Talk is cheap, actions are expensive, it is often said. The 2016 presidential election campaign now running into the fourth week tells it all. Candidates are talking, making grand promises— the heaven on earth sort of.
The contest has three top candidates. But five other contenders are in the race as well.
The incumbent, President Museveni, after almost 30 years in power, assured the country at a rally after his nomination early this month that once re-elected for a fifth term until 2021, “Uganda will never be the same again”.
And supposing he is re-elected? Throughout his campaign trail he has been preaching job creation and inclusive development, two aspects that will usher Uganda into modernity.
He has promised better housing for teachers, free sanitary pads for all girls in all Universal Primary Education (UPE)-funded schools, free geometry sets, books, pens, and so on.
He has also promised to improve the quality of healthcare, better housing facilities for doctors, police officers, construct 300 toilets in Kampala, and build more regional hospitals.
While preaching job creation in Nakaseke District on the second day of campaigning, President Museveni said: “Those asking where the jobs for the youth will come from, electricity will attract factories. Factories will provide jobs for the youth.”
He further pledged to transform Nakaseke into an industrial hub.
At his first campaign rally in Luweero District, the heartland of the Luweero Triangle where he waged the NRM/A guerrilla war in the 1980s, the President pledged to increase funding for the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) to the tune of Shs1 trillion if re-elected. The area has lately attracted commercial agriculture.
In northern Uganda, he pledged to inject Shs20 billion in the cattle compensation programme, and to fully settle the Shs500 billion debt. He also pledged to pay the war veterans, whose exact numbers are unknown, but total debt stands somewhere at Shs1,500b. Already, he indicated, Shs70b has been paid during this 2015/16 financial year.
He promised to increase funding for microfinance projects from the current Shs44b to Shs500b. The President also promised to inject Shs7b into a women’s fund and Shs33b into the Youth Fund to uplift their livelihoods.
The NRM flag bearer also promised Arua a city status and has preached poverty eradication, transformation of agriculture, infrastructural development and ICT development. While in Alebtong District, Mr Museveni blamed the poor performance of UPE, launched in 1997 as education for all, on poor implementation but promised to fix it.
While in Nwoya District, he directed Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to factor in procurement of 18 million hoes while budgeting for the next financial year. Six million families will get the hoes, three each. With a hoe costing about Shs10,000, that translates into about Shs180b.
The President also scrapped collateral security requirements for rural dwellers wishing to access loans from the government’s Shs85b microfinance support centre.
He has promised to tarmac almost every road, especially those that are part of the 2,000km listed in his party’s manifesto.
Finally, President Museveni has also promised to respect the law and peacefully hand over power if defeated in next year’s February 18 polls.
“I have my job you very well know – I am a cattle keeper. So if I lose I will go to my farm,” he said.
A Sunday Monitor summation of all monetary pledges by President Museveni in his first three weeks of campaign comes to about Shs3 trillion.
Several of the monetary pledges are not captured in his NRM party’s 338-page policy framework with the theme: “Taking Uganda to Modernity through Job Creation & Inclusive Development.”
The document at its launch was dubbed the diagnosis of Uganda’s problems and the prescription for the next five years.
President Museveni’s long-time rival Kizza Besigye is yet to unveil his policy manuscript which details how the party intends to govern Uganda.
But throughout his campaign messages, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate has promised to empower the people; liberate the country from ruins and restructure the State and its institutions. And thereafter, begin rebuilding an all-inclusive approach.
In his campaign trail gospel, Dr Besigye – a former personal doctor to the incumbent during the Bush War, but fell out with the system in 1999 after authoring a hard-hitting document detailing how the NRM had derailed from the principles that pushed them to wage the guerrilla warfare – has promised to increase teachers’ salaries to a minimum of Shs600,000 for primary teachers and Shs1 million for secondary teachers (for 160,000 teachers). Debate on this proposal has been polarising.
