I am writing in reference to an opinion titled “Why Ugandans shouldn’t celebrate Museveni’s infrastructure by Harold Kaija the Deputy Secretary General, Forum for Democratic Change that was published in a local newspaper on October 24, 2018. In his article he points out a number of assumptions and comparisons on how we used loan money to construct all these infrastructures and that Ugandans shouldn’t celebrate because we are all going to pay these loans back.
In addition he factors in the issue of value of money audit meaning to say that Uganda’s infrastructural projects cost much more than similar projects in the region and even around the world.
First of all, I beg to disagree with him because Ugandans should celebrate and also be proud that we have been able to develop all these infrastructures regardless of whether it is loan money or not. Ugandans need to understand that Uganda is a developing country and therefore, borrowing is inevitable for development to happen given our low tax base.
He further emphasizes how we spend much more on some of the projects compared to other countries but he forgets a number of factors which include the capacity to pay back the loan, terms of reference surrounding the different projects, topography of the land on which these projects run, the time factor of when some of these projects run, the cost of the materials’ used which vary over time among others.
Uganda is not even among the top most indebted countries in the world meaning our debt is within a manageable range. According to a report by the Parliament’s Committee on National Economy for the 2016/17 financial year, the stock of external debt for both the public and private sector was at 41.4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP)which is about 26 billion US dollars , up from 40.2 per cent in the preceding financial year. This figure is still below the 50 per cent sub-Saharan Africa standard of sustainable debt.
If you list the countries with the highest amounts of national debt by dollar value alone, the United States tops the list easily with more than US $19.86 trillion. China comes in second, with a gross national debt level of US $10.17 trillion, followed by Japan with US$9.08 trillion. This clearly elaborates that even the countries we admire have debts too and therefore, Uganda is no exception when it comes to borrowing.
In Africa, Uganda is not even among the top ten most indebted countries. According to World Bank, out of 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, it is only 15 countries that have high levels of debt distress or are in debt distress. Six countries that is; Chad, Eritrea, Mozambique, Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Zimbabwe were judged to be in debt distress by the International Monitory Fund (IMF) at the end of last year.
In the early 2000s when most African countries were affected by the commodity crush, some especially those that were not reliant on commodity exports, their borrowing went up with spending. Most of them aggressively spent to try and address development needs and this is where Uganda and other countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal among others fall. These countries have been investing heavily in infrastructure, services and agriculture as a means to boost growth. Many see the borrowing as a sustainable and necessary drive forward towards development.
Besides, we are now living in a world where interest rates are super-low, even negative in some cases which means it is cheaper for people and governments to service their debts while also promoting spending.
Government mainly borrows for large infrastructural projects because with infrastructure other services like agricultural, education, and health easily fall in place. Despite some corruption by some of our unprofessional officers on some of the projects, we must appreciate the fact that government is using the borrowed money for what it is meant for. In addition, there is proper accountability and audit of the funds by government and then of course even the funders have their own officers who do ground work and administration just for purposes of making sure the projects are dealt with following the right path and procedures.
One point which Mr. Kaija should note very clearly is that, the opposition thinks they can get into power by defaming the ruling party creating a negative public opinion to gain votes for their party in the next election. But in the end, if they win, they come up with the same policies which are suggested by bureaucrats in the government. Opposition’s role is to ensure the ruling government does not cross the borders in governance and control the government in case it is taking the wrong direction but the reality is quite the opposite to the ethical position and country can be developed only when the ethical politics rises.
In his statement of lamentation, he could have at least with due respect thanked and appreciated government for the good work that has done before jumping onto the speculations and blackmail. Government appreciates positive criticism but negative energy and politicking especially by opposition members like Mr. Kaija should stop because it will take them nowhere. Let us learn to appreciate the good and also give credit where it is truthfully due.