bruno and the Ushs100,000

CERTIFICATE - Bruno
The scene – my two-car parking lot at the house.
The time – late one evening last week.
Protagonists – myself and, of course, Bruno, and certainly not in that order.

The day had been long and tiring, and I was surprised to be getting home roundabout the same time as Bruno, that earnestly comedic driver currently employed to convey my wife and children around town.

“Sir!” he said, to catch my attention after walking in my direction and stopping a respectful distance away.

I stopped offloading my car and turned towards him.

“Yes?”

He took one careful step forward, put one hand onto his wrist, and then brought the second hand forward to hand me two crisp Ushs50,000 notes.

Bruno often surprises me by the way his mind works, so I never attempt to work out the meaning of his gestures, mumbled words or even those he delivers with the right elocution.

So I took nothing for granted and, before bringing my hand out to accept the cash offering, I had to ask: “What’s this?”

Bruno did not disappoint.

He responded with such finality and purpose that for a couple of seconds I suspected he had set it all up for this one priceless moment when he would have me in front of him, about to receive two Ushs50,000 notes and asking, “What’s this?”

Because he replied with a very straight, blank, clear face: “Money.”

I almost died, and to this day thank God that this had not happened while I was drinking a glass of water or chewing on some hard bits of food, because I would have choked and died.

Again, the man was absolutely CORRECT! “This” WAS money! He was 100% correct on that count; he was handing me money.

My question had not covered the full length of the information I wanted from him – such as what the money was for, where it was from, what they excepted in return, and so on and so forth.

I had only asked, “ What is this?”

My suspicion that he had done this on purpose in order to respond, “Money” however, was short-lived. Surely, I thought, he would have first started with, “My hands, sir!” then after I had pressed on a bit, moved to “Money!”

But again, this was Bruno, and his blank face sometimes suggested that there were vacancies available behind it.

This was one of those times.

mediocre representation for mediocre societies

OulanyahJacob Oulanyah unleashed a barrage of sensibility this week, on his return from a trip round Germany and France, when he addressed a press conference at which he was reportedly so confused about the time of day that he kept saying ‘Good morning’ in the afternoon.

That is the only thing he was confused about – and as we have recently seen in public, people have made worse mistakes in this town.

Everything else he said was like the German national soccer team using words like a ball. Reading the news reports made me wish I had been there to watch him slam the volleys of points into our national mental goalmouth.

“Uganda’s liberalised sectors are dominated by foreign investors; Ugandans should not be exploited; nationals should be charged lower bank interest rates; 80% of Uganda’s time is spent discussing politics, which is too much; the media should practice responsible journalism; there are too many MPs compared to the size of the country; and most of the MPs that form that large number do not know how to debate, rarely do research, and thus the quality of their output is low.”

Just reading that paragraph there you can imagine how the Parliamentary spokespeople and many MPs felt like a team of Brazilians on a small, overcrowded pitch, considering that Oulanyah is Deputy Speaker of the House.

Getting into the defence against an attack like Oulanyah’s is not easy – but in the spirit of fair play let’s consider this without rejecting his goals, and play all the way to the end:

Our Members of Parliament are representatives of the people. From a strictly grammatical point of view, those 385 or so ladies and gentlemen that the 35million of us have sent to the House are a sample of what we are, in general as a population. If we were a nation of 35 million loquacious but eloquent individuals with an excellent train of thought every time we activated our minds, then our representatives would wax lyrically in the chambers of that House and have the world balancing off everything that dripped off their tongues.

Mathematically, game theorists and statisticians would surely bear testimony to that reality as well; even proponents of the 80/20 principle would have us expect that only 20% of the eminent ladies and gentlemen that the Rt. Hon. Oulanyah declared to be (insert appropriate interpretation of his statement) at holding forth intellectual, high quality debate, should be good at it.

In fact, however, the Rt. Hon. Oulanyah should judge from a lot of the happenings that we see in our every day lives – from the manner in which we navigate through traffic with the impatience of nursery school children suffering pressing bladders; to the way some public officers manage responsibility like conflicted adolescents whose parents leave town after misguidedly entrusting them with shopping money over a long weekend.

The quality of debate in Parliament can only be a reflection of society – the way our representatives are a reflection of ourselves.

In the spirit of a Brazilian after the third goal, I will proceed to argue that our MPs, in general, are doing the best they can in a country where Bad Black and her boyfriends whose wealth and importance cannot be easily explained without lengthy questionable narrative, continue to occupy space on the front page (or any other) of a newspaper.

And on to the other of Oulanyah’s goals, the need for responsible journalism is directly linked to the reason Bad Black and so many other characters of her kind get so much airtime – and again, that is our society.

If on an ordinary day on these streets you can find ten people capable of naming any of the people on the Kiira EV Project (including the Professor who mentored the students) then check the Constituencies of those ten people and name their MPs.

Serious MPs, reason would have it, should have constituents who could pass a test asking them to name any of the children featured in the newspapers as being the best in their national examinations.

The more serious MPs will have constituents who can even identify and even explain the importance of people like Joseph Mubiru, Ignatius Musaazi, Sir Tito Winyi, and others.

In fact, I want to meet people from Oulanyah’s Omoro County because by virtue of the fact that they produced someone so eloquent and focussed from amongst their numbers, it goes to reason that there must be many more such people left behind.

And if anyone can fix the economy in the ways Hon. Oulanyah so passionately outlined on his return from his European epiphany, it should be more people like him.

And perhaps from Omoro, and via a couple of weeks in France and Germany; because obviously none of the formal education that has been going around for these many years has had this great an impact.

yet another comedy of small errors

This week’s unnecessary chaos around the State House salaries made me angry on two levels – one because of the number of people involved in perpetuating this comedy of errors to national levels; and two because of the number of adults involved in propagating a very untenable idea that resulted in the otherwise entertaining #PayMe96Million social media chants and rants.

Starting with the second, to me it was obvious that in this country where people with second hand US$20,000 cars (liabilities) earn the label ‘tycoon’, we would have known long ago if anybody were banking a Ushs96million a month salary for even a week, without it being documented in Parliament with the media present.

As soon as I saw the offensive sheet indicating monthly salaries in State House PayMe96Mn - highlightedranging from Ushs20million to Ushs96million, I knew it was a stupid mistake but quickly moved on because I believed Members of Parliament would be more interested in addressing the close-to-100-deaths of Ugandans in western Uganda last week.

Besides, I was handling a stupid mistake in my own environment: That morning, I had concluded a transaction that should have earned about Ushs2.5million in one fell swoop, in US dollars – less than a day’s salary of that (mbu) highly-paid State House employee.

Issuing instructions for official documentation to complete the transaction, I left for a meeting and along the way made a couple of debt collection phone calls and monitored emails. One of those emails contained the invoice we were supposed to send the client for the above Ushs2.5million job card, but it read US$112 (One hundred twelve United States Dollars).

A quick glance had me frowning because the original calculation involved was ’75,000 x 38′ (Shillings) – to me, clearly much more than the invoice read.75,000 x 38 I emailed back my accounