Today on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index we rank 115 out of 190 countries – up from 116 in 2016 and 135 in 2014. That is progress (though we were at 106 in 2008). But on the Global Entrepreneurship Index 2017, Uganda is 127 out of 138 countries, down from 123 last year.
These statistical tools are quite different from the research that ranks Uganda top entrepreneurial country in the world. The Global Entrepreneurship Index hints at that position by stating somewhere in its report that in sub-Saharan Africa the one thing we excel at is our “startup skills”, where we are at par with South Africa.
In 2015 (again!) Uganda was named “the most entrepreneurial country in the world by approvedindex.co.uk basing on a survey that defined Entrepreneurship as “the percentage of an adult population who own (or co-own) a new business and has paid salaries or wages for at least three (3) months.”
In that survey, China ranked 11, the United Kingdom 33, and the United States 37. The LEAST entrepreneurial countries that year were Suriname, Puerto Rico, ITALY, JAPAN and FRANCE… (Germany was 12th least entrepreneurial, India 15th.)
The survey stated that “developing nations breed far more entrepreneurs than the west. When unemployment is high and the economy is weaker, people are forced to start small businesses to provide for themselves and their families.”
(Their blog post on this is here: http://blog.approvedindex.co.uk/2015/06/25/map-entrepreneurship-around-the-world/)
Of course, considering that in Uganda we all, at one point or another, have a second, third or umpteenth venture running at any time ‘t’, we would rank highly in such a survey.
But how many of our ‘businesses’ actually fit the conventional definitions the economists use and understand? I certainly can’t answer that, but the economists have an educated way of working round it using a Prosperity Index that measures many more factors “encapsulating the Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Governance, Education, Health, Safety & Security, Personal Freedom and Social Capital as sub-indices.”
That is the Legatum Prosperity Index that kicks us off the list and swings the top to European countries (http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-opportunity-in-the-world.html). So let’s ignore it for now, oba?
Measuring the Ease of Doing Business is important because economies grow better and faster when their private sectors thrive, so whereas we may be top at entrepreneurship, we need to make it easier to DO business so that the enterprises we launch keep running on sustainably and profitably beyond just three (3) months. In this year of #HakunaMchezo, we need to focus on such indicators and respond to them so that the economy swings upwards.
Talking about this last Saturday with one of the key people charged with making our private sector work successfully, I noted that he kept using the word “results” during our conversation. Everything about his office came back to that word, and hearing it so often gave me comfort that Bemanya Twebaze, Registrar General at the Uganda
Registration Services Bureau, is #HakunaMchezo.
I had already noted, personally, the changes in that office since he took over.
Back when I was a young newsman the Registrar of Companies was a nightmare venue. It was the ultimate government office. It was a graveyard. Work went there to die; it was tended by sullen gravediggers working in tandem with bodysnatchers vandalising coffin files and desecrating everything.
I discovered quite quickly in those days why many stories circumvented simple details such as who owned what company – getting that information out of the Registry was impossible if you didn’t have petty cash for it, but it was also unethical to engage in corruption to pursue a story most likely about corruption.
Those days are long gone, as the indexes keep stating.
Walking into their headquarters on George Street this week I noticed a truck with loudspeakers mounted on the top of it, all properly branded “URSB” in that bright and jolly way that marks a big difference from its past.
I thought it was for making field announcements by way of noise pollution. I was wrong. I was in the presence of a ground-breaking innovation. This truck had arrived minutes before me, and has been developed by the team at URSB for use in the field to register businesses anywhere in Uganda.
It opens up into a mini-office so that the URSB staff can park it anywhere and register your business, upload the information onto the servers, and print out your Certificate on the spot. #HakunaMchezo. It is fitted with a computer and printer, safes (for the certificates and other valuables), internet access (to reach the server), a generator with lighting (so they can work even into the night) and the loudspeakers are linked to a bluetooth amplifier (less cabling).
Don’t waste time imagining how quickly we will move up the indexes with that one innovation in place, because it should be on the road even as you read this.
That innovation aside, when I got upstairs I found a host of energetic youth circulating around scanners, computers and other electronic gadgets on the brightly lit half of the floor, flanking the second half darkened by immobile cardboard boxes – coffins of paperwork being brought to life by technology.
“Hello children!” my chaperone, the even more energetic Mercy Kyomugasho-Kainobwisho, chirped as we walked in, to which the children laughed and responded brightly like this is a day-to-day occurrence. Government offices are rarely this way in most countries. More importantly though, this is the Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) being implemented as announced in July last year.
About 500,000 paper files are being made digital so they are accessible by way of computers and mobile phones. The project is on track because there is #HakunaMchezo. No disgruntled staff issuing whistleblower reports about it. No investigations putting a halt to the work. No court orders. Nobody asking for money around it. All staff are on board with it. It is working.
That digitisation will make this information an incredible resource. Imagine how much faster your bank loan applications will run just because they can log on to a system to confirm your records, your Tax Identification Number, your land ownership status, and so on and so forth? Or any of the other transactions that take forever to happen.
And that’s without considering that all this paperwork, before this project, cost you and I a vast amount of money in rent occupying an entire floor of a commercial building in central Kampala. #HakunaMchezo. That money is now going to be put to better use elsewhere.
A few floors down, the other workflows were in progress with remarkable differences – during the lunch hour, moreover. Finding an electronic ticketing system like the one used by international airlines was surprising. It made for such orderliness that it was disorienting.
I was almost dizzy when I got to the One Stop Shop I found on the first floor of the building. The entire floor is open except for a Board Room, and sectioned off to accommodate all the abbreviations that would intimidate a business starting up: KCCA, UIA, NSSF, URA, NIRA, NEMA, URSB (Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda Investment Authority, National Social Security Fund, Uganda Revenue Authority, National Identification & Registration Authority, National Environment Management Authority).
There is even a desk area for officers who will help link you up with any local government in Uganda for information your business might need without you loading airtime or fuelling up your car – all the way to Zombo.
With all this, how can we fail to climb higher on the global indexes this year?
Plus, we already have a One Stop Shop similar to this at the Uganda Investment Authority on Twed Plaza, who are yet to take up their desk space at the URSB but will certainly do so before its official launch.
If we continue with #HakunaMchezo then each and every one of the abbreviations above should open a One Stop Shop at their premises. Then, every district should open one up as well – in fact, the Ministry of ICT & National Guidance Minister, Frank Tumwebaze, last year announced that the Post Office buildings would be turned to this purpose. #HakunaMchezo.
For that private sector to thrive it should have fewer obstacles in its way – especially non-essential obstacles such as filling out forms, finding an elusive government officer to place a stamp on the forms once you’ve filled them in, or getting the forms to move from one window to the next relevant one.
The World Bank definition of their index says: “A high ease of doing business ranking means the regulatory environment is more conducive to the starting and operation of a local firm.”
We will certainly climb higher up that list this year, if everyone takes up the #HakunaMchezo the way the URSB has done at all levels with clearly visible results.