KAMPALA – The Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Uganda have decried the increasing rates of corruption, the poor state of public services, and the theft of public resources which they say have now reached endemic levels.
The collective leadership of CSOs in Uganda including Margaret Ssekagya – UNNGOF Chair Person and Executive Director Human Rights Centre, Dr. Isooba Moses – UNNGOF Executive Director, Xavier Ejoyi – Executive Director, ActionAid International Uganda, Sarah Bireete – Executive Director, Centre for Constitutional Governance, Robert Kirenga – Executive Director National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, Rita Aciro – Executive Director, Uganda Women’s Network and Grace Mukwaya – Platform for Labour Action were on Monday addressing the media in their new year’s message at Uganda National NGO Forum offices in Kabalagala, Kampala.
They said that corruption and theft of public resources have continued to negatively affect the delivery of public services in health, education, and infrastructure poses an existential threat to Uganda’s development.
“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed and exacerbated the inefficiencies in our public service system, most especially, in the health and education sectors. Media reports indicated that there were several cases of misuse of funds meant for COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts. However, the government has since failed to provide a public account of the funds allocated. The President should also demonstrate a political will to hold individuals implicated in cases of abuse of public funds accountable. As civil society leaders, we ask the government to prudently allocate public resources to priority sectors of the economy and service delivery, avoid wastage and expenditure on non-essential items and provide full accountability for public resources earmarked for COVID-19 response.”
The leaders have also asked the government to prioritize the safe re-opening of schools, saying it was one of the worst sectors hit by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to them, despite government opening, several private schools have been unable to reopen due to financial distress and those that have opened, continue to charge exorbitant fees that the majority of Ugandan parents cannot afford.
“We have also seen media reports which indicate a very appalling state for some government schools that are not conducive for both learners and the teachers. The future of over 100,000 school girls who got pregnant during the lockdown also continues to be unpredictable. All these require that the Government of Uganda invests more attention to the education sector and lead the effort to full recovery and that all children of school-going age have access to a decent education. We particularly implore the government to commit to addressing the inequality between learners in rural and urban areas that have been aggravated during the COVID-19 period.”
On the sustainability of public debt, the CSOs say there has been a 15.1% increase in Uganda’s public debt, as at end of April 2021 (BOU, 1 2021).
This, they say, has worsened the debt servicing burden on Ugandans, the effect of which is far-reaching.
“It increases the tax burden on taxpayers and takes away resources from key social services. Domestic debt has a crowding-out effect on private sector borrowing and stifles economic growth. In the past, campaigns by CSOs led to the cancellation of Uganda’s national debt. We are, therefore, concerned that in less than 20 years, Uganda has accumulated more debt burden, the servicing of which is now crowding out expenditure on public services. As civil society leaders, we appeal to the government to demonstrate more restraint in contracting further debts that will expose Uganda’s strategic assets and sovereignty to foreign economic manipulation,” they said.
They also tackled the working conditions of health workers in Uganda where they said that last year the public health services across the country were affected by several legitimate industrial actions by health workers as a result of the government’s failure to meet their demands for better working conditions.
They called for the need for an efficient and decent health care system.
“We continue to express solidarity with Ugandan Doctors and Health Workers who continue to demonstrate unparalleled resilience in the face of hostile working conditions and poor remuneration. We call upon the government to invest in finding sustainable solutions for the health sector challenges and proving better working conditions for health workers.”
On adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights, the leaders revealed that in the period leading to and after the 2021 elections, they witnessed a record low in adherence to the same.
“Various security agencies arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and detained citizens, journalists, and opposition political actors, as well as civil society leaders. To date, we do not have full accountability of citizens detained or missing at the hands of the state over the last year alone.”
They called upon the government to hold the perpetrators of these injustices accountable.
“Secondly, the operating environment for civil society continues to shrink. Last year, we witnessed the suspension of operations of civil society organizations and state-inspired attacks on the sector. This continues to constrain our operations and ability to contribute to the socio-economic transformation of the country. We call upon the Government of Uganda and all state agencies to work towards creating an enabling environment for CSOs in the year 2022.”
They, however, commended the Government for securing, through both procurement and donations over 22 million doses of coronavirus vaccines.
“We applaud these efforts and encourage all Ugandans to get vaccinated to minimise the hospitalisation rates. In this fight against the pandemic, we also recognize and applaud the creativity and innovation by Ugandan scientists, such as Professor Patrick Ogwang who developed COVIDEX as a supportive drug treatment for COVID-19 and other virus infections.”
They said that as Civil Society Leaders, they are fully aware of the challenges that stand in the way of Uganda’s development and socio-economic and political transformation, saying are encouraged by the resilience of ordinary Ugandan citizens whose courageous acts to overcome these challenges are the source of their inspiration, hope, and commitment for a better future.
“In the year 2022, we commit to building civic agency, facilitating processes that promote the dignity of all Ugandans and the rule of law and challenge corruption, impunity, and apathy. In doing so, we will partner with citizens, the state and the private sector to champion and realize a Uganda that is fair and just for all its citizens.”