The journalist who did a story on the expenditure of the Central Bank of Uganda (BOU) buying Writing Implements as gift items costing about US$100 each, made one of my days this week.
We refer to them as ‘Writing Implements’ rather than just pens because at US$100 each we need to introduce some grandeur into the conversation.
The journalist in question, bless him, will receive from my personal account a box of pens (not ‘Writing Implements’) made in Uganda. That’s a modest gift in monetary terms, but quite meaningful because I value pens quite highly.
Those who have sat close to me during meetings where pens are placed on the table before you walk in must have noticed how quickly I latch onto any available and carry them off with me at the end.
My collection of pens is mentioned in my Last Will and Testament, though I won’t reveal here who is destined to receive them after I place my last full-stop.
The journalist picked up on an issue raised elsewhere and highlighted a niggling matter that keeps coming up whenever we discuss this economy and how difficult things seem to be.
On one of our online professional discussion forums populated by marketing and merchandising people, the story created a healthy discussion.
Some explained that high value pens of that nature were justified under certain circumstances, others simply declared it a waste of money, and elsewhere there was suspicion of foul play.
My joy with the story was because it was another wake up call to our economists – which is not to say that I am accusing the Bank of Uganda people of being economists.
I went to read the Bank of Uganda Act of 1993 and found it’s description saying, “An Act…for promoting the stability of the currency and a sound financial structure conducive to a balanced and sustained rate of growth of the economy and for other purposes…”
Among other things, that BOU Act says the functions of the bank shall be to formulate and implement monetary policy directed to economic objectives of achieving and maintaining economic stability, including: “act as financial adviser to the Government and manager of public debt”.
The journalist who did this story of BOU and the US$100 pens brought it to the fore on many fronts – my point of focus being the purchase of foreign items as corporate gifts; more importantly, that purchase of foreign-manufactured gifts by a body that should be mindful of how this economy is doing.
One argument on our forums was that the pens were probably Mont Blanc (Yes – I own one of those as well, valued at over US$300 at purchase and given to me as a gift from a foreign Multi-national company some years ago).
Another person even pointed out that the total cost of the Procurement was too low to merit so much chatter – something in the region of Ushs125million.
I chose not to focus on those points.
Again: the purchase of foreign-manufactured gifts by anyone in Uganda will continue to be our downfall. If the BOU people can’t calculate how many jobs can be created or sustained by an order of manufacturing merchandising items at Ushs125million, then we need more Ugandans to do courses in Economics and PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS.
The BOU people know how much money we have in circulation and, probably, where exactly it might be at any given time ’t’. If anyone knows the impact of sending Ushs125million out of the country, it should be them.
Yes – the pens were supplied by a Ugandan-owned firm or company, and money was earned from logistics et al; but surely an economist somewhere can extrapolate (those words studied people use with ease, that people like me borrow every so often when facing a US$100 writing implement) the economic impact of keeping that money in circulation here.
Even if the gifts were going to the highest ranking Central Bank Governors from the richest countries in the world, would they not appreciate a well-made item crafted by the hands of the legendary wood carvers from Bunyoro, using some of our high grade Mivule or Musambiya trees?
That’s just an example – probably not a realistic one. But if the extrapolating economists got that Ushs125million and put it through their intellectual machines, they would find ways of making us DEVELOP an industry producing merchandising items that eventually the countries where US$100 pens are made would buy for THEIR friends using THEIR equivalent of Ushs125million.
That way, the BOU Ushs125million would be used to make Uganda earn many different rounds of Ushs125million coming in from OTHER ECONOMIES.
Afraid of popping a vein in my head at all these thoughts, I went searching for a copy of a Local Content Bill that I have heard about, so I could contribute by sharing it with the BOU people for the next time they have Ushs125million on their massive account slated for the purchase of Writing Implements.
The internet couldn’t find it readily. I tweeted, called and WhatsApped a few people who I felt should have the Local Content Bill 2017 at their fingertips – not one of them responded well enough within the first few hours.
But eventually, I found a helpful Ugandan who works with the Parliament of Uganda (not a Member of Parliament) and the person shared a version of the relevant document.
Actually, the person shared the ‘Motion Seeking Leave of Parliament To Introduce A Private Member’s Bill Entitled “The Local Content Bill, 2017”’.
I applaud the Parliamentarian who is moving this Bill, for noting that “whereas the Government of Uganda formulated the ‘Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) policy…(it) has not been fully implemented.” and expressing concern that “Uganda currently does not have legislation aimed at promoting Ugandan manufacturers or service providers to compete favorably with international goods and service providers.”
You have to read the rest of it on your own, and then give it the support it needs (coming soon to a blog post near you).
I pondered over why this required a private member rather than a front bencher. A front bencher who was involved in the NRM Manifesto.
The vein in the brain started throbbing again.
I am one of those Ugandans who finds it hard to pay bills and obligations on time because of slow, non-existent or absent payments from clients (government inclusive), besides my own inefficiencies. Still, I surely have a right to be miffed by the procurement of foreign-manufactured gifts by a government body, and thankfully, I can put it in writing using an ordinary pen procured by myself in Uganda, made in Uganda, employing a Ugandan somewhere.