my uber guy is going to parliament

uber-redesign-russellwarwickJUST before Janani Luwum Day I took a short Uber to my last meeting of the day and chose not to plug in my earphones. I do that, sometimes, to listen from somebody fresh and, in this case, certainly more interesting than most people in the meeting I had just been discharged from.

Public transport operators fit in this category just as bartenders in movies do, and my chap that evening did not disappoint. I can’t recall why he got to musing over who pays for our national holidays and celebrations, but he was quite disturbed.

He wasn’t too bothered by the loss of revenue facing him because of the public holiday, he said. His concern was that somewhere, somehow, the money he spends on taxes was not being utilised properly. Every time he tuned into the news and saw government officials making speeches, he said, in front of crowds under marquees and tents, he felt he was losing money.

He reeled off a few random days in his recent past that had him thinking this, including Tarehe Sita Day.

Besides, he pondered, was he really expected to go to Church the next day to celebrate the late Archbishop Janani Luwum?

I was impressed by his thought process and pleased that I hadn’t plugged those earphones in. We had a brief discussion in which I told him he should take charge of his affairs and deal with his concerns as a good citizen should.

Voicing these concerns was a good beginning. Next, he needed to go straight to the people who determine how his taxes get spent. Luckily I didn’t need to detail for him how he and I actually fund the government; he struck me as being a university graduate with some enterprise that allowed him to also drive an Uber.

Nevertheless, like most of us he didn’t know which government office paid for all these events – but I had a clue and explained the allocation ministry by ministry for the most obvious events. Then I advised him to occasionally visit websites like to see in real-time where the government is spending money and how.

Then, I suggested, he needed to find his Member of Parliament and tell him what he – the tax-paying citizen driving the Uber by which the government collects from fuel, airtime and corporation taxes – preferred for the money to be spent on.

This was the perfect time to engage in that exercise, I explained, as the national budget for the next financial year was in the process of being finalised. The key was to get to his MP, which detail he wasn’t sure of to start with, prompting a little more discussion of elementary civics. (This subject should be taught right from nursery school in this country.)

By then we had arrived at my destination and I feared it would be too complex for me to go into the nitty gritty of the process without losing my shirt to Uber waiting fees, so I suggested he follow the first step and establish exactly who his Member of Parliament is through

I was pleasantly surprised when he emailed me a week later (for real!) to say he had discovered his MP was Paul Kato Lubwama (Independent). I was also saddened that the exercise had come to a seemingly abrupt end because the gentleman’s email address was not listed. His phone number was, though, so I hope my Uber guy invested in the airtime necessary to follow his concerns through to some end and prove that the citizen’s duty was carried out.

Even if he did stop at failing to send an email, this time round, my Uber guy had learnt something new quite at random and worked at it to make a difference to his society and his country.


