results were astonishing”.
He also revealed that government was looking at an average of $300m (Shs1 trillion) as the initial injection into the national carrier revival.
To attract investors in the country, the President has instructed Investment and Privatisation Minister Evelyn Anite to ensure that investors get free land for investment and other incentives such as tax exemptions.
He also instructed the minister to build 22 or 25 Industrial Parks, starting with Namanve and Nakasongola, ordering that every year, five industrial parks should be completed using the UPDF Engineering Brigade and prisoners.
“It is not complicated technology. Make the access roads, pull electricity, pull piped water, pull the internet under-ground cables etc. It is, mainly, civil works. How can our engineers fail to do this?” Mr Museveni wondered, ordering that negotiations for the Standard Gauge Railway must be concluded so that the construction starts.
The President has also ordered the new ministers to ensure that Uganda Revenue Authority, Uganda Investment Authority and other power centres clear investments within two days without fail, instructing Ms Anite to report to him, if she gets any challenges in trying to implement this.
The president, according to sources, also vowed to sack lazy ministers and thieving public servants, in a bid to save his ambitious dream of transforming Uganda from a poor country to a middle income status by 2020.
Uganda, according to the Wold Bank, is a low income country with per capital income of $714.6 against $1,045 required to join the league of middle-income nations.