He has promised to introduce feeding for primary pupils and secondary students and free scholastic materials. He has promised to propel a minimum wage in the country to scale down the current exploitation of labour.
Dr Besigye, who started his campaigns in his home district of Rukungiri, also pledged to increase the agriculture budget to 12 per cent and introduce tractor hire system per sub-county.
He promised to reinstate presidential term limits, which were controversially removed from the Constitution in 2005. If elected to power, Dr Besigye says, his government will introduce an interest-free students’ loan scheme.
The FDC candidate promised to revitalise cooperative societies. The enterprises, largely farmer-established and started from colonial days to increase farmers’ bargaining power, were phased out in the post-1986 period. Dr Besigye also vowed to revamp the Uganda Development Bank so it can cater for social security for the elderly –a Shs50,000 monthly hand out to anyone above 65 years old.
He also promised to return democratic governance; rule of law and accountability; get rid of the corruption that has characterised public service and to cut back on the bloated size of public administration.
Dr Besigye has also promised reforms in agriculture, healthcare and education, to revive industries, especially to revive the status of Jinja Town – once bustling with industrial activity before 1986.
Former prime minister Amama Mbabazi early this week unveiled his policy prescription which details what he has been preaching in the last weeks of his campaign.
During his campaigns, Mr Mbabazi promised to pay veterans (numbers not established). He also promised reforms in the agricultural sector; education; reinstate cooperatives and to revamp the current healthcare system. To win over the Baganda, he promised the return of federo.
In what he will do during his first 100 days in power, Mbabazi in his manifesto, promised to create 444,160 new public sector jobs at the sub-county level and 3.5 million private sector jobs over five years (700,000 jobs per year), especially for the youth.
Distancing himself from his former boss, Mbabazi also promised a peaceful transition of leadership from his generational crop to youthful leaders. He also promised teachers better pay and vowed to address social security for the elderly and workers.
The former prime minister also promised to propel a copyright and intellectual property rights law, redesign and upgraded the national museum and National Theatre to international standards.
Ideas or ideals?
In the tradition of easy come, easy go, Ramathan Ggoobi, a lecturer at Makerere University Business School, argues that promises are easy to make and to be broken.
“It is more tragic in Uganda and other African states where institutions are non-functional. Politicians make promises, even the most unrealistic ones, because the population is at a point where they look at things around them as extremely bad,” he says.
The worst part, Mr Ggoobi argues, is the absence of national priorities that should bind all aspirants and shape the political debate.
“So that talk you are listening to is simply individual aspirations,” he says.
The objective of political campaigns, Ggoobi adds, is for the contenders to rally support, show what they can do, sell their policy agenda that should be rich on substance, “but in Uganda because the quality of governance is watered down, (some) presidential aspirants are busy making populist pronouncements.”
The debate on some campaign promises has been polarising. Take, for example, Museveni’s purchase of 18 million hoes yet the same time his government and donors have been pumping billions in modernisation of agriculture.
Or Besigye’s promise to give teachers better pay if he goes to State House, which some critics have called cheap talk.
President Museveni reacted to Dr Besigye’ promise, saying it is intended to incite teachers, who have several times been up in arms for a 100 per cent salary increase.
Dr Fred Muhumuza, a senior manager at the audit firm KPMG, says for FDC’s pledge they can get the money by closing the leakages from corruption, but also by slashing a few dollars from the massive infrastructure projects, some of which can be deferred.
“Part of the solution to the health and school system is to improve the salaries, not only for welfare sake, but it is good economics because of widespread impact to the households, you create local demand at households across the country,” he says.
Besigye has also vowed to revive Uganda Airlines which was liquated by government in May 2001, saving it from a $6m (Shs21b) debt.
In an earlier interview with Daily Monitor, State minister for Transport Stephen Chemoiko Chebrot revealed that government had hired Ernst & Young, a global audit firm, to evaluate the viability of the airline and “government was looking at an average of $300m (Shs1 trillion) as the initial injection into the national carrier revival.”
