On January 25, our revolutionary leader, Gen Yoweri Museveni, and his entire government drove to Arua to remember and celebrate the day (January 26, 1986) National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) seized state power.
The distance from Kampala to Arua is approximately 497 kilometers, requiring at least seven hours on the road. This means that except for the revolutionary who has jets and choppers at his disposal, the rest of government officials travelled a day earlier and returned a day after.
January 26 fell on Friday, a working day in Uganda. It automatically became a holiday, requiring the shutting down of all public offices in order to facilitate their occupants to go to Arua.
Merits and demerits of remembering the day Museveni and group captured power is not what I want to discuss in this column. Rather, the amount of money involved in organizing this and other avoidable national events.
For example, think of the amount of money required to host such an event in Arua or any other district in terms of fuel, accommodation and allowances.
The state-of-the-art Land Cruisers that carry our beloved leaders, nicknamed Mpenkoni, can each consume two full tanks of fuel for this journey, which comes to about Shs 700,000.
Each of these leaders spends at least Shs 400,000 for accommodation and Shs 800,000 in out-of-station allowance. As a public official, that is what I am entitled to if I were to travel to Arua.
Therefore, a taxpayer spent approximately Shs 2 million on each minister and senior public servant attending celebrations to mark 32 years of NRM in power in Arua.
Mind you, these days nearly all ministers have escort vehicles full of armed personnel. To establish the total cost, just count the number of dignitaries that graced this occasion.
If that doesn’t give you the correct picture, let us use figures supplied to parliament every year by the ministry of Finance. This financial year (2017/18) which we are about to conclude (June), we are going to spend Shs 283 billion on travel inland. This means we are spending Shs 776 million per day and Shs 20 billion per month on travel within the country.
Mind you, there is a separate budget for fuel and vehicle maintenance. This year, we are spending Shs 131 billion on fueling vehicles for the entitled officers and Shs 75 billion on maintaining them.
The trouble with long journeys like going to Arua is that not only do they break a vehicle, but they increase its mileage. You know public vehicles are supposed to be sold when they clock five years of age or attain mileage of 100,000km.
A return journey to Arua is roughly 1,000 kilometres which means if such celebrations are to always be held outside Kampala, after 100 times to such destinations, you will need a new car. That is why this year we will spend Shs 114 billion on buying new vehicles.
Tarehe Sita, the day Museveni and other rebels raided Kabamba barracks, will be celebrated in Butalejja and, I hear, Independence cerebrations will be in Tororo.
And transporting the man himself is extremely expensive. In the 9th parliament, Dr Lulume Bayiga, using figures presented by State House to parliament, simplified the work for us.
Mr Museveni requires Shs 2.4 billion for what State House called public outreach. In other words, he requires Shs 2.4 billion to travel to Arua or Busia to preside over NRM/NRA victory parties.
Yet there is no money to repair the CT scanner at the country’s national referral hospital. And it is not only transport, allowances and hotel fees that we are paying through the nose.
We are also buying space in the media to congratulate the revolutionary leader. New Vision published 88 pages on NRM’s 32nd anniversary full of congratulatory messages from ministries, government agencies and ‘well-wishers’.
Daily Monitor published 44 pages on the same and The Observer had more than 20 pages. A full-page advert in a newspaper costs about Shs 8m. The revolutionary leader must be congratulated for being in power for 32 years!
And I hope you read the messages. The one from Agoa Country Response Office signed by senior presidential advisor Suzan Muhwezi was most interesting.
It partly read: “ …wish to congratulate His Excellency Yoweri Museveni, the First Lady Hon Janet Kataaha Museveni and the NRM government …” At first, I thought it was a marriage anniversary until I saw the word government.
This is what we pay for. Every year, we spend Shs 45 billion on advertising. I have framed copies of these newspapers for future reference. The next generation will need to know how much a poor country like Uganda used to borrow to congratulate its leader.
We (parliament) have just finished processing the preliminary budget figures for next year’s national budget and government has borrowed from commercial banks through treasury bills and bonds to the tune of Shs 12 trillion. Nearly more than half of the projected Shs 29.1 trillion budget will be spent on paying debts.
Local suppliers are crying, supermarkets are closing because of government failure to pay but money to drive to Arua is still available. Hospital equipment is not repaired but money to fund celebrations in memory of an attack on a barracks 32 years ago is available. Incredible!
The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.