the procurement of sugar cane and how people lose jobs


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The Bugolobi supplier – Photo by Simon Kaheru

OVER the last couple of weeks I have followed first hand how: 1. Procurement sometimes gets easily confounded and; 2. How, as a direct result, a certain cadre of persons will lose their jobs.

Starting about three weeks ago, I noticed that a police guard within my neighbourhood had developed a consistent habit of eating sugarcane at the gate near my home.
Sugar cane was my favourite childhood fruit, back when my siblings and I coined the word ‘sukali kiboko’, as we were learning our vernacular and trying to do so without being laughed at. So we went, one at a time, to our grand mother to get the words for ‘sugar’ and ‘cane’, then put them together.
We got laughed at, then learnt the correct words for bikajjo/bikaijo.
The sight of the police guard ripping away at his sugarcane triggered a nostalgic need to join in, and enquiries revealed that he regularly purchased his supply nearby at Ushs500 per cane.
I dispatched my eleven-year old with Ushs1,000 and he returned with two long sugar cane stems that quickly went into sweet tooth history.
The next day, I sent a domestic worker whose role profile includes ad hoc shopping trips within a certain radius for items valued below a set, safe limit.
I only wanted two sugar cane stems – one for me, and one for the police guard or anybody else interested. She returned and I chewed through my day’s allocation, but the next day I found the store to be empty.
Assuming that the habit had become popular within the household, I sent her on another excursion and made a loose remark about how the two stems from the day before had been so quickly decimated.
“I only bought one,” she said, and left to buy more, with another Ushs1,000.
That gave me time to think about the first Ushs1,000 I had given her and how it had resulted in the confessed singular sugar cane stem but with no change returned.
After a long while I found she had returned and gone on to other duties, unaware that my need for a sugar cane fix made me dangerously irritable. Apologising, she explained that the usual point had no sugar cane on offer, and got angrily sent on her way to accomplish the given task.
She returned with one stem and reported that it cost Ushs800.
I noted the difference in cost, but dealt with the more pressing matter of chewing cane, as I thought things over and decided to bypass her for such purchases.
The next day, I bypassed her and used another emissary who I gave Ushs2,000.
He also returned with one stem – and this one much shorter than usual. I studied it carefully and found the individual segments themselves to be no different from past stems, which meant that someone had taken a knife to either end of the sugar cane.
It is normal for the top-most segment with the leaves and the bottom-most one with roots and soil to get hacked away, but this time the knife operator had literally made enjawulo of sugar cane itself!
To make matters worse, it cost the full Ushs2,000. Mbu.
I was incensed and made it clear how inconceivable it was for the price of sugarcane to have quadrupled within a half kilometre radius over the course of four days.
I felt like telling him the fable of an unscrupulous West African President in the 1980s who would send an aide to the Central Bank Governor with a request for a briefcase of money. By the time the Governor released the cash, the amount in the request had normally been multiplied ten times over, with various other officials starting with the Governor himself and including drivers, bodyguards and messengers, all taking off a small cut before the President received the money he had initially requested.
But I was impatient for my sugar cane fix, so I struck the fellow off my list of trusted sugar cane purchasers and moved on.
I wished I had stayed close to the police guard who had introduced me to the Ushs500-a-stem supplier, but it was obvious that I had now entered another dimension, so I changed tack and the next day went to the Nakawa market myself.
And stupidly, instead of alighting from my vehicle to walk up to the fellow at the bicycle chopping up and selling the sugar canes, I accepted the offer of using the market shopping boys who make themselves available to fools such as myself.
It must have been obvious to him that I was intent on the convenience of sitting in my vehicle and unlikely to leave, with my paraphernalia, in order to cross the road and purchase sugar cane.
I saw a tell-tale look show up in his eyes as he told me, after handing me one chopped up sugar cane stem, that it cost Ushs4,000. I gave him a knowing smile, and he smiled back and I knew he was winning. I paid up and left.
Two days later, I found another fellow on a bicycle in Bugolobi and this time I crossed the road to make my purchase. Ushs3,000.
Slapping myself on the forehead, I went back to the Ushs500-a-stem point and found them fully re-stocked.
There is no turning back.
I now buy sugar cane myself – with no external assistance, all segments intact.
(And at this point, I must thank the patient reader who texted me at the end of the day to say: “Correction: Sugarcane is a grass; NOT a fruit or a vegetable!” Very correct, madame!)

promoting and buying Ugandan: we need to walk our talk


Ladies and gentlemen, we have to start walking our talk.

