The President does not replace other institutions of government

Friday 1st June 2018

The Daily Monitor in its Wednesday, May 30 edition, carried an editorial titled ‘Presidential tokenism can’t solve our problems’, which was hinged on last Friday’s accident in Kiryandongo District that has so far left 23 people dead and dozens others injured.

The editorial, which basically took issue with the President and government for offering a modest cash support to victims of the accident (as seen in its headline), also took issue with lack of recognition for soldiers and other Ugandans, who die in service of the country and also suggested that the police are not doing enough to ensure that the roads are safe.

I will start with the last issue. Whereas in the moment of such disasters emotions can run high (because the editorial was mainly emotional), one would expect a mainstream newspaper to offer proper context to this discussion, devoid of feelings, but strong on facts.

So, what are the facts? Five years ago, an average of 200 people were dying annually due to bus-related accidents. The Uganda Police Force then instituted a series of measures to check this, key among them, being that buses plying the long upcountry routes from Kampala would not be allowed to make return journeys (to allow for rest for drivers and service of the vehicles).

The other measure was that all bus drivers were given identification badges and this was because many accidents then had happened after ill-trained turnmen had taken over the duty of driving buses. Currently, at every traffic check-point, bus drivers identify themselves and sign in a traffic logbook.

These measures bore fruit. Last year, the country recorded 23 deaths resulting from bus accidents, down from 200 in 2012/13. This did not happen miraculously. The police have instituted other measures and campaigns like Fika Salama, which has tremendously reduced accidents, especially on Masaka Road. A total of 7,831 traffic offenders have been arrested, fined or charged since that campaign began in August 2016.

For Kampala Metropolitan, the traffic police began the Tembea Salama campaign and in the same period, 8,021 offenders have been brought to book. Talking of defective cars and inspections, the police last year inspected and handled 4,800 cases of vehicles and motorcycles in poor mechanical condition.

The declaration of three days of mourning by government must, therefore, be understood in this context. A lot of gains have been made in the fight to reduce carnage on the roads, but the Kiryandongo accident served as a reminder that we must not rest on our laurels. It was not just a question of “honouring lost lives” as the editorial put it.

It was a general wake-up call to all responsible (including the motorists and passengers) that we should not lose lives senselessly.

The editorial also took issue with the President’s (and therefore government) offer of money to injured passengers and families of those who died in the accident, saying it is not sustainable and breeds patronage, before concluding: ‘Post-disaster presidential tokenism should be substituted with institutional proactive measures…’

What the editorial misses is that donations by the President are legal, lawful and appropriated by Parliament as part of the State House budget. The presidency is actually an institution of government that must be funded like any other. There should be no apologies for this.

The President is the Fountain of Honour, elected by millions of Ugandans, whom he seals a pact with during elections. To fulfil this mandate, surely his activities must be funded. But we must also note that the President is human and compassionate.

The Daily Monitor might want to guide on the “big ticket” issues they want the President to focus on, but I can bet that if their wish for “uniform care” was taken seriously, it would mean more money to the State House budget, which the same paper would be the first to criticise. For the President, it is a question of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

For the record, the President does not replace other institutions of government simply because he has made an intervention. For example, if the President opens a demonstration farm near a State lodge, it does not stop the Agriculture ministry from having their own demonstration farms elsewhere. Many times, the President’s actions are symbolic to cause awareness and push other stakeholders into action.

Finally, it is not true that soldiers and other Ugandans, who die in service of the country, are ignored. The UPDF gives its fallen men and officers a decent burial, and has several initiatives, including survivors’ benefits, that support next of kin.

The government has equally recognised and rewarded other Ugandans who have not just died for the country, but brought it honour and pride.

Quick examples are the teams of health workers who fought the Ebola outbreak here and in Liberia and Sierra Leone plus the numerous athletes, who have won medals at international events. It might not be the most generous of offers, but it means something.

Mr Wanyama is the Senior Press Secretary to the President.

Twitter: @nyamadon

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