Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Uganda collapsing under weight of big govt
Civilised societies across the globe are rejecting the idea of big governments -largely because they offer a fertile breeding ground for bad governance and corruption.

Dictators use big governments to reward their cronies in order to entrench themselves in power. This political strategy is very significant especially when a political leadership’s popularity dwindles.

And while all these political machinations are being carried these self-centered politicians conveniently ignore the fact that there is a price to everything we do. That’s why 26 out of the 51 new districts created by President Museveni’s government since 1990 are collapsing under the weight of debt.

Another 75 districts have written to the Ministry of Local Government begging for money because they are unable to generate enough cash on their own to deliver services. The depression being experienced in the new districts defeats the whole essence of the much touted decentralisation policy.

Decentralisation was meant to take services nearer to the people but with the creation of new districts much of the resources have had to be diverted to pay for local leaders’ salaries and allowances.

The local governments’ financial woes are compounded by even a bigger but similar national problem. President Museveni is already presiding over the largest government in Africa, 72 ministers, over 100 Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) and their assistants plus a growing list of presidential advisers.

Ironically, the minister in charge of the bloated local governments, Kahinda Otafiire, and MP for Ruhinda is himself opposed to the splitting of his home district Bushenyi into more districts. Otafiire’s stance not to burden his people with additional administrative costs through the creation of new districts in Bushenyi should be applauded but it must also be put in context.

Otafiire is a senior member in Mr Museveni’s cabinet. He should therefore be among the cheer leaders for the government’s districts creation policy. He has instead stood his ground and opposed the division of Busnheyi district. What does this mean?

It means that there is a terrible lack of cohesion in public administration under the current regime. It further shows some government decisions are not taken at cabinet level where there is collective responsibility.

It’s clear from this experience and others witnessed over the years that some important decisions in this country are taken by just a few powerful politicians with little or no regard to techinical advice let alone public opinion.

But this individualistic approach to public service and governance does not only frustrate the technical arm of government, but also leads to waste of public resources.

It also offends the spirit of our national constitution which explicitly advocates good governance to allow for equitable utilisation of national resources. We are already having a failing public health sector, a deteriorating national road network, a confused education system (some UPE kids still study under trees), lack of clean water for the majority of the population etc.

We simply cannot afford the huge cost that comes with running a big government. The billions of shillings spent on sustaining a large cabinet and puffy local governments should instead be used to improve provision of public services.

And now that some ministers have also come out publicly to complain about poor pay and confess that they have never met the appointing authority, it’s time for the president trimmed his big government. Districts should be abolished and regional local governments set up to ensure effective public service delivery.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


You can’ t gag press and be a democrat

The World Press Freedom Day was marked last week on May 3, with Uganda registering no marked improvement in media freedoms. In fact, the state continued to raid media houses with the latest being The Independent, a bi–monthly magazine in Kampala.

At Daily Monitor, no less than 10 journalists including senior editors are at various stages of prosecution for alleged publication of false news, criminal libel and sedition. This is irrespective of the fact that all the highlighted offences are obsolete in a democratic society which Uganda purports to be and are in total contravention of the constitution.

Chapter four of our constitution provides for freedoms of speech, press and expression. And in the landmark supreme case of Charles Onyango-Obbo and Andrew Mujuni Mwenda vs. Attorney General (AG) court stated: “It’s difficult to imagine a guaranteed right more important to democratic society than freedom of expression. Indeed, a democracy cannot exist without that freedom to express new ideas and to put forward opinions about the functioning of public institutions.”

Court emphasised the fact that press freedom and the individual’s right to express ideas and thoughts freely cannot be suppressed unless the situations created by allowing the freedom are pressing and the community interest is endangered. This means that the anticipated danger to national security and public order should not be remote, conjectural or farfetched.

But in Uganda the government continues to treat press freedoms as a matter of strategic public bluster and not a constitutional guarantee. This is because the state functionaries are averse to public criticism because of the irrational and, in some cases, undemocratic manner in which they run government.

That’s why government often unleashes security agents to harass, beat and lock- up journalists for a mere spoken or written word.
One wonders why a government with two national newspapers, two radio stations and a national television should panic just because one or two private publications have run a “negative” story about the state.