The Friday before last, the Uganda Communications Commission hosted us to the Annual Communications Innovation Awards (ACIA) 2014 themed ‘ICT Innovation for National Development’.

I skipped lunch that day, for an unrelated reason, eventually changed into one of my nice Ugandan-made shirts, and made my way to the exhibition preceding the main event. I was full of hope because an innovation I was involved in had been nominated for an award.

A sharp kick of hunger stopped me short at a supermarket where I proceeded to implement this difficult personal policy of buying Ugandan if the item available is of a quality approaching close-to the imported equivalent I needed. My pals laugh at me but I always explain that, for instance, Uganda does not make Land Rovers so my choice of car is left untouched.

This time all I wanted was a small packet of crisps to tide me by till dinner. I was clearly not going to buy the ones in see-through kaveera because while walking through a slum with a well-meaning Pastor some years ago, I found out how those are made. He was showing me round his labour of love slum project when we turned a sharp corner and almost fell over a little boy engaged in some public toilet activity. This, a few metres from a woman, presumably his mother, deep frying crisps in a pan on a sigiri next to a small table with the buveera awaiting to be filled. 

Health and safety issues aside, I generally don’t eat too many crisps but on this day found a brand called Emondi, that stood as proudly on those shelves as the Tropical Heat and Pringles ranges did. I swiped them and drove to the exhibition, and by the time I had arrived had only managed to chew through a couple of handfuls and to this day cannot understand why they were so tasteless in packaging so promising.

Walking through the exhibition, however, lifted my spirits and distracted me from the hunger as I quickly browsed the Ugandan offerings of innovation in ICT and gained hope once again that not all is lost. Sticking with the theme, the keynote speaker was not some imported talent or celebrity, but a Ugandan working at Microsoft in a senior capacity – Ivan Lumala.

I pulled at my Ugandan-made collar a little bit and applauded the fellow for being what he was and representing me wherever he goes. All seemed to flow smoothly – except for some flies in the honey: Ignoring the suggestion at my table that the Serena Kampala had imported waiting staff from Kenya for the night, I applauded lead entertainer Myko Ouma for his fantastic guitar work but stopped short when I realised that his repertoire consisted of Sade, Jonathan Butler, Phil Collins…WHY? 

ImageBut that was not as bad as the performance of a one Eddie Kenzo (pictured being a pain on the stage elsewhere) whose Sitya Loss presented some infants gyrating on-stage in a disturbingly adult manner. As I said, go Ugandan only if the item is of a quality good enough.   

Someone at my table laughed at my murmuring and asked me if the menu was even Ugandan; and I made a resolution there and then to suggest that all government events when I am ever put in charge would promote strictly national offerings!

As-if to goad the ire within us at that point, the award nomination call-ups began and the music played when nominations were called up was…South African. Pan Africa, you say?

Okay, a quick Google search using the phrase ‘buy South African procurement rules’ returns the top result “General Procurement Guidelines -2 from the Republic of South Africa Treasury Department ” which contained the simply written paragraph:

“The government has implemented the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act as the foundation on which all procurement activities are to be based. Its aim is to:   (a) advance development of SMMEs and HDIs; …(d) promote local enterprises in specific provinces, in a particular region, in a specific local authority, or in rural areas; and (e) support the local product.

I don’t expect Eddie Kenzo’s music to ever play at a South African national or government event.

Another quick Google search with the phrase ‘buy Ugandan procurement rules’ got me to the Public Procurement Disposal of Public Assets Act two clicks later where the twelve (12) mentions of “local” referred to ‘Local Government’ except for three occasions in 59B. (Reservation schemes) that read ‘local expertise’,’local communities’ and ‘local organisations’.

Reservation schemes? Read the Act and work it out – but obviously it’s easier for the South Africans to buy and promote local.