In the last ten years I have seen the improvement of a major road – Gayaza road and the addition of four new roads – including the northern bypass, around the area in which I live.
The benefits – though I take them for granted now, have included a faster commute to work, because of the better quality of the roads and because I am spoilt for choice. There has also been a dramatic increase in property prices in the area as a result.
They say, while the middle class and poor measure wealth in money the rich measure it in time. So by saving time for the people of my area it can be argued there has been an increase in economic activity. How then would you explain the creeping menace of traffic jams to my previously serene environment?
Hold that thought.
Last week two events happened on the same day that on the surface seem unrelated but not on closer scrutiny.
There was the conviction of the suspected terrorists responsible for the 2010 attack at the Kyadondo Rugby grounds, the Ethiopian Village and the failed attempt on the Makindye House.
On the same day Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire was handing over her report on the probe into the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA).
The probe which had our jaws hitting the ground every morning with new allegations of theft on an unprecedented scale during the duration the inquiry, collated all these and revealed that government lost sh4trillion in dubious contracts, which money was good for 3,647km but the people of UNRA only managed to build 1500km. This out of a total expenditure of sh9trillion.
It is impossible to put an economic value to life. But if every Uganda accounts for about $800 in economic output a year, the death of the 76 on that night six years ago has cost us – using a straight line calculation, about $364,800 (sh1.3b). Or if we use a purchase power parity per capita GDP of $1,638, the loss to the economy more than doubles to sh2.6b.
This is understated in many ways not least of all because many of the victims were middle class Ugandans who were contributing more than the assumed $1,600 a year. Secondly, it is not inconceivable that the victims were supporting others through school, whose economic contribution may have come due. And finally let us assume too that their contribution was growing from year to year over the last six years.
Given all that let us inflate their contribution to five times or sh13b or let us go out on a limb and say 100 times or sh260b in lost economic value.
View this against the sh4trillion, the known loss by UNRA since 2008 and you have to wonder which the real tragedy was.
And we haven’t even begun to try and compute the improvements in economic output that the addition 2,100km would have thrown up if they had been laid across the country. Or to compare oranges to oranges how many people have died for lack of health facilities or drugs or even for from road accidents caused by roads that have fallen apart on account of shoddy workmanship or which don’t exists because some fat cats have taken their cut and subsequently what has been the loss to he economy as a result.
"If you can calibrate terrorism UNRA makes Issa Luyima, the mastermind of the July 11 bombings, look like an angelic choir boy...
White collar crime is a euphemism. It suggests that because the thief does not break into your house and bludgeon you to death with a hammer but, by the stroke of a pen shifts millions, billions or trillions in UNRA’s case, to individual accounts, it is a lesser crime.
Terrorism is a heinous crime that can neither be justified nor explained away. Its shock value comes from the drama of explosions, mutilated bodies and unpredictability. We understate the economic damage of a terror attack and even more so the social and emotional impact of human impact.
But the very fact that even despite our most ambitious calculations and we cannot even begin to compare to the loss due UNRA officials makes you wonder –no, shudder!
So to return to the possible economic benefits of the lost roads to our users.
To begin with the sh9trillion total UNRA spent during the period it is estimated would have added and an additional 5000 km of paved road to this country. Or more than doubled our current stock of 4000 km. it is possible most of our trunk roads would be completed and the ensuing economic output would not have us yawning today.
Thirty years ago to get from Busia to Bushenyi was a two day trip. You would leave Busia at 6 am in the morning and arrive in Kampala about 5pm. Sleepover and set off before dawn the next morning to arrive in Masaka for lunch, Mbarara in the early evening and Bushenyi after dark.
Better roads now make such a trip seven hour affair. Theoretically you can do three round trips in the time it took you to do a one way trip in the 1980s. Meaning you can now carry six times more passengers, matooke, cattle or milk now than then. And these increased activity feeds into the greater economy.
And what is the distance from Busia to Bushenyi by road? 515km!
Do the math!