things are tight

Things are Tight!
Walking through a number of malls, coffee shops and restaurants at random these three weeks past revealed them to be alarmingly empty most hours. I made it a point to drop in on at least three different popular eating places at lunch time thrice a week and the numbers were just not there.
At one restaurant I dawdled a while over a bottle of water and the free Wi-Fi and observed only two other people having a meal for lunch, and one pizza being carried out by a delivery man.
A most generous assessment would put those three meals plus my bottle of water at just over a hundred thousand shillings in revenue for that hour. During that time, the staff were in place, electricity was powering the lights, fridges and other equipment, and there were certainly other costs running in the background.
The emptiness in these places is strange because we expect the Christmas season to have started off in earnest, what with the children being on vacation. But it should not be surprising that this is happening. The economic forecasts have been telling us this for months, and whereas we have talked about it before, we need to go on talking about it and changing our habits.
Perhaps the absence of patrons means that they have read the signs and reacted wisely by adjusting their spending.
Personally, I am now packing more of my own home made meals and avoiding fuel-based travel whenever possible, besides other measures.
If many more people react this way then the malls, coffee shops and restaurants should be reading the signals and changing their methods as well. This is the time for them to look more closely at their running costs and start switching off lights,
Switching off lights is no small matter. Those small leakages – business or personal – tend to pile up. In these difficult days we all need to keep an eye on the small stuff because we cannot afford to waste anything any more. For businesses, it is now appropriate to run campaigns within the company for all staff to adopt prudent ways of utilising resources, and hope that they take a hint and carry the habits home with them, rather than the office sundries.
Also, the commercial places should start shopping wisely for their supplies, goods and sundries. in one of the hotels I passed through this week I was bemused to find they had laid out butter cubes imported from the Netherlands.
This time I didn’t whip up a froth at the manager to explain that if they had bought their butter from a local source then perhaps the owners of the cows that supplied the milk, plus the processors of the butter, plus the company that supplied it would have enough money to dine at his or her establishment.
Of course we understand that the procurement cycle might mean that they already have full stores, but now is the time to do some window shopping for cheaper stuff sourced locally just in case this dry financial spell runs on for too long.
And, finally, there is a lot of creativity needed now. The global business gurus always argue that times of difficulty call for an increase in marketing activities. This is not obvious to everyone, so it needs a little explaining because it applies both to businesses and individuals:
Right now we are competing for a small amount of money going around. The best way to increase your chances of getting any of it is to be highly visible or squarely in the way of its path. If you’re a business, advertise more, run more activities and events of a visibly creative nature and make your customers offers they cannot refuse.
If you’re just an individual seeking an income, perform harder at work so that you stand out and avoid being dropped when downsizing begins – which is very likely soon! Or network harder with the right people so that should there be any opportunity for you to earn more, you get it.
Things are tight, people, but we can work round them and do more than just survive.

a round of applause for the guys at the ministry of finance, Uganda!

PLEASE join me in applauding the technocrats in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development for their performance over the last couple of months – particularly as evidenced by the website
Mind you, I am not applauding them simply because of the budget reading the other day – that is just one event in the cycle, as we have discussed before.
That website has been, and continues to be, quite useful to the people who like data and take pleasure in comparing figures and text to do things such as extrapolation, or even just to use the word in conversations such as these.
The technocrats in the ministry who we ordinary members of the general public never get to see or hear about have put together their gallant efforts not just to present the voluminous document that constituted the speeches of the President and Finance Minister on Thursday, and the budget in its entirety, but this –
This tool is highly significant in the information age we live in because it practically puts the budget in our hands in a manner we, the educated elite with internet access, can make sensible use of.
You really should go over there to get the details on your own, but consider that it provides budget information going all the way back to 2003!
Unlike many government departments that have websites and rarely use them for even the most basic of functions (provide up to date information), the people that run have even been interactive and respond to queries and comments that one puts into the relevant sections of the site.
You see, the true test of a functional and useful digital site is in its integration into the other arms or sections of one’s business or operation. If you type a comment into a website comment box and get back an email that contains a phone number, and then call up that phone number with an issue that is handled and you get a call back – the system works!
On budget day itself, I found a problem accessing some data and dialled a mobile phone number that I had acquired in that process, and conducted some sensible human interaction that provided information I could work with and believe – all within a matter of minutes!
Whereas it is very easy every day to issue blank statements such as “Government people don’t work” and “Government is useless”, the facts on the ground are very, very different when one interfaces with
Those who didn’t wait for the speech read out on the day of the budget reading or the headlines the day after, and who took intellectual time off to visit this website and keep track of its updates cannot have many complaints.
The site is so detailed in presentation, for instance, that one can check to see exactly how much money was released to a parish or sub-county in one of those remote districts that “we” keep joking and complaining about.
Not only that, the dashboard on the site tells you when the money was disbursed, who is responsible for it, and whether the money has been spent or not! THAT is full transparency and accountability.
Anyone with a complaint about a borehole or health centre, for instance, can go into the tool on that page to first check exactly where the problem might be before organising a demonstration or political rally.
But besides that, if you have a comment or query to make and probably don’t know your local official, you can post the comment right there into the website and have it published right away, for the ministry people to follow up on…(I think and hope).
Plus (this list can go on and on), the website also allows you to create alerts so that when updates are made to budgetary items from previous years or the current one, you get an email into your inbox or an SMS.
And, best of all, promises that, “The Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development is working to ensure those responsible for the outputs (Commissioners, Directors and Permanent Secretaries) register to receive relevant updates and respond to your feedback.”
All these people, ladies and gentlemen, are Ugandans working for the Government of Uganda, for the good of the people of Uganda! Would that they could be lined up for the next medals being distributed…

