Human Rights

Uganda: Roads Sector Loses U.S.$1.5 Billion, Everyone’s Too Busy Dodging Potholes to Even Notice

As President Museveni dedicates his new five-year term to fighting and defeating corruption, a report of the commission that has been probing the rot in the roads sector gives an indication of the magnitude of the task ahead.

The report, handed to the president by commission chairperson Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, says some nine trillion shillings was disbursed to the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) over seven years to construct 5,147 kilometres of road.

While the dollar today trades at about Ush3,400, a decade ago as UNRA was being constituted it sold at about Ush2,000. So we can safely say that at a conservative estimate, UNRA ingested three billion dollars.

After ingesting the three billion dollars, UNRA only managed to digest about $1.6 billion to make 1,500 kilometres out of the required 5,147km.

The remaining $1.4 billion that was not digested was not returned to the Treasury. It was stolen by UNRA staff.

But there is hope - that state of affairs was arrested over a year ago with the appointment of former Uganda Revenue Authority boss Allen Kagina as the new executive director of UNRA, and she started off by dismissing all UNRA staff, about a thousand of them and a fresh re-hiring is going on.

But the disclosure of the total theft of one and a half billion dollars came just last week. The country's entire annual revenue collection is less than four billion dollars, so you would expect that the nation gasped. Maybe another nation would gasp, not Uganda.

I don't think even half the country got to learn that in one department alone, an amount that equals half a year's government revenue was stolen in seven years.

Could it be because corruption is no longer a problem in Uganda? If the taxpayers no longer mind that their money is stolen on such an industrial scale, is it not then safe to conclude that they have learnt to cope?

It is like buying an umbrella and stopping getting wet when it rains. You don't stop the rain but you manage to cope because it no longer makes you wet.

So what will happen when the president eliminates corruption over the next five years as promised?

It could mean three things: First of all, even without increasing revenue collection, the government will be able to deliver twice the level of services it is now giving - since there will now be twice the resources available. It could also mean that Uganda can stop borrowing altogether since there will be twice the resources than before to deliver the same level of service.

Third, we can maintain the current levels of service provision and instead start building sovereign funds like oil-selling countries such as Norway and Kuwait.

So while the citizens have given up on public officials whom they see as addicted, incurable thieves, better times are coming because with the coming elimination of corruption, the people will be in for a pleasant surprise.

Source: The East African