This year’s Tarehe Sita celebrations, which climaxed in Butaleja district on Tuesday, was not just about dining and wining, but working too.
During the annual week-long events to mark the day this army was founded, the UPDF leadership launched construction of a Shs 130 billion hospital at Mbuya military barracks.
The 250-bed facility, which the army describes as a state-of-the-art national referral hospital, is to be ready within three years, and will be open to civilians too.
According to ministry of Defence acting permanent secretary Edith Buturo, once construction is complete, there will be no more referral of army officers abroad for treatment.
Apparently, the ministry spends Shs 5bn on such treatment every year. Yet this figure pales in comparison to what the government as a whole spends, which is currently estimated at Shs 380bn annually.
Therefore, a well equipped army hospital can save the Ugandan taxpayer much more than Shs 5bn annually. If the government is as concerned as many Ugandans are, about the exorbitant medical bills accumulated by public officials abroad, it can use this military hospital project to end or at least limit the haemorrhage.
The military facility should be built to world-class standards and accordingly equipped so that all public officials who would otherwise have gone abroad for treatment are treated here. Not only does this save us foreign exchange, it helps us build adequate capacity in our national healthcare system.
A well-run military medical facility would appeal to many dignitaries as it comes with acclaimed military efficiency and robust security for high-profile people who might not trust local facilities.
During the same Tarehe Sita week, the UPDF also welcomed back its officers who had undergone three-month training about railway technology in China.
In peacetime, there is so much a disciplined and well-trained army can do. With such a vast and rich human resource, the UPDF is truly capable of achieving great things.
An army that can run world-class hospitals, engage in modern farming, build roads, railways and airports, on top of protecting the country, is what Uganda needs.