Tuesday, July 13, 2010

MAKING UGANDA WORK

This week anti-corruption watch dog Transparency International released their annual report.
The report, a measure of perceived corruption among countries showed that Uganda had fallen behind back in the rankings to 126 from 111 the previous year.
It amazes me there are officials who want to gloss of the findings, to brush them off as mere perceptions. One wonders whether there is any other way of measuring corruption? Are they suggesting we look at court cases where people have been convicted of corruption? Going by that measure Uganda is probably more graft free than Switzerland, as barely anyone is convicted in our courts for corruption.
As a country we are as corrupt as they come and we need to come to terms with that and do something about it.
Moral issues aside corruption is threatening our standard of living by frustrating job creators, short changing the future generations with poor education and dooming them to short, disease riddled lives.
One model of development would go something like this; business is encouraged to grow through fair policies implemented by graft-free governments, the businesses in turn would create jobs and pay taxes. The taxes would fund road networks, schools and health facilities. Better road networks encourage more commercial activity and good social services guarantee a knowledgeable and healthy human resource for now and the future.
But what we have is sh510b lost through corruption annually, according to the World Bank. Enough money to educate more than a million secondary school children a year.
And largely because of corruption, the eye popping economic growth figures we report are only being enjoyed by an urban elite, with the rural population unlikely to climb out of the hole that is their sub-human existence.
The generation before mine tells horrendous stories of running miles to primary school every morning, going to boarding secondary school and eventually to tertiary colleges and university, graduating to jobs that earned them and their families a decent living. They could climb the social ladder because the government worked towards the improvement of general welfare, providing social services and the infrastructure off which business thrived.
Admittedly government then was the biggest employer, but projecting into the future then it was not hard to assume that business would have taken over that mantle a few years down the road hadn’t political instability not set in.
It is not rocket science.
All it takes is for our political leaders to go beyond lip service and lift private sector led growth out of the campaign slogans and convert to hard reality.
But maybe we ask too much of our leaders.
To understand what it takes for business to flourish you have to have been engaged in it, experienced the struggle to win customers, the joy of making a sale, the challenges of sourcing raw materials and the effort it takes to get your product to market.
If our policy makers understood these challenges beyond theory, we would have cleaner government, a functioning railway line, no load shedding, cheaper finance, and roads which did not fall apart after a few months of light traffic.
Our political class may go about their business not paying heed to corruption, coming up with all sorts of rationalizations for its existence and functionality but it will catch up to them.
Corruption is like a virus, it takes on a life of its own once activated, spreading its tentacles every which way, infecting everything and anything. But unlike a viral infection, corruption does not spend itself over time, but the longer it lives the stronger and more embedded in its host society it becomes.
It feeds off the weakest first before climbing up the ladder.
In Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko was not the major beneficiary of corruption.
The story goes that whenever Mobutu wanted say $10,000 from the central bank, he would send his personal assistant with a chit to the central bank, but the personal assistant would add a zero to the sum making it $100,000. At the central bank the governor would add another zero making it $1,000,000. At the end of the process everybody would be happy Mobutu with his $10,000, his PA wit his $90,000 and the governor with his $900,000.
The sooner we check corruption the better for every concerned – especially our politicians who are walking around in rose tinted shades.

Published September 2008, New Vision

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