I have a strange feeling that this may be the last of my numerous pleas with the NRM government to keep Uganda Broadcasting Corporation intact, at least for future governments.
My prayer is that my next article on UBC will be to salute NRM for heeding my pleas. There is yet no evidence that UBC has been sold off as is frequently alleged. Unfortunately, many of those making this allegation are high-profile Ugandans, more likely to be believed than ignored.
The anti-UBC conspiracy includes psychologically preparing Ugandans not to mourn the loss of another national asset “because it will have been clinically dead for a very long time”. The loss will be tolerated as euthanasia for the terminally ill.
According to the government’s Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), “UBC is completely irrelevant and dysfunctional and is just for giving people addresses”. Was this public announcement designed to encourage confidence in the state broadcaster?
Information and communications technology minister Frank Tumwebaze’s committee headed by Peter Mwesige believes that “UBC itself has done little to secure its independence and remain relevant in the eyes of the public.”
This independence apparently means independence from the owner’s wishes and interests. It may mean UBC suing government for directing it to cover national functions without payment.
It means that government service makes UBC irrelevant in the eyes of the public and that government, the NRM government, is actually irrelevant to the public!
Let the NRM government read, mark, learn and inwardly digest that diagnosis…
In the last six months, we, at UBC, have had excess media coverage and most has painted the institution in the worst colours; UBC is either on its deathbed, in the mortuary or trying to escape from the Undertaker.
The Mwesige report also publicly condemned our board and management to the sack. Matters worsened when the finance minister swore not to release UBC’s now mythical Shs 20 billion bailout until the line minister, Frank Tumwebaze, had swung the axe. When the minister recently called for a probe into our board’s spending, the ‘funeral atmosphere’ at UBC peaked.
Last year, in another newspaper, I risked predicting that NRM would go down in world history as the only government on earth which supervised the demise of its own media arsenal. I am risking the same prediction again…
In that article, I said: “Government still boasts of the Shs 1 billion it gives UBC every year. This translates into Shs 83 million per month or the monthly emoluments of three to four members of parliament.
“UBC has gained infamy for having some 500 employees, especially because many think that UBC means UBC TV and most of the 500 are ghosts. Apart from Plot 17 Nile avenue, Kampala, UBC has some ten radio stations, two other TV stations and 39 sites upcountry. Divide 500 staff by 53 sites or stations and you have just nine staff per unit.
“If the Shs 83 million is divided equally among UBC’s 500 workers minus taxes, from the managing director to the gateman, each will go home with Shs 166,000.”
Last month, the miserly government took another bold step towards closing down UBC when it subjected the institution’s operations to Umeme’s ‘great’ Yaka scheme. UBC will be the world’s first (and I hope the last) state media house to go off air because pre-paid electricity has run out.
Sophists are hailing the Yaka scheme as the best for responsible use of resources. This implies, in UBC’s case, that we have been misusing electricity, and it could be true. However, the only way to reduce transmission costs is to shut down the transmitters. This is also possible; after all, before NRM came, TV broadcasting would start at 5pm and close at 11pm.
Radio would open at 6am and close at midnight, with several breaks in between. If UBC reduces on-air-time to save electricity, the NRM government will have scored another first.
But since it is not only UBC but 20 other state bodies now on Yaka, I am happy. Mulago hospital will probably go off because of Yaka; traffic lights will black out via Yaka; radars will go off via Yaka and, hopefully, parliament will go off via Yaka while several MPs are riding the lifts. Thereafter, we might repossess Umeme and even resurrect Uganda Electricity Board.
For government to accept prepaid electricity in its institutions is an admission that it is no longer creditworthy.
As part of the NRM 10-Point Programme, UBC must be self-sustaining. Don’t mind statutory claims that it is 100 per cent owned by government. Government frequently engages high-profile Ugandans to manage UBC and, within months, their once-colourful CVs start going opaque. The problem always arises when such managers are told to “somehow” find money to run UBC, which can lead to the most remarkable innovations.
I was hosting Hon Colonel Felix Kulayigye on my Bwiino show on ‘Star TV’ when I drew this problem to his attention. I asked him what would happen if the UPDF was ordered to fend for itself and told him that its trading arm, the National Enterprises Corporation, would begin selling weapons to whoever needed them.
The Military Land Board would find it imperative to sell some barracks land and strategic sites to secure soldiers’ salaries, etc. Are you alarmed? You had better be!
Smart Ugandans have devised a method of owning government property which I have dubbed ‘The Uganda Airlines template’. I predicted that it would be applied to UBC. Government once had Uganda Posts and Telecommunications Corporation; today, Posta Uganda is at war with Uganda Telecom over land and the next battle will be over Post Bank…
Until recently, there was a popular gospel channel known as ‘UBC-24’ but it was not yet making money. Eyeing ‘UBC-24’ was one Shem Katende of ‘Channel One’, which came to UBC ostensibly to provide free TV content. Miraculously, his title metamorphosed to ‘Official production partner of UBC’.
An audit could show how ungenerous the donor was, but a few months later, he was not only in charge of ‘Channel 24’ but had renamed it ‘UBC One’ and, shortly after, ‘Channel One’.
The smart Katende also secured prime space in the new TV complex, all on the pledge to share with government (or UBC) any revenues accruing to his venture.
Finally, the content-provider began getting content from “content-starved UBC” as government wagged tail in its satisfaction.
Into the UBC radios’ network stormed Dave Kazoora of Buddies Production fame, who swiftly took charge of Magic 100 FM, promising to share with government (or UBC) the millions he would generate from his venture. Kazoora has also acquired ‘Magic TV’, a sister to the late UBC-24, again on the hopeful terms above.
Kazoora also came in as a content provider to Magic 100 FM but top officials at UBC recently told Sunday Vision that Kazoora is providing technology to UBC. Technology!
Suspicious employees were assured that copies of the contracts empowering these two innovations would be shown to them, but we are yet to see them.
And perhaps in line with revolutionary methods of work, we hear that the UBC contracts committee was not involved.
To this we add the partnership with the Chinese StarTimes conglomerate, about which I know very little. All I know is that this is the package that is causing the “UBC sold” stories.
If President Museveni gets this article, I want him to know that these innovations at UBC are not bad for Uganda, but they are fatal for the national public broadcaster, for the image of the NRM and for the president himself.
I find it difficult to believe that the president does not know that UBC will soon be another collection of private media houses under an umbrella along Nile avenue. And I predict that since sensitivity to state concerns is not on the editorial policies of these creations, something will be broadcast here with far-reaching effects.
By the way, Magic and Channel One premises and facilities inside UBC actually make the original UBC look like a leper, with open sores. It tempts many UBC staff into contemplating desertion, again within Plot 17 Nile avenue.
I now ask the reader to convince me that UBC’s deadly illness is not being supervised by the NRM government prior to disposing it. If we are on the same page, then this will not be my last article on UBC.
The author works with UBC.