If government, as FDC proposes, enters into a private-public partnership, his administration would foot at least 80 per cent of the Shs1 trillion, requiring his Finance minister to look for Shs800b.
The idea is opposed by economists like Muhumuza who quotes global airline giants like British Airways that have closed shop in Uganda. He says revival of the airline subtracts value to the economy.
Dr Abed Bwanika, right from his inaugural rally in Busoga, has vowed to increase the agriculture budget to 15 per cent. Government this Financial Year cut allocation to agriculture to Shs417b from Shs473.7b in the 2014/15 Budget.
Dr Muhumuza says: “In a peasant setting, cooperatives are critical to keep farmers as a bloc; even Naads services should have been channelled through them. But the promises are not anchored on strategy of how, for example, they will organise farmers and boost production.”
The problem with agriculture is not the 15 per cent budget rise Bwanika wants to cause, but the need to restructure the entire sector and review programmes such as Naads.
“We need to start with the 4 per cent. What is it doing? I want to hear somebody talk about structural reform. We gave UNRA Shs3 trillion consistently, but the ongoing probe reveals the money was actually misused,” Muhumuza says.
For the campaign promises being thrown in the air, Dr Muhumuza argues that achieving them rotates around the candidate’s commitment to reform the public service and elitist club that fails government programmes through graft.
“That reform, with stamping out corruption at the heart of it, will then feed into filling the gaps in the attendant specifics in critical areas of agriculture, infrastructure, health, education and other social services. To say you will feed children, for instance, without looking at how to improve food production in the household, is to shoot and aim later,” Muhumuza says.
The World Bank in 2012 indicated that Uganda annually loses Shs500 billion to corruption, but if the vice can be curbed, like various candidates are promising, then the money can be used in other productive ventures.
But Dr Richard Ssewakiryanga, the executive director National NGO Forum, says: “Pronouncements at campaigns are like when someone is marketing a beer brand and on the poster they use a picture of a beautiful woman. It is just a marketing strategy.”
“Whether Museveni, Besigye or Mbabazi or anyone else, they will say things to appeal to the crowds. But to achieve the desired change, I think, the candidates should be selling to the public their policy prescriptions, not the sweet talk.”
Besigye wage vows
FDC’s Kizza Besigye has promised to pay primary school teachers Shs650,000. The least paid teacher in a government primary school currently takes home Shs279,000. He will move medical doctors from the current take home of Shs900,000 to a minimum of Shs3.5m.
The current government budget per child in school is Shs7,000 per year. We have not yet factored in what he would require to avail free scholastic materials (a set, six exercise books, pen) at a minimum of Shs1,000 per child annually.
Then we have the teachers’ salaries. As of 2012, there were at least 181,232 teachers with 131,551 of these on the government payroll.
So for a minimum of Shs600,000 per teacher, Geofrey Ekanya, the shadow Finance minister, ahead of their delayed manifesto release, says if FDC wins power they will have to dig deep into the coffers and fish out at least Shs8b monthly, taking the wage bill for teachers to Shs96b annually.
In 2014, the wage component for primary schools, as per the ministry of Finance (midterm expenditure framework) rose by Shs202b from Shs619.68b in 2013/2014 to Shs822.07b in 2014/15 while that for secondary schools (government aided) stood at Shs202.6b in 2014/15.
Uganda’s wage bill rose by two per cent from Sh2.440 trillion ($938 million) in the last Financial Year to Shs2.893 trillion ($1.1 billion) in 2014/15, largely on the back of a recent pay award to teachers.
This implies that the portion of Uganda’s recurrent expenditure to total budget increased from 38 per cent in the Financial Year 2013/14 to 40 per cent in the next financial year.
Uganda, contrasted with Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana whose wage bill is more than half of the budget, fairs well but FDC’s promises for windfall increases in salaries for teachers and health workers could increase the wage bill by three fold.