Here are the facts about Presidential donations

Thursday 31st May 2018

By Don Wanyama

Picture this. It is a rainy afternoon in Kakumiro, a beautiful district characterized by green undulating hills, tucked between Mubende and Kibaale districts. It is Saturday 24th March. Kakumiro, a district recently carved out of Kibaale, is teeming with activity. President Museveni is expected to grace the district’s belated International Women’s Day celebrations as chief guest.

As the presidential convoy snakes its way to the rally venue, ululations rent the air as a sea of people surge towards the President’s official car. The mood is electric. The crowds are excited to see their President. In a few minutes, district leaders and other politicians make their speeches. The district chairman and Woman MP present a catalogue of gratitude for projects undertaken by government, like the tarmacking of the Mubende-Kakumiro-Kagadi road.

However, they also have a litany of requests to the President. These range from supporting the district to build offices to giving a hand to women and youth SACCOs with some financial backing. The youth make requests for jobs while some veterans want their “kasiimo”. As the President sets to leave, a religious leader approaches him making some “personal” requests.

I have used the Kakumiro example but this basically is the situation the President faces on a day-to-day basis, especially as he meets the Ugandans out in the field. I choose to paint this picture so that I can offer the right context to the ongoing debate about presidential donations. The debate, largely sparked by the Opposition and abetted by some sections of the media, follows President Museveni’s visit to Rukungiri District on Sunday April 15th where he made donations to several women and youth groups. Let me share the facts about this particular event.

The Rukungiri donations

Sometime early this year, President Museveni, on his way to Entebbe State House, was stopped by a group of youth selling matooke by the roadside. In his interaction with them, they revealed to the President that they were from Rukungiri District and that they particularly transported the matooke from Nyakagyeme Sub-county.

Whereas the group had asked for immediate help, President Museveni instead suggested that he meets them back at home in Rukungiri and conducts a wider assessment of what interventions to make to help them. True to his word, the President on Friday March 16, went to Rukungiri, in particular Nyakagyeme Sub-county, where he offered Shs110 million to five local SACCOs.

However, there was overwhelming demand from other groups of youth, women and the disabled in the district that the President equally supports them. That is how the President returned to Rukungiri on Sunday April 15, about a month after his initial visit to Nyakagyeme, and made various donations to 128 groups amounting to Shs5 billion. Among the items offered were tractors, car washing machines, motorcycles, lorries and wood machinery.

In attacking the President, the Opposition has spewed several lies which must be debunked. Prominent among these is that the presidential donation was as a response to the looming Runkungiri Woman MP by-election occasioned after the Court of Appeal upheld the cancellation of Winnie Matsiko’s (NRM) victory following  a petition by FDC’s Betty Muzanira. A keen look at the timelines will show the hollowness of this allegation. Like I have indicated, the idea of supporting groups in Rukungiri came months ago following the Kampala roadside meeting of the President and the youths.

In fact, when the President visited Nyakagyeme on March 16, it would be not until six days later, on March 22, that the Court of Appeal made its decision to annul the Rukungiri Woman MP results. Unless one wants to accuse the President of being a seer, I do not see how his visit on March 16 could be related to a ruling a week away. And even when he went back on April 15, the Electoral Commission had not begun the process of the by-election but the visit was primarily as a follow-up to the first one.

It is also not true to say that the President’s donations happen when there are elections around the corner. Look at this. In this month (April), President Museveni has visited the following districts; Ntungamo (April 2), Ibanda (April 6), Kaabong (April 7), Kiryandongo (April 11), Ibanda again (April 13), Bugiri (April 14) and Rukungiri on April 15th. Thereafter, he left for London to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, returning last Saturday, April 21. Which by-elections were in the other six districts he has visited this month, yet he equally made donations in each of them?

The bigger picture

The practice of donations must be discussed honestly and pragmatically. Generally, in our African socio-political settings, leaders are looked up-to for help, especially by their followers. And it is not just leaders. Given our extended family/community systems, anyone with a decent job, will suffer these pressures from relatives, friends and in-laws. This help ranges from counsel to actual material and financial support. Any political leader (ruling party or opposition) in this country at whatever level must have a story of supporters making demands on them.

For the President, matters are not helped by the fact that his political movement is rooted in the wanainchi. The NRM is a grassroots based party, explaining why the President on average visits two districts a week to speak to the ordinary Ugandans but also listen to them. Naturally, in these engagements, the wanainchi will make requests to him, either out of want or at times, due to frustration of government red tape.

This is the wisdom that informed an actual budgetary framework to support the President fix some of these immediate concerns. Whatever money or item the President donates comes off a parliamentary appropriated budget—complete with audits in every financial year. And State House has done a sterling job in offering accountability. Just recently, a report by the Finance Ministry ranked State House Comptroller, Lucy Nakyobe, the best government accounting officer.

The other lie told by the Opposition is that presidential donations have replaced other government interventions/programmes. These donations can only be treated as intermediary. It is President Museveni who insisted that key sectors of the economy like energy (2.4 trillion), education (2.47 trillion), and infrastructure (Shs4.6 trillion) get a lion’s share of the national budget. State House in this 2017/18 budget was allocated only Shs252 billion.

The wisdom in this is clear. The sectors getting a huge chunk are key in spurring economic growth and pushing industrialization. That is the surest way of getting problems like unemployment resolved in the long-term. It is no wonder that per capita income today stands at $773 as opposed to $250 in 2002. And yet in that period, Uganda’s population has grown from 26 million to 37 million.

From this, we can deduce that the debate on presidential donations is a mere red-herring, being spinned by the opposition with the hope of scoring cheap political points. I doubt they will.

The writer is the Senior Press Secretary to His Excellency the President

Twitter: @nyamadon

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