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We can and must invest in public services

Patients sleeping outside at Kawempe hospital

Patients sleeping outside at Kawempe hospital

Today we are faced with multiple crises. Some arguably cannot be avoided: Covid-19, the cost of living and the Russia-Ukraine war. Others we can, especially the ones in Uganda.

Health workers were on strike just recently. Again. Again, patients are not receiving healthcare because public health facilities lack the basics. Schools opened but many children of school-going age are home because they lack school fees.

Schools charge exorbitantly amidst a cost of living crisis and despite calls by the ministry of Education and Sports not to do so. Rights such as access to healthcare and education should not be a privilege for the few, or based on one’s ability to pay.

How did we get here? What are our priorities? What will happen to our children if we do not rethink this broken system?

Why have we accepted to privatise and commodify services like health including through public-private partnerships? Have we learned nothing from Covid-19?

Why are we not questioning the growing austerity imposed on us by funders including the International Monetary Fund that have left and will continue to leave public services chronically underfunded? How about the growing debt burden where we have normalized spending more on servicing debt than on health, education and social protection combined?

We are driving inequality and entrenching power disparities when we fail to invest in quality public services. Women and the poor, for whom public services are often the first point of call, bear the brunt. In Uganda, this is a sizeable majority. After all, by Bank of Uganda’s estimates, only one per cent earn above Shs 1 million. But we will all need quality public services.

Covid-19 revealed you are a medical bill away from poverty!

Uganda is not unique. As part of an African campaign for public services, the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) is conducting, last year we met fellow Africans from different countries and the stories and tragedies were eerily similar. The rapid commercialization of social services on the continent and state’s failure to invest in public services triggered the African Commission’s recent landmark General Comment 7.

The Commission reminded states that the provision of social services is an inherently public activity, underscoring their non-commercial nature and calling on states to fund them through progressive taxation and to regulate all actors providing public services.

We really can and should expand financing for public services. We can and must rethink unfair tax rules, nationally and internationally, that deprive us of the funding needed to attain quality public services while enabling only a few to accumulate income, wealth and power.

A collective response is urgently needed. In November last year, I joined colleagues from all around the world who were deeply concerned about the deteriorating state of public services and to discuss the importance of quality public services in our future. Together in Santiago, Chile, we called for more investment in quality public services through progressive taxation.

The Santiago Declaration on Public Services reiterates the need for quality, gender-transformative and equitable public services for a fair and just society.

In Uganda, a concerned group of citizens came together during the height of the Covid-19 Delta wave, where we had an oxygen crisis, and formed a coalition penning our demands in the People’s Manifesto for Quality Public Services. A movement is growing. Join us. Our future is public.

The author is the programs manager, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER).


0 #1 Akot 2023-03-27 14:50
{We can and must invest in public services}

This is not possible in Museveni's Uganda, but will be possible when Ugandan end his rule in UNITY, put in place a governance, then ensure they are well governed!

Until then, Museveni will ensure Ugandans are poorer tribally divided ruled fighting one another for posts in his Uganda!
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