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We need to up our game on investments

If we were to rely on the technical definition of investment by economists or the legal one in our codes, it wouldn’t make much sense to the ordinary minds!

But an ordinary person understands that investment involves creation of assets by money owners. There are also expected rewards for investors and the host as well – all factors remaining constant, the former reaps a profit and the latter gets employed, improves his labor skills and the quality of life.

The idea of investment in Uganda has taken a particular notoriety. We have investors who have licenses to manufacture all manner of liquor! This is an investment which hardly requires $10,000 to start.

The liquor is given all sorts of fancy names such as coffee spirit, London, juice, etc. Unemployed youth who should be kept off the streets by the very investors are instead being slowly wasted by the latter’s products!

Certainly, majority of workers in these makeshift liquor factories are not Ugandans and when locals are recruited, they earn a pittance!

The failure of Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) to establish a transparent mechanism with very little bureaucracy and easy access to information has created a bevy of con-artists and middlemen.

The creation of UIA was meant to cut down the red tape and roll out a one- stop centre to ease access to necessary information and licenses for investors.

The middlemen have also shifted the investment decisions from UIA to the president’s office. They have the art of detecting when the president is at his weakest. This is the time they take all these phony investors to him and usually, he is compelled to approve projects, which are not well-thought-out!

In turn, they earn a huge commission for getting the ‘investor’ to meet the president. But the country does not gain anything!

If the investor is granted land, that land ends up being sold to another phony investor and the cycle continues. The investment plan shifts from one originally presented to one of land vending!

Last year a Danish diplomat told The Observer about the abundant local investment opportunities that Danish investors are interested in!

However, investors are frustrated by the dishonest behavior of Ugandan officials who connect them to fraudulent landowners. And the land disputes take forever to be settled in courts of law.

Genuine investors are unlikely to exploit opportunities unless they believe they will be rewarded or insulated from risk. Uganda will have to change the way investors are handled. First, UIA has to be assertive and focused on attracting quality investors.

Two, UIA should be organized and have what to sell to investors. The president too, should let institutions work!

Sometimes his unwarranted interference and apparent favoritism of some investors has left this country in a mess. Some investors have ‘dirty’ money and want to wash it in Uganda.

They know that if they went through proper scrutiny by the concerned institutions, they would run out of luck. So often they run to higher offices crying foul, accusing government officials of soliciting bribes. True, some officials have asked for bribes.

Why would an investor pay a bribe to invest in Uganda if he doesn’t have something to hide? Uganda is saddled with a loan burden of Shs 3.9 trillion, which expires in 2020, and government has no clue on how this will be repaid.

This country has abundant investment opportunities but the officials in charge have no clue on how to awaken this gem!

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