There is a folk song (Ofunda n’omubi) commonly performed by Afrigo band with a storyline where a man gives up the chase for a beautiful woman and settles for an ugly one.
He rationalizes his decision by heaping praises of hard work on the ugly woman. He concludes that it is better to have an ugly one who bears children and mends the gardens than having a figurehead wife with no virtues.
When I first listened to this song, I didn’t think the man was really rationalizing settling for less or setting the bar far too low!
Similarly, a battle of egos is raging on at Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra). President Museveni has written a strong-worded letter and directed the Unra boss, Allen Kagina, to reinstate Dott Services Limited to complete Tirinyi-Nakalama road.
This contract had been cancelled by Unra for unsatisfactory work. In the aftermath of the contract cancellation, Dott Services reeled off a series of court cases. The matter is yet to be decided by the Court of Appeal. With the matter still in court, it meant the road project could not be awarded to another construction firm.
Amid this fracas, the president first issued directives to all public entities not to contract Dott Services for any work. This letter was rescinded soon after. Now the president is at it again.
Strangely, Gen Museveni admits, in the most recent letter to Kagina, that he is not fully abreast with all the issues concerning this contract. Nevertheless, he directs Unra to reinstate Dott Services! The president reasons that while it is important to fight corruption, Unra should be mindful of the need to create jobs for Ugandans.
“I advise you to use or follow my method/advice in this war of corruption but also creating a base for our children and grandchildren to be employed. This is why I have, at least once, pardoned Ugandan companies when they make mistakes,” Museveni said in his October 26, 2017 letter. “This is my strategy to create jobs and wealth by supporting local companies in whichever way possible.”
In essence, it appears the president is willing to turn a blind eye to some grave mistakes made by local companies. As patriotic as it may sound, this argument is laden with landmines.
It is capable of fomenting impunity among local companies. It also compromises on standards and disregards all procurement procedures put in place to ensure fair play, equality and balance.
Now the president wants Unra to treat Dott Services like the legendary prodigal son who squanders his fortune but is still welcomed back home and even spoilt the more by parents.
By the president issuing such a directive, which even has no legal effect because neither the Unra Act nor the PPDA Act vest any such powers in the president, he is setting a bad precedent for the country.
Ms Kagina can respectfully disregard that directive and do what is right. In such matters, it is the Constitution, Unra Act, PPDA Act, and not a presidential directive, that govern Kagina. Unra’s contracts committee, which awarded Dott Services the contract in the first place, is supposed to work independently. But now the president is ordering them to reinstate the company in which they have no faith.
Is the president pleading for Dott Services to be reinstated because they are Ugandans or because he is certain of the quality of their work? If the same company repeats its mistakes and work stalls again, will the president apportion himself some blame?
Unlike ministers, the president is insulated from civil and criminal proceedings. Therefore, he cannot be tried for having influenced the reinstatement of Dott Services.
Former minister for Works, Transport and Housing, Abraham Byandala, is before the Anti-Corruption court for issuing similar directives to Unra. Byandala is alleged to have directed Unra to award the tender to construct Mukono-Katosi road to Eutaw, a fictitious company.
The president should, therefore, give chance to Unra to make its decisions and also own up their mistakes, if any. A construction company is not like the legendary ugly woman who can, at least, bear children and greet visitors. If a road is poorly constructed, the consequences are dire.
We should never settle for less simply because we want to promote local companies. The president is not doing any Ugandan a favour by promoting mediocrity in the guise of patriotism and local content.
The author is the business development director at The Observer Media Limited.