The ever increasing presidential cash handouts also known as presidential handshakes are becoming a thought provoking ritual. Our President has a prerogative to render financial help from his well-nourished State House budget on donations, however it is concerning that the boundaries of this prerogative might be going beyond the limits of the cosmos. And it doesn’t really matter whether it is the people chasing the presidency for handshakes or vice versa. The effect is the same since the devil is always in the detail.
Without inquiring into the legal structure or absence thereof, criteria and good intentions of the handshakes, I want to think that the giving and receiving of these cash handouts will only deliver unintended negative consequences to the country. We are already feeling the effects of the presidential handshake in ways we had never imagined as it has reinforced an expectation of other types of handshakes in the country. Since most people cannot access the President, they are now demanding for the Speakers handshake, Ministers handshakes, Members of Parliament handshakes, Presidential Advisors handshake, and other private handshakes which i cannot find space to name. This however, is not in the league of money that we are in the good nature of contributing to the education, marriage celebration, medical care or bereavement cost for a relative, dependent, friend or other financial support we may give to a good cause.
Uganda is already burdened by a very high age dependency ratio which at 96 per cent is ranked 7th in the World by the World Bank as of 2018. We share the high dependency stage with countries like Niger, Chad, DR-Congo, Burundi etc. This does not make for an impressive statistic. The high age dependency means that the Ugandan working class has to live through a life of struggle where they scrounge to barely meet their needs with most ending up with no saving for their old age. It also means that Ugandan industry and businesses have to suffer low labour productivity because of the negative conditioning of mindsets which continue to feed on the chronic dependency syndrome in the country.
So when the President comes to town with his money bags, people in positions of responsibility in the private sector have nowhere to hide because the cash handouts are sending a wrong signal to our youthful and unemployed population to believe that it is permissible to expect, receive and survive on cash handouts in the real world. In my view, Presidential handshakes and the other variety of handshakes that I have mentioned above can only serve to exacerbate our economic challenges.
Some people may come up in defence of the Presidential handshakes and claim that they can benefit recipients engaged in gainful economic activity. This may be possible but it should not be taken for granted that success is automatically assured with an injection of this kind of free money. You don’t need to be a genius to have encountered the irony of people who tend to act irrationally when they are gifted with free money, even when it is for business. In reality, they may not care well enough for the money in the business and lose it to consumptive behaviour since they did not labour to get it and are not obliged to pay back.
I need to emphasize here that cash handouts rarely motivate productivity. I doubt that anyone can accumulate wealth and secure his future in this fashion. Free money or goodies which are not given in exchange for a known value tend to smother all human endeavour to progress. That is why no country has ever developed with free money or aid. The exception which is not a country maybe with the religious institutions (i am referring to the genuine ones), but even they don’t receive free money from their flock. They receive donations from believers and regular offertory from the faithfuls, not for free but for a service they offer. Their service is specific and measurable on a spiritual scale and it does not frolic anywhere near the negative consequences of cash handouts. Moreover many institutionalized religions workup the money they receive by investing it in productive economic ventures to regenerate it. This should make the case for more well-structured investment in the key areas of the economy and less cash handouts.
Presidential handshakes just undermine the impetus of the people to work hard and fend for themselves especially when the handshakes are packaged to look like a business promotion. These cash handouts are not a human right whose protection is guaranteed by the Constitution. Therefore the President or any other persons who find themselves in this fox hole have no legal obligation to continue with this frenzy except for the venerable causes which should benefit under a framework governed by proper policy.
Whereas presidential handshakes do not kill people, they actually teach them nothing about how to live in the real world where every legitimate penny earned requires sweat and untiring effort. Ultimately, the recipients of the cash handouts suffer the most because when the cash runs out as it often does, they have to return to a hard life with worse coping abilities. So people are advised not to chase the president looking for cash handouts because this may rob them of a productive and creative life.
Presidential handshakes should not make a serious feature in any presidential repertoire. They therefore do not merit further discussion lest we glorify them instead. What requires further discussion and glorification is the need for the presidency to find other constitutional means of endearing itself to the political support base in ways that do not hurt us in the long run.
Muwema & Co. Advocates
8th November 2019