No Rolls for Mu­sev­eni, he’s happy with a Probox

The East African - - OPINION - CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO Charles Onyango-obbo is pub­lisher of data vi­su­aliser Afr­ica­pae­dia and Rogue Chiefs. Twit­ter@cobbo3

Over two weeks ago, the in­de­pen­dent pub­li­ca­tion Daily Mon­i­tor of Kam­pala pub­lished a “scoop” that said the Uganda gov­ern­ment was to scrap or dis­solve over 60 semi-au­ton­o­mous agen­cies in a ma­jor shakeup, to cut costs.

The move was ex­pected since Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni in July 2017 di­rected Vice Pres­i­dent Ed­ward Ssekandi and Prime Min­is­ter Ruhakana Ru­gunda to un­der­take a re­view of gov­ern­ment agen­cies in or­der to re­duce the bur­den on tax­pay­ers.

The pa­per’s story had a huge sur­prise, as it al­leged that the big­gest of the agen­cies, the 10-year-old Uganda Na­tional Roads Au­thor­ity (UNRA), would also be re­ab­sorbed into the Min­istry of Works.

That sounded a bridge too far, and given that no other pub­li­ca­tion went with the story, many weren’t sure what to make of it.

On Mon­day, the gov­ern­ment for­mally con­firmed the de­ci­sion, an­nounc­ing that 71 agen­cies would be af­fected, and that the re­struc­tur­ing would save the coun­try Ush1 tril­lion ($265 mil­lion) a year.

While there was some scep­ti­cism, a wide cross-sec­tion of Ugan­dans, jaded by years of cor­rup­tion and waste, wel­comed the an­nounce­ment.

Still the spirit of the move was ad­mirable. How­ever, there are bet­ter op­tions.

There are in­deed too many bod­ies in Uganda deal­ing with elec­tric­ity: The Uganda Elec­tric­ity Gen­er­a­tion Com­pany, Uganda Elec­tric­ity Trans­mis­sion Com­pany, Uganda Elec­tric­ity Dis­tri­bu­tion Com­pany, and the Ru­ral Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion Agency.

How­ever, whether they scrap them all or merge them into a sin­gle new agency or they are swal­lowed back into the en­ergy min­istry, it will not solve the prob­lem of the high cost of elec­tric­ity.

Uganda is still build­ing more dams, even though it al­ready pro­duces more elec­tric­ity than it uses. The fail­ure to evac­u­ate all elec­tric­ity is due to an age­ing grid, and ex­tended pe­ri­ods of off­peak de­mand.

But the EAC can have cheaper elec­tric­ity all round by cre­at­ing a power pool that would shift elec­tric­ity to where there’s high de­mand, and cre­ate economies of scale.

In the early buzz of the Kenya-uganda-rwanda “Coali­ton of the Will­ing”, this was one of the ideas that Pres­i­dents Uhuru Keny­atta, Mu­sev­eni and Paul Kagame tossed about, but it has run into head­winds.

For Mu­sev­eni, then, the an­swer is one of his pet projects: East African in­te­gra­tion.

It’s the kind of think­ing he es­poused on the Uganda oil pipe­line, which he al­ways said was an East African pipe­line, and it was ap­pro­pri­ately so named. The oil is Uganda’s, yes, but the pipe­line is re­gional. Tan­za­nia will own a piece of it.

So with roads. Uganda can own the land, but it doesn’t need to own the roads.

Rather than in­gest UNRA back into the min­istry, the smart fu­ture is in cre­at­ing an East African in­fra­struc­ture pool. A leaner UNRA can rep­re­sent Uganda at the East African in­fra­struc­ture table.

An in­fra­struc­ture pool buy­ing road equipment for the re­gion would have the mus­cle to get it done cheaply. The EAC could also pi­o­neer re­gional in­fra­struc­ture bonds, which would be much cheaper than any of the fund­ing the part­ners states are get­ting to­day, be­cause the risks would be much lower.

It won’t be easy, and the cow­boys in the in­fra­struc­ture sec­tor in the re­gion will push back.

On the present path, Mu­sev­eni will still get some­thing, yes. He will get a Toy­ota Probox, but he could have got a Rolls Royce.

An in­fra­struc­ture pool buy­ing road equipment for the re­gion would have the mus­cle to get it cheaply.”

The EAC can have cheaper elec­tric­ity all round by cre­at­ing a power pool that would shift elec­tric­ity to where there’s high de­mand

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