Monday, October 21, 2013

WE ARE OUR OWN WORST ENEMY



Last week President Yoweri Museveni launched the long overdue Naguru-Nakawa Housing Estate.
The project has been seven years in the making, running into a lot of headwinds from politicians and rival developers all looking to cash in on the 165 acre piece of prime property.

Under the plan a 1,700 unit estate is to be developed with all the amenities of a modern community.
At the ground breaking ceremony Museveni was visibly upset at the delays that made this project take so long from conceptualisation to the present day.

The speech was a throwback to another speech made about ten years ago on the banks of the river Nile.

Then, in January 2002, Museveni harangued his officials for delaying the ground breaking of the Bujagali dam. It was then a project sponsored by American firm AES Nile Power, which had been conceived seven years prior.

The dam had been stalled by sniping from the environmental lobby who argued that preservation of the Bujagali falls was more important than generating electricity for Ugandans.

AES Nile Power didn’t eventually build the dam as the run in to financial trouble, which forced it to give up their Bujagali project.

We and I suspect, Museveni knows what goes on with these projects and what delays them.

Anecdotes abound of investors flying into Entebbe airport, charmed by the greenery of the land and beginning to get comfortable when they run into the first grubby fingered official looking for his cut to make a potential project move to the next level. And these officials do not entertain talk of payment on completion, they want their money up front and in cash, thank you very much!

Some of the bigger companies quoted in foreign stock exchanges, governed by stringent transparency requirements give up—the risk-reward ratio for a small market like Uganda’s not being worth the pain.

Smaller investors for whom an investment in Uganda may have significant implications for their balance sheet or serve a useful springboard into the region, soldier own finding ways to play ball whichever way they can.

The net effect is that projects with transformative benefits for this economy are delayed unnecessarily or when they come on line their viability is so badly compromised they totter and not long after, grind to an unceremonious halt.

We wonder how such things happen under the President’s watch. How officials with impunity run rings around the President and even his endorsement of a project is not a guarantee of smooth sailing thereafter.

The President argues that he needs evidence to deal with these errant officials, the chattering classes grumble into their beers that he should at least suspend them on suspicion and the president’s men counter were that to happen government would be paralysed and not because every other official has his hand in the till but because a lot accusations of this or that official are instigated by the official’s rivals or worse still someone who wants to bring down the government.

It paints a very gloomy picture going forward.

The truth is that after 27 years of rehabilitation and reconstruction the big projects, the billion dollar infrastructure projects are going to start kicking in. It does not take a biblical prophet to tell what’s going to happen in coming years with projects being delayed or frustrated.

Albert Einstein said doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result is the definition of insanity.

Something has to give. Because as it stands now we may want this country to go forward and take us along with it but we clearly we are our very own worst enemy.

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