the budget is here, but the wedding isn’t

CONSIDER the national budget in simple terms – not content-wise, that’s too much for this section of your Sunday; focus on the process and your role, ordinary citizen.

Unfortunately, most Ugandans only know two types of budgets: a) the national budget, which they think is delivered from on high in a briefcase styled on Moses and tablets with the Ten Commandments and; b) the wedding budget. Few go as far as c) Personal budgets. 

We all know how b) works but here’s a refresher: First, your relatives or friends decide to get married and draw up a long wish list covering introduction ceremonies to honeymoon. On that wish list they include the most expensive clothing, day-long limousines, and a banquet feast at Munyonyo or the Serena with food at a plate value that could cover their parents’ feeding for six ordinary months.

Notice links to ‘a) the national budget’?

They then get friends to form the Committee, starting with the Chairman who gleefully takes up his role of organising mostly the reception – the fun part – with a focus on raising funds.

The bagole and inner circle Committee agree the wish list budget, make bookings, then call fundraising meetings. These days, the Launch meeting consists of a party at which drinks and eats are served some times at a cost to raise funds, or free of charge so that invitees are loosened up to pledge big money contributions.

The budget, however, is received as a set of suggestions, and over the next month or two (longer, if tedious) people at weekly meetings will make changes a la, “Why are we going to Munyonyo when your combined monthly salaries can’t cover the one round of drinks?” and “Who are these 500 people you are inviting when your muzigo can only host three people at a time thereafter?” and “Limousines? When you are both boda people? We get Premios!”

The Committee then breaks up into sub-committees for transport, food, drinks, church, clothing, managing crazy ex-girlfriends at that crucial moment in church, and so on and so forth. These sub-committees investigate the suggested costs, negotiate with suppliers and report back to the main committee at every meeting.

You, friends and relatives (who have little choice) attending fund-raisers, take copies of the budget updated weekly and at every meeting contribute money in different ways while questioning decisions and suggesting more changes as above.

By the wedding day, the bagole will have taken on donors or tax-payers via family and friends, and maybe a bank loan. Afterwards, they retire to their muzigo or Kololo bungalow after a honeymoon in Mukono or the Seychelles, with loans to pay off over the next ten years, or maybe a surplus with which to buy land on which to build a house.

Now, go to ‘a) the national budget’ and it’s exactly the same – especially the fact that with ‘b) the wedding budget’, the reading of the budget at the first meeting – the Launch – is not fait accompli.

The Budget Reading is simply the Minister, on behalf of the Executive, the bagole, presenting the government’s wish list, alongside accountability for the past year.

For months before the Reading, the government consults ‘stakeholders’for views and suggestions – but you probably didn’t notice this, as usual, just as in b) above.

The Minister Reads it on behalf of the President, and moves a motion to make Plenary a Committee of Supply – to supply money to the government. For the next few months, Parliamentary Committees scrutinise the budget and meetvarious people, then later present their findings and final recommendations to Plenary sitting as that Committee of Supply.

The Minister of Finance thereafter introduces the Appropriation Bill (to the Budget Committee) to legalise what the Committee of Supply approves, and it is only THEN that the wedding takes place.

So today, after Budget Reading, it’s not over yet and we shouldn’t cry over taxes or allocations.

Your copy of the national budget might be smaller than all the wedding budgets you’ve collected so far this year – so go get it. Read it. Go tell your MPs what YOU think – because it is YOU paying for the wedding.

Certainly not the bagole.