How Kampala Potholes and the Iron Sheets are Related

For weeks the headlines have been on the iron sheets saga, along with an increasing crescendo of complaints about the state of Kampala’s roads. On casual examination it may not seem that these two are related, but the potholes are the consequence of the iron sheets issue.

It was reported that President Museveni was very upset when he was told about the diversion of the iron sheets which were supposed to go to a programme for the disarming of the Karamajong youth, also known as ‘karacuna’. The idea was to give them a kind of resettlement package of iron sheets, maize and goats so that they would abandon the life of theft and cattle rustling.

There have been army programmes for the disarmament of the Karamajong over the past 20 years which had brought the situation under control, but because of the Covid pandemic and an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, legitimate trade in cattle was disrupted. Young men started thieving and cattle rustling, with several hundred people reported to have been killed.

Currently General Salim Saleh is residing in the Karamoja region to find solutions to these issues, and while in the past the army dealt aggressively with such disorder, on this occasion it was suggested that the karacuna be provided with this rehabilitation package in exchange for renouncing banditry.

Such a programme costs money, so a supplementary budget was authorized for 39 billion shillings. Budget planning happens long before the financial year begins and should be aligned with Uganda’s development goals. However, as Uganda’s borrowing has increased, a large proportion of the budget is taken up by debt repayment. The priorities after this are classified expenditure (State House, Police and Defense), then public expenditure for the political class, and paying government salaries.

Therefore, the amount left over for discretionary spending is very small. URA is also working in an increasingly tough economic climate and finds it difficult to meet its targets, so money which has been budgeted for programmes in Ministries and government bodies, such as KCCA, may not be allocated, particularly if it is superseded by a supplementary budget.

In this case the small budget that had been allocated for fixing potholes was not released, while the money for the iron sheets was. Then the Ministers who were tasked with implementing the karacuna programme – the Prime Minister and the Minister for Karamoja diverted the iron sheets to their fellow ministers.

Meantime the KCCA pothole engineers were sitting around doing nothing, waiting for materials which never materialized, KCCA having already run up billions of shillings of debt with suppliers.

The previous Executive Director of KCCA, Jennifer Musissi, had political clout with the President until the elections in Kampala ‘went south’, when she lost her leverage and eventually left the job. Other employees of KCCA in senior positions also left because they could not achieve anything and found it too frustrating. Then the President appointed Dorothy Kisaka as Executive Director, a lawyer who had been working closely with Prime Minister, Ruhakana Rugunda. Dorothy is an honest public servant but lacks the political muscle of her predecessor who had been able to gain an increased budget for Kampala. Unlike Jennifer, she was not even getting the allocated budget.

The late Keith Muhakanizi warned against supplementary budgets because they push out regular expenditure, which is what has happened. Unbelievably, the iron sheets were then diverted from Karamoja by the Prime Minister’s office to some of the highest officers in the land, including the Speaker of Parliament. We are now seeing some of these officers being prosecuted, but there are no winners here because both the people of Karamoja and the people of Kampala continue to suffer due to poor budgetary discipline exacerbated by rampant corruption.

There may be light at the end of the tunnel for Kampala because there have been several proposals to fix Kampala’s roads from British Aid, the Japanese and the World Bank. Sadly, we have lost Keith Muhakinizi, but perhaps his warnings on supplementary budgets will echo more loudly from the grave, and perhaps we will see the prosecution of all those involved in the diversion of the iron sheets.

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