Last week, the parliamentary committee on government parastatals unearthed terrible scandals in the Ugandan airlines. It came to light that the Uganda airlines have never made a single profit since it was brought back to life four years ago! In other words, the airline has been making loses at the end of every financial year! That scandalous revelation aside, it was also revealed that the executive director of the loss-making-airlines was earning a whopping 87 million shillings per month!
The experts in the aviation industry are insisting that the money, which is an equivalent of USD20,000, is not necessarily a scandal in itself, because most airlines directors actually earn more than that. But the disgraceful aspect of it is that the director in question doesn’t even possess the required qualifications to run the airlines. This is not to mention her ventilator route to the position. It is even compounded by the fact that her profile is not straight since she has a double identity and she carries two entirely different names.
The necessary logic:
Without dwelling so much about the nitty-gritty of the scandals within the Uganda Airlines, it’s imperative to remind ourselves that we have been very critical about the criteria which was used to restore the Airlines in the first place, given the economic predicament the country is faced with at the moment. There is a lot of evidence to prove that a lot of emotion was used to restore the Uganda Airlines at the expense of the necessary due diligence. There is very little to show that the government made a value-for- money background check, to make it a profitable venture. This explains why they have not been bothered by the fact that it has made losses in each of the past years it has been flying the global skies.
The Attorney General actually revealed that the airlines actually made losses amounting to 267 billion in two years! But the question is, did we need the airlines in the first place? For the sake of the pride of having planes emblazoned with the word UGANDA AIRLINES gracing the global skies, the answer could be yes. But considering the actual fate of the current Ugandan economy, and for the sake of delivering the necessary business incentives to Ugandans, the answer is an emphatic NO. It was not the right idea to venture into making investments into the aviation industry.
With the way the economy is wobblingly moving at its lowest, and with the cost of fuel stretching the transport costs, the best idea should have been to first restore the Uganda Railways. In fact, what we needed was to increase the railway lines from the 1.000 kilometers the British left with us, to another stretch. The Britons were very strategic when they made the decision to build the railway from Kampala to Kasese, to tap the copper from the Kilembe mines and salt from Lake Katwe. Although the British were targeting copper salt, it had the trickledown effect of enhancing the agricultural potential of the western region as well. Agricultural products like onions, Irish potatoes beans, fish, and maize flour had to be ferried by cargo to Kampala.
This had the multiple economic effect of lowering the costs of food in the city since the transport costs were lower with the railways than road transportation. But president Museveni simply closed down the Kasese railway line but kept on preaching the gospel of transition to middle income class! In their wisdom, the British had also built the railway from Kampala to Jinja, Tororo, Mbale onwards towards Lira, Pakwach, to tap tobacco from the West Nile, coffee from Mbale and other products from the East and the north.
Due to reasons unverifiable, even that one on the East and Northern route was closed by the Museveni government! We need to interrogate why such decisions are made. Are they for the good of the people? Are they for the strategic interests of the regime to impoverish some sections of the country? Why do you pump such huge volumes of money in the airlines which ferries less than 1% of the population and ignore the railway which serves more than 60% of Ugandans? Now the logic, or lack of it, is coming out through the scandals that are rocking Ugandan airlines.
When you hear the sentiments which drove the restoration of the airlines, one wonders. There are rumors that one of the narratives that compelled Museveni to restore the Uganda Airlines at the expense of the railways was the persistent comparisons people in the corridors of power kept making between Uganda and Rwanda. “How can Rwanda and Ethiopia have planes gracing the global skies when we don’t have any,’’ they would point out. The Ugandan President, who prides in making the right priorities, should have stuck to his guns and insisted that the railways were more important than the airlines. He should have outlined the direct and indirect benefits of having the railway as the first priority over the airlines.
Today, the Ugandan economy is enduring one of the worst recessions we have ever witnessed in our history, with prices soaring above normal. This hyperinflation, although fueled by the global trends, should have been cushioned by the railways. We are not suffering hyperinflation in the food stuffs as a result of low productivity. We are suffering because of the high fuel prices which have pushed up the cost of transport for these food stuffs. If we had a vibrant railway system, the prices could have been mitigated to much lower levels.
Therefore, when you hear the scandals in Uganda Airlines, one would wonder why we even had to restore it in the first place. The way forward? Instead of discussing Uganda Airlines we should have been talking about the building of a new Uganda Railway network spreading its tentacles towards the south to Mbarara, to tap the milk, beef, hides and skins in that sector and other parts of the country. And it’s obvious that the money which has already been spent on the airlines should have been more than enough to renovate the old railway line and to probably build a new one.
- Fred Daka Kamwada is a seasoned journalist, blogger and political analyst for over a decade in Uganda
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