MBALE – After the 2020 scandals in the office of the Prime Minister on covid food distribution, the government appeared to have learnt a lesson and was not ready to allow history repeat itself.
After assuming office this month, the new Prime Minister, Robinah Nabbanja made it clear that she was not going to be used by the mafia to exploit the plight of the urban poor again.
Her remarks followed the latest directive that the country be locked down for another 42 days to contain the covid 19 virus that was threatening the lives of Ugandans. After lengthy deliberations with stakeholders and cabinet, it was resolved that the government would not distribute food to vulnerable Ugandans but send them money to be able to survive during the 42 days and any other time that may be added after the initial period.
My father happens to be an L.C 1 Chairman of one of the villages in Ntinda and was part of the local leaders who accompanied the team that was distributing food in Kampala. He has lived in Ntinda since 1985 but confessed that he had no idea many people living in his neighborhood would not sustain themselves without work beyond a month.
To him, even those living in high wall compounds were not shy to approach him for the free beans, posho and rice that the government was distributing during the initial lock down in 2020.
Just a few days ago, I was having a discussion with a group of my fellow drunkards and somebody mentioned that the word “Vulnerable” is relative and should never be used in reference to a population that is by default accustomed to the hand to mouth system. Many people in Kampala only eat because they have worked and cannot sustain their lives in circumstances where they are locked down and ordered to stay home beyond a month.
It has now been resolved by government that they will through the office of the Prime Minister give about Ug.sh.100,000/= but ring fenced to those considered vulnerable such as salon operators, youth in slums, those who load cargo, taxi drivers, boda boda cyclists and single mothers among others. They have of course discriminated against single fathers as usual.
The Prime Minister has also made it clear that they will not give money to any “vulnerable” person whose past phone transactions have carried more than Ug.sh500,000/= at any given time. But honestly speaking, that lower cap on previous mobile money transactions cannot be a yard stick to determine somebody’s vulnerability. Somebody could have received the money in error or it could have been sent for the benefit of a friend without a phone.
The criteria for selecting the so-called vulnerable people has been left to the local council officials to determine and I’m sure at the end of the exercise, the list may include even those living in posh houses and driving fuel guzzlers.
After all, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. It was easy to reject the posho and beans but money knows no status, everyone in the named districts will find reason to be included on the list.
Having reached a compromise as cabinet, the Prime Minister has now announced that they have secured about Ug.sh.53 billion which will be distributed to a few in the districts of Kampala, Wakiso, Masaka, Gulu, Mbarara, Fort Portal but through mobile money services. I want to believe that whoever advised the government to take that option is not in touch with the realities of the so-called “vulnerable” Ugandans who live in debt.
I want to warn the Prime Minister that many of the so called vulnerable groups are indeed “vulnerable” and have used their mobile money accounts to borrow money and because they are vulnerable, they have failed to pay back. Infact about 85% of the so called vulnerable groups are indebted to the telecoms. The telecom companies are now excited by the plan as it is an opportunity for them to recover their long overdue loans that have now accumulated interest, fines and penalties. The Prime Minister’s office has no power to stop telecom companies from recovering the borrowed money.
The last time I checked the dictionary, the word “Vulnerable” connotes to being weak and without protection, with the result that they are easily hurt physically or emotionally. Being vulnerable is ultimately derived from the Latin noun vulnus (“wound”). “Vulnus” led to the Latin verb “vulnerare”, meaning “to wound,” and then to the Late Latin adjective “vulnerabilis”, which became “vulnerable” in English.
“Vulnerable” originally meant “capable of being physically wounded” or “having the power to wound” (the latter is now obsolete), but since the late 1600s, it has also been used figuratively to suggest a defenselessness against non-physical attacks. In other words, someone (or something) can be vulnerable to criticism or failure as well as to literal wounding. When it is used figuratively, “vulnerable” is often followed by the preposition “to.” If that definition still stands, nobody is safe, all of us are vulnerable.
The new Prime Minister seems to think that it is only the town dwellers that are vulnerable; I beg to differ and I believe the village dwellers are more vulnerable given the fact that many are sustained by town dwellers. Vulnerability should be evaluated on person to person basis up to the house hold level and depending on numbers of people living in that household. The Ministry of gender has no capacity to asses and determine who is eligible for this cash bail out, most Ugandans live per day and certainly need assistance to survive through the lock down.
Appearing on NBS Barometer program on the 24th, Chris Baryomunsi the current Minister for ICT and National Guidance said the task force had resolved to send mobile money cash to the identified most vulnerable people or vouchers to those without phones. I recall this mobile money payment system was once explored by Amama Mbabazi as Secretary General of NRM during the 2011-2016 delegates’ conference and it backfired and embarrassed the President.
I recall the mobile system breaking down due to pressure of those who were withdrawing money from the various outlets around Kampala. Some beneficiaries of that money later found that somebody had withdrawn their money from the numbers whose pins had been manipulated by somebody working for the phone operators. History never ceases to repeat itself. Time is not an ally in this plan covering the remaining 33 days. When will the Local council compile the list, send the same for verification before government can authorize the mobile money operators distribute the money or they are buying time so that the initial lock down expires.
If Robinah Nabanja thinks that paying the vulnerable by sending mobile money is the best system of accountability, she is in for a shock. This may be her first scandal that will haunt her for life. The village local councils will inflate the numbers and even include numbers of their accomplices who will receive the money for them to share. Some of the real vulnerable people will be included on the list on condition that they part with a portion to the local leaders.
The author, Rogers Wadada Musaalo is a Lawyer, human rights activist, researcher, and politician