I only got to learn that Ugandan MPs had received their long-discussed iPads when KFM Radio (93.3FM) called me up for a comment this evening and put me right on the spot to make it there and then.
For a split-second after the caller explained what he wanted me to comment on, I was alarmed that someone was reading my mind, because I had been thinking about sanitary pads.
Not that I wear them, or was purchasing them, or anything so intimate – sanitary pads for girls have been a daily subject for me this week because of a charity event I am hoping will be successful this Sunday – the Father Daughter Dance (#FATHERDaughterDANCE on twitter with @jamwiltshire and @luvsherlyf) that will be raising funds to buy sanitary pads and underwear for 200 girls in Buikwe District’s Seven Hills Primary School. The calculation for each girl to be stocked with enough pads and underwear to last the year comes up to Ushs96,000. Again: Ushs96,000 is enough for sanitary pads and underwear for a girl for a full year.
And my position is that whereas this is not the most important thing in Uganda for MPs or any government official to be spending money on, and clearly should not have been put on the tax-payer’s bill, and is most definitely just another example of selfish spending by the privileged-at-public-expense, it has been done.
There’s no use crying over spilt milk, the adage goes, but this isn’t spilt milk. It’s milk bought for the privileged few in a land where the majority are dying of thirst from lack of water, and we still shouldn’t cry over it.
Instead, let’s make it useful; and I have a few ideas for doing so.
But before I lay those out, please let’s be clear that I do NOT think we should sweep aside issues such as:
a) the outrageous cost of purchasing the iPads: said to be about US$377,000 (about Ushs980million – enough for sanitary pads and underwear for those 10,000 girls – and I will talk about this some more much, much later because today’s pads are more high-tech and important than the sanitary pads for girls who want to go to school when they are in their monthly periods but can’t because they can’t afford pads).
That means each Parliamentary iPad cost US$1,000. Of course, that is fair. Ignorant people will argue that iPads only cost US$200-US$400 but that’s ignoring the type and capacity of the iPad, the features it comes with, and the cost of transportation and taxes. On the Apple website you find that they range from US$499 to US$929 and that’s without taxes, the Apple protection plan (insurance, kind-of), and even apps that one might want to buy to use on the iPad. Microsoft Office for Mac, for instance, costs US$219.95 (again, without taxes and transport!).
Never mind that if you are buying a personal iPad you somehow find ways of getting it from wherever into your hands at the cheapest possible cost or, if you are like me, you just keep using the first iPad you ever owned since not much changes with these things anyway and once you’ve worked out the best use for all your gadgets, efficiency occurs on its own:
b) the fact that, seriously, we (Ugandan tax-payers) should be spending money on much more seriously needed, developmental matters: and I’m not talking about sanitary pads for high school girls in rural areas who miss school for one week out of every month due to lack of these simple items – we could provide for those girls by cutting on many other MPs costs before getting to iPads. And of course the US$377,000 is far less than the Ushs36billion spent on that parking lot (have I mentioned that already?), which a Parliamentary spokesperson referred to as “critical”.
“This is a modern state-of-the-art facility, the first of its kind in Uganda. It is not a wastage of funds. When plans for this project were being drawn, the Parliamentary Commission assumed as it ideally should be, that all Members of Parliament attending Plenary would be parked at Parliament, which is at times the case…” wrote the senior information officer in October.
Of course the general public, consisting of mostly ordinary mortals with an abnormally simple perspective on life, does not appreciate the importance of such matters, and by this time had forgotten that just months before stories had abounded about absenteeism in the Ugandan Parliament – which was most probably caused by a lack of parking space. The lack of parking space could be blamed on our (tax-payers) giving the MPs cars in the first place but let’s not be mean.
The list of what other, much more important things we could spend our money on could very well be written by the MPs themselves, on our behalf of course.
c) MPs are surely paid well-enough already that they can afford their own bloody iPads, especially in a land where girls can’t bloody afford (I wouldn’t dare interchange words here) sanitary pads! This point does not need belabouring.
So, I say, the iPads have been distributed and we should get over ourselves. These MPs are OUR representatives. WE send them to the House by choosing them ourselves. To continue complaining and agonising about the cost of the iPads and pointing out all of the above while trying to appeal to some sense of shame or piety is to waste another precious resource – time.
Plus, in many ways it would just be hypocrisy because we all know that placed in the shoes of the MPs we would also drive back from the village to collect our ‘free’ iPad. In fact, many of us in private business are toting the newest Samsung Galaxy and iPhone on offer courtesy of money that could otherwise be shareholder profits if allocated differently…
And again, these damn iPads only cost US$1,000! How about raising a furore over the cost of all these four-wheel-drive cars that go for fifty (50) times that and which is spent every five years?
Does anyone know about the fuel costs of MPs – Ushs43million a year (that was in 2011, by the way)?
As Kinkinzi East MP and Parliamentary Commissioner Chris Baryomunsi said last year when asked about the denied teachers’ pay rises vis-a-vis the increase in MP fuel allowances and other costs, “The issue of teachers’ pay should not be mixed with MPs’ facilitation because the two are very different yet they are both very important.”
So, ignore the spilt milk; the glass wasn’t knocked over by an idiotically wasteful child or a clumsy housegirl somewhere; and it’s still right there, you are hungry and malnourished so …
Here are a few ways of licking it up, or making good of a bad situation:
1. Make all MPs configure their ‘Find My iPad’ settings so that their constituents can locate them during the hours that they are supposed to be in Parliament. Since there is now a lot of parking space…you get the idea?
2. Better still, I know youngsters who can come up with an app called ‘Find My MP’ which will zero in on the exact location of your MP provided they have their iPad on them at any one time.
3. But of course, an MP might leave his iPad in Parliament and then go off to Kinshasa for some specialised treatment (which brings me to a one Tony Nsubuga Kipoi – what the hell with this guy?! Did he say both this and this and why is he always in so much trouble and who are the people of Bubulo West who vote for such a man?! More importantly, where is his iPad right now?)
As I was saying, an MP might leave his iPad behind so that you think he is in the House when you do a ‘Find My MP or iPad’, so if the app shows that (s)he is in Parliament, immediately send them an email. Every MP has an email address and they are all listed here.
Send your MP an email and because they have an iPad, surely they should respond almost to the minute.
4. A clever MP will avoid having to receive and respond to numerous emails the entire afternoon, and will instead open a Twitter account and use the iPad to tweet proceedings as they roll out. That way, the MP can even take views from constituents LIVE as debates take place!
5. This will be fantastic especially during the newly-introduced Prime Minister’s Questions segment, because we will now be in a position to help Parliamentarians avoid asking inane questions such as “How old is President Museveni?” and instead furnish our MPs with questions that address REAL issues.
6. Now, with this new technology in their hands, perhaps MPs won’t find themselves delaying with the delivery of work as has happened all too frequently in the past. If anything, they will be much, much more clever. YOUR role in this is to send them as many links to intelligent material as possible so that they are rendered much, much more useful and far less ignorant than they sometimes may appear to be if you only read about them in some of our newspapers or watch local TV.
There are many more ways of making good of this iPad situation than I can singularly come up with, so please feel free to suggest more – send them to your MP or to the Speaker, or to the person in charge of training MPs on the use of iPads, which was provided for in the bidding document “under item 20; that ICT officers’ training “should include travel subsistence and per diem (of the officers) at Parliament of Uganda rates.”
Of course if YOU don’t remember who trained YOU on how to use your iPad, TYS – YOU are clearly not a Member of Parliament in Uganda.