Thursday, April 24, 2014

IS UGANDA'S A FALSE ECONOMY?



Last the week the Business Vision published a story about how new initiatives in the finance ministry may be partly behind the current cash squeeze we are all experiencing.

This is not to discount the crisis in South Sudan, which in recent years has not only served as ready market for our produce but has also been a significant source of liquidity into our market.
However the story about the finance ministry’s moves to block the leaks in government is significant on many grounds.

Government spending everywhere is the world is a key driver of economic growth. However how this money is spent makes the difference between whether the growth is experienced more equitably or is concentrated in a few hands.

If government spending is targeted at infrastructure development and the shoring up of social services then more people benefit on a day-to-day basis but it also gives more people a chance to climb the social ladder and improve their standard of living.

If however monies are pilfered with impunity --- as was shown with the OPM and public Service ministry scandals, then the majority miss out on quality service while a handful of individuals live lives of the ostentatious consumption totally at odds with the reality around them.

A cursory look over the budget performance up to the third quarter on a handful of ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) had spent 80% of the monies released to them compared to the same time last year when most had consumed 90 percent and above of monies remitted to them.

Did the management of the ministries change? No. Did government release less money than was expected? Yes, but even the little government handed out was barely consumed.

So what has changed? The key seems to be an overhaul of the government payment systems which has introduced a combination of stronger accountability for expenditures, devolved the public service payroll to the local governments and introduced a single account from which all government payments will be made, which payments can be tracked real time from the  finance ministry.

It is strange that suddenly the MDAs are running smoothly despite getting a fraction of the funds they had budgeted for.

With these few initiatives government has stressed the business community and the economy by extension.

Interestingly economic growth figures have consistently shown that most of the growth in the economy came from services and construction and not agriculture where the majority of the workforce was. These new revelations go some way in explaining why this is so.

For long people have argued that Kampala’s land prices were unrealistic. Land banking and speculation had become the favourite past time for many of Kampala’s elite. Until recently it was a given that if you bought some land today by this time next year you would have seen some serious appreciation in the market.

In fact the scandal in the public service ministry was burst wide open when one of the implicated officers beat one of our most seasoned real estate magnates to prime commercial property in the city.
Ugandans have become jaded and expect that this is just another anti-corruption initiative that will be defeated. There is cause for worry. You can expect that the main beneficiaries of these leaks are working tirelessly to subvert the system. One way would be not to access money even for genuine expenditures, cause an uproar and force the government’s hand in releasing money as usual.

We hope the finance ministry can maintain its resolve in taking this fight to its logical conclusion as it will make a difference between the benefits of our economic growth continuing to be enjoyed by a few at the expense of the vast majority.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

THE REAL STORY BEHIND JESUS’ DEATH AND CRUCIFIXION


JERUSALEM, Sunday, 4th April 33 – Last Friday Yehoshua ben Yosef was crucified bringing to an end a mission that was gaining in popularity across the length and breadth of Palestine.

On Thursday evening he was brought before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate on trumped up charges. Pilate while refusing to convict the Nazarene nevertheless succumbed to pressure from the high priest, Caiaphas to have Yehoshua crucified, according to sources familiar with last week’s events.

The high priests accused Yehoshua of blasphemy, alleging he had declared himself son of Yahweh, a sin punishable by death.

Yehoshuah’s torture and eventual death at the hands of security agents is less about his alleged blasphemy but more about the perceived threat he posed to the cozy relationship the Jewish elite had fashioned between themselves and Rome.

According to some of his friends Yehoshua, the carpenter’s son from Galilee, started preaching his version of Judaism about three years ago, shunning the existing structures of the church to minister to people wherever he found them.

His message of a forgiving and all embracing God challenging  the old Jewish teachings of ritualism, retribution and entitlement as the chosen ones, it was feared would draw many people away from the temple reducing their income and influence with Rome.

In addition his message that a relationship with God had no need for intercessors did not rub the right way the Pharisees, who have used their position as protectors of faith to extract favours from the community.

The Jewish elite have for long been able to parlay their influence on the everyday Jew as leverage in negotiating with Rome to retain their privileged position in society despite the suffering of the masses under occupation.

In the face of Yehoash’s mounting popularity first in the countryside and increasingly in the major towns of Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jerusalem, and his refusal to work with the Pharisees and the Saducees, a plot was hatched to get rid of him once and for all.

Previous attempts to capture him and seen him slip through their fingers. According to sources familiar with the events an insider, Judah ben Iscariot, was enlisted to keep the security agencies abreast of Yehoshua’s whereabouts and help in his arrest.

Sources said the Romans had investigated Yehoshua before but were unable to find a link between him and the zealots, the rebel movement determined to eject the Roman’s from Palestine.

While the zealots also provided a source of discomfort for the Jewish elite’s collaboration with Rome, at least they recognised the authority of the Sanhedrin. It is suspected too that some members of the Sanhedrin were actively supporting them, hence the release of Barabas on Friday rather than Yehoshuah.

Particularly galling to the Pharisees was a recent attack on the annual trade expo in the temple in Jerusalem, where Yehoshua drove out the traders, whipping the more reluctant ones arguing that the temple, which he referred to as “my father’s house” was not meant for commercial purposes.

Other events like the reported raising from the grave of his friend Lazaraus, the healing of the sick, the driving of demons out of the possessed and the feeding of the multitudes among other works by the Nazarene gave Jerusalem jitters.

His predecessor Jonah ben Zacahria was beheaded ostensibly at the urging Herodia his wife, but Jonah’s increasing popularity among the Jews was at the heart of his problems.

Yehoshuah, though he had some Zealots among his number, was not known to advocate for violent revolution. His critics however saw him as a potential rabble rouser and feel he was not stopped soon enough.

It is not clear what will happen to his ministry, as Peter, formally Shimeon ben Jonah, the  acknowledged successor is without charisma and inarticulate.

His followers are currently in hiding since Thursday night when Yehoshuah was arrested. Inside sources say they are hoping for a resurrection, an idea dismissed as worse than wishful thinking and would only do serious damage to their cause.

Pilate seems to have come out the winner of this affair.

On the one hand he has won the continued support of the Sanhedrin, having allowed them to execute their nemesis and crash his movement, and can now count on their support in pacifying the zealots.

 
PS. As we now know analysts got it wrong at the time. The apostles eventually regrouped, came out of hiding spreading the gospel and spawning the largest organised religion in the history of the world. Though it has suffered splinters and its influence is on the wane in Europe and the West, Jesus Christ’s message of redemption continues to draw crowds in Africa, South America and Asia. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

RETURN OF THE BUGANDA TITLES A SIGN OF NRM CONFIDENCE?



This week the central government returned to Buganda 213 land titles that it had its possession in an ongoing process of thawing of an uneasy relationship.

The government appropriated these and other lands that belonged to the kingdom when a contest of wills between then prime minster Milton Obote and Kabaka Mutesa II, the then president, tilted in the former’s favour. 

The invasion of the Lubiri in 1966, the abolition of the Kingdoms and the abrogation of the 1962 constitution resulting from this fallout, triggered a series of events key of which the rise to power Idi Amin, plunged Uganda into two decades of insecurity and instability that we are only just recovering from.

The return of the properties were prompted by a combination of the pragmatism on the government’s part and sustained pressure from the Mengo establishment.

From a purely politically perspective it is not difficult to rationalise government’s holding on to the properties and the timing of their release now.

Mengo provides arguably the most coherent organised group outside of the NRM in Uganda today. While dominated by the landed gentry of the kingdom, and therefore at odds with the thousands of official and unofficial on their vast land holdings, they symbolise the will of the Kabaka. The perception is that they can marshall the tribe to a cause of their choice and as a result it would be full hardy to be at odds with them.

With this in mind reinstating the kingdom’s lands, it was thought, would be like handing Mengo the trigger to cause mischief. Their tacit support for opposition presidential candidates since 1996 has only served to discourage the NRM’s hardliners from doing business with Mengo.

It is not clear what has changed now to allow government relinquish this bargaining chip.

One can speculate that the NRM after years of building a nationwide political base feel confident enough to release the land. Or that the lands are so encumbered now that by the time Mengo is done with liberating their estates enough water will have gone under the bridge and the antagonism would have died down. Or that concessions were made by either side not to act aversely to others interests as condition for the release. 

Attorney General Peter Nyombi said the titles released constitute 60 percent of the land due to Mengo.

The political calculations aside this development is a positive one for the country as a whole.

The fact that the government has been holding on to these titles suggests that the economic potential of the holdings has not been properly utilised all these years. With the titles now liberated one can expect that the full economic potential of these lands will be unlocked generating jobs, boosting economic activity and increasing tax revenues.

A selfless administration of the land can also see some of the proceeds going towards the improvement of social services in the region, a useful tool to lowering poverty levels in central Uganda.

It is possible that there will be some hurt feelings as the kingdom moves to consolidate its properties and one hopes these can be handled delicately. The rapprochement between government and Mengo is good for the country as a whole and opens up numerous avenues for collaboration in taking this country forward.