Idon’t know whether we will fidget like these NRM fellows when we finally get into government.
You needed to follow their reaction when news started filtering in that a boat carrying an estimated 120 people had capsized around Mutima Beach in Mukono district.
Their shabby response was best illustrated by an order to the city mortuary at Mulago to stop releasing bodies until Deputy Prime Minister Gen Moses Ali arrived to address the mourners. All that the relatives wanted were bodies of their dear ones to begin burial preparations. But government said ‘wait a minute there is politics to play before you walk away.’
Throughout this trying period, government has blamed everybody apart from itself. Aggrey Bagiire, the state minister for Transport, blamed the owner of the boat for hiding it. He said as the ministry they have been looking for it because it was not in good mechanical conditions.
My understanding of his statement is that both the military and police intelligence units are not working. How on earth can someone hide a boat bigger than an elephant?
How did the owner/s manage to put it back on the water without the knowledge of government? Maybe they started looking for it when the accident happened. Moreover 120 people sat at KK Beach in Gaba waiting for it for about four hours. I highly doubt that this government that disperses two people who are assembling for a rally didn’t know about this gathering.
And President Museveni also blamed the owner and threatened to charge them with murder if they themselves had not died. Let us face it, all that this government wants in water is fish because it earns Uganda, I think, about $300 million a year. Water transport is not a priority and that is how they have failed to do even the most basic things.
The ministry of Works and Transport estimates that about 8 million people travel by water within the country annually. This number is bigger than the two million who arrive in Uganda through Entebbe Airport (air). This is therefore a big sector.
Unfortunately, when you look at the aggregated budget figures, this sector (water transport) is given peanuts. Maritime, where water transport falls, is allocated Shs 720 million a year. And the specific function of registering and inspecting of vessels is given just Shs 140 million.
With this allocation, will you be surprised to learn that in a whole year, Works inspected only 78 vessels in the whole country. If you think I am lying, read their Annual Sector Performance Report for 2016/17.
Can you imagine State House is allocated Shs 4.7 billion annually for entertainment/welfare, while registration of vessels and inspection on all Uganda water bodies is given just Shs 140 million?
And there is a compelling reason to inspect these vessels almost daily because 90 per cent of them are traditionally made by fishermen. These are the vessels that move eight million people annually. And they should be over 10,000 but government is able to inspect only 78. Maybe the one that killed people was one of the many that remain uninspected.
The ministry of Works notes in their annual performance report:
“Overall navigation on Uganda water bodies remains risky. This is largely because over 90 per cent of the vessels are of traditional build and our water bodies lack hydrographical and bathymetrical charts, except those that were conducted on Lake Victoria charted in 1901. The charts on Lake Victoria are too old to be relied on for safe navigation especially around populated islands.”
The Inland Water Transport Bill was passed by cabinet in 2016 but it has not been tabled in Parliament, which is why we are still using the Vessels Registration Act of 1904 and Inland Water (Control) Act of 1939 enacted before Gen Moses Ali celebrated his first birthday. He is now 79 year old. How can you turn around and blame obsolete and disjointed laws when you have been in power for 33 years.
The problems of this sector are what government should take blame and responsibility for, instead of blaming victims of its failures. Therefore, as we mourn, let us focus our attention on how water transport is governed under this administration.
Already, some fishermen the first to arrive at the scene of accident to rescue people, have said Police and UPDF came three hours later. The accident happened at 7pm and security came at 11pm.
I know these things are easier said but someone serious should be patrolling the lake heavily, especially during the weekend because there is a heavy presence of people at various beaches and on the water. Rescue boats and those doing surveillance should be doing their work. But knowing what Uganda has become under this administration I highly doubt there will be fuel for these patrols.
The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.