Why can’t government with all its well paid media advisers and strategists counter the alleged falsehoods peddled by the “errant” private publications through public sensitisation and provision of the correct information other than threatening and making the life of journalists very difficult?

Why should the state intimidate its citizenry while at the same time claim accolades for being democratic? A vibrant and free media environment is but the hallmark of civil liberties.

There is no denying that the media practitioners have to act responsibly. It’s also true that some elements in the media are guilty of partisanship, corruption, lack of professionalism due to little or no professional training. But these ills should not be the basis for government to gag the press.

The Press and Media Act has sufficient cure for all these ills. There are sanctions which can be imposed on wayward journalists, such as suspending or cancelling their practising certificates after a fair hearing.

There is an elaborate appeal process right up to the Supreme Court and better still the aggrieved public can sue to recover damages and be compensated for the wrongs suffered at the hands of journalists.
The state therefore has no justification nor constitutional authority to arrest journalists and have their houses ransacked for purported crimes not recognised under our constitution.

A free media environment allows citizens to enjoy their constitutional rights to access information freely so that they make informed decisions about how they should be governed. These rights cannot be taken away by the state because they are inherent.

The media being the last frontier to realising civil liberties should never give in to state patronage let alone harassment.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


We just can’t let these defilers off the hook
The case of Ms Namusoga (not real name for respect of the girl’s privacy), the 13-year-old disabled girl who gave birth last week in Iganga after being defiled by an unknown pedophile has once again brought to the fore the growing problem of child abuse in the country.

Apart from being underage, Namusoga is blind, crippled and deaf. But her condiotion did not stop a senseless man from defiling her- leading to an unwanted pregnancy that could only impair the victim further. Imagine the physical torture and mental anguish of this little girl who could not see nor protest against the criminal acts of her tormentor.

And it cannot help matters either if it’s established that in this specific case, the grisly sexual assault was carried out by a family relative. The fact that the girl was crippled after a severe attack of a curable disease- malaria is also testament to the gross violation of children’s rights in poor developing countries like Uganda .

Defilement is the leading form of violence against the girl child in Uganda, according to human and child rights organisations. Strangely though, most defilement cases are settled at family level even when the offence of aggravated defilement like in the case of Namusoga carry a mandatory death penalty on conviction.

This means that the wider Ugandan society does not take defilement as a serious offence. In most cases the offenders are let off the hook after an exchange of small material gifts. In other cases, the defiled children’s dignity is traded for one or two goats. This is sad to say the least.
But what’s child abuse?

In simple terms this is any mistreatment or neglect of a child that results in non-accidental harm or injury and which cannot be reasonably explained. Child abuse include physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect.

We don’t want to pass judgement here, but why would the relatives of this disabled young girl leave her at home alone? This is the kind of inhuman treatment that most disabled persons experience in their daily lives. Society looks upon them as outcasts. For goodness’ sake disability does not extinguish a person’s fundamental rights to live a health, happy and decent life.

According to social workers and human rights activists, among the factors that contribute to child abuse include lack of parenting skills, unrealistic expectations about children’s behaviour and capabilities, a parent’s own negative childhood experience, social isolation etc. Child abuse therefore is a symptom that parents/guardians -whoever is in care of a child are having a difficulty coping with the obligation imposed by a duty of care for the young ones.

Ugandans should therefore wake up and stand firm to fight one of the worst forms of human torture and brutal crime of child defilement. All of us have a responsibility to ensure children are safe whether they are our relatives or not . There is a community responsibility to nurture, protect and guide the young generation to grow up and become responsible citizens.

The law governing the welfare of children especially those with disabilities imposes a strict responsibility on the parents and the state to afford children with disabilities facilities for their rehabilitation and care by provision of equal opportunities.

But there is an urgent need for parliament to re-examine and harmonise the laws that govern the welfare of children . The Children and Penal Code Acts are particularly lacking when it comes to child abuse related offences.

The law for instance should punish parents/relatives who conspire with defilers to defeat justice by not reporting defilement cases to the authorities. The penalties provided for in the Children Act for child abuse offences are too weak to have a meaningful deterrent effect.

The country owes this little girl, Namusoga, a debt that would possibly never be paid. Defilement is horrible and inhuman and it must be fought by every sensible citizen.

The writer is a journalist and advocate