OVER a chat with the energetic new UEGCL Corporate Affairs Manager, Simon Kasyate, he pointed out a story in Wednesday’s Daily Monitor about a Chinese national who committed suicide at the Karuma and reportedly left behind a note claiming he had poisoned the water in the area.
The recently departed Chinese man, identified by the newspaper as Yuding Yong (his name is actually Wu Deyong), was said to be manager of the Water Treatment Plant at the Karuma, employed by the Sinohydro Corporation.
The conversation echoed a heated one I had had with family just the night before, where some people were angry over the idea that there were people who had come into Uganda under the guise of tourists and investors, but were selling rolexes at roadside trading centres.
I personally haven’t seen any of these foreigners, and just assume that most of the rolex sellers (‘chapati seekers’) I see are Ugandans because they speak the local languages, have the same skin as many Ugandans I know, and generally don’t look foreign.
But I have bought rice and noodles and other foods from foreigners, in locations more complex than rolex stands; in fact, I have found myself in a couple of supermarkets run by people born in China and India – but I can’t be sure that they don’t currently hold Ugandan citizenship acquired by way of the correct processes.
“But what is wrong with foreigners doing that work here?” asked one young lady, at our heated discussion dinner table that night. She has lived and worked in the United Kingdom for a while now, presumably as a citizen there, so her perspective was different from others who work and live here, as citizens here, but I understood her question and its intent.
We didn’t disagree much, and discussed the realities of liberal economies and how competition weeds out inefficiencies, and the de-merits of protectionism.
Then we took a quote from the NRM and Senior Government leaders’ retreat in Kyankwanzi last week: “It is not correct for regulators not to take action against Chinese and Indian retailers who unfairly compete against our retailers. Those foreigners should not operate at that terminal level. They should be re-directed to manufacturing in particular and other areas like construction,” said President Yoweri Museveni to the audience there.
Which made me attempt to check on the credentials of the late Wu Deyong, as I naively expect that a professional of such proportions that he would be brought all the way from China to Uganda as an expatriate should have an online presence.
Sadly, I found only reports of his sudden death due to apparent suicide.
One theory contained a rumour about his suicide being a result of a fear of being deported for not having a valid work permit, so I contacted the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Control (DCIC).
According to Jacob Siminyu, DCIC Spokesperson, “The subject, Deyong Wu, entered the country legally in December 2015 but there is no evidence that he holds a valid work permit. We are not privy to any impending deportation for him although if arrested he would be dealt with in accordance with the law.”
I also found that the Sinohydro Corporation that reportedly employed him is the company constructing the US$1.65billion Karuma Dam, financed by China’s Exim Bank and supervised by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development. This Sinohydro, my sources told me, currently has
47 (forty seven) close to one hundred cases under query and investigation at the DCIC.
Those cases are to do with foreign nationals (mostly, if not all, of Chinese origin) whose status in Uganda must be verified on many grounds – especially to establish whether they need to be employed or whether their jobs should be given to qualified and deserving Ugandans instead.
From what I heard, I sympathised with the DCIC because they can only do their jobs if the responsible ministry does theirs. It is the role of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, for instance, to confirm that the management of the Water Treatment Plant at the Karuma was a job that could not be done by any Ugandan, even though we have been graduating scientists from Universities for decades now.
When I finally find the official at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development in charge of this specific matter I will be asking them if they realise the sensitivity involved. According to the stories, Deyong’s apparent suicide note caused understandable panic; if he had been a Ugandan, would he have been so malicious, or did he find it easy to actually poison that water because he had no relatives in the area?
But that aside, I will ask the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development person how much of the US$1.65billion constitutes the salaries of people who will not spend the bulk of their income locally, or even on local produce.
That is a question we’ve asked many times before, and even if it seems to go begging all too often, we will not stop asking it.
In the meantime, all staff of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development are required to go to the Karuma to drink the water there, as a way of making them stop and think about the consequences of their inattention to certain matters.
At the front of the bus taking them to the Karuma waters will be the lady who signed this letter asking for blanket clearance for “various expatriates”, Prisca Boonabantu: