A FEW Mondays ago we were laughing at a newspaper story titled, ‘MPs to visit manufacturers of Uganda Airlines planes in Canada’.
My laughter started right at the headline, then dissipated after the first paragraph when I realised that this was, indeed, the case.
The Committee Chair, Eng. Sekitooleko Kafeero, was even quoted as saying they were going to “assess if the passenger planes meet the specifications laid out in the manufacturing contract with government at the time of procurement” and to “assess value for money before the planes are delivered to Uganda”.
He even said that his honourable colleagues would be checking “if the designs conform to the industry standards and evidence of due care to the passengers.”
Don’t be speechless.
One Coca-Cola Beverages Africa unit in Uganda last year invested US$8million in a new manufacturing line and has this year put another US$13million in another. That company invests about US$10million a year in equipment, all of which adheres to the oft-used phrase ‘state-of-the-art’. These investments are highly significant for the company, it’s staff, and the government.
See, as a result of the investments the company will churn out more products and thus aim at higher profits at the end of the year; the staff will therefore earn more money in bonuses and salaries assured over the years; and the government will collect more in taxes.
The significance of that equipment that company procures cannot be underplayed in any way.
Now, the cost of the aeroplanes might be higher than the cost of the manufacturing lines and other equipment the beverage company buys, but I do not recall any instance in which a company official had to fly out to the country of manufacture to ‘inspect production’.
In fact, at all the private companies I have been employed at, the need has never arisen for the ‘political leaders’ of the company to conduct technical inspections at manufacturing companies.
Inspection does happen, but if it is necessary it is conducted by the technical staff. And here I write “if it does happen” because most of these private companies make arrangements for the acceptance of all equipment – and goods and products – ONLY when they have been received and found to be working.
Perhaps our Members of Parliament on this Committee who are heading out to inspect aeroplane manufacture are being super-patriotic and extra-zealous. We should give them a round of applause.
They are going out there to ensure that everything that should be done during the process of manufacture is actually done. All wheels in the right place; steering wheel fixed firm; hosepipe functional and clean…it actually reminds me of my days going to Wandegeya garages and fuel stations to ‘service the car’.
My peers and I spent many Saturdays sitting around in dusty, oil-stained garage yards claiming we were servicing vehicles while chatting idly by as the mechanics busied themselves around.
Few of us ever ascertained whether the ‘brand new’ second-hand part the mechanic brought in and showed you was actually the one that went into the motor vehicle.
At their level, those Wandegeya mechanics worked out how to keep our minds at peace and any suspicions at bay. At points they would declare in dismay at the doomed situation they found on opening the bonnet, before telling you they would do their best to fix it.
After the work was done at a much lower cost than initially feared, we would pay up with relief and even tip the guys some extra for “saving” us money.
The more advanced mechanics started making it comfortable for us to sit around on the side at a distance that ensured we didn’t interfere with their work or get to see too much. They provided chairs and sodas or more, and we’d immerse ourselves in other pursuits till the cars were done.
That memory alone should help the Members of Parliament who are going on this trip. Don’t get to Canada and get the mechanic’s treatment – being bamboozled by plush hotels and nearby bars, restaurants and shopping malls, or great company that keeps you in conversation by the side away from checking that the aeroplane glove box is properly lined.
And as they prepare to go there should be another consideration: The Committee has 29 members and would be accompanied by at least one clerk – so 30 people would travel on this inspection. Average travel allowance (government) being US$700 a night, let’s estimate this to be at US$500 because Parliament is frugal.
That would be, for seven nights (two days travel either way with three days being enough to walk round a plane and poke about its innards), a total of US$105,000 if the entire Committee were to undertake this trip. That is without counting out-of-pocket, lunch and dinner, and warm clothing allowances or the cost of air tickets paid to ANOTHER airline altogether.
Without quibbling over what percentage that is of the cost of one aircraft, might the honourable legislators want to consider keeping that money and using it to fly on the actual planes themselves when the airline starts service, so they Buy Uganda to Build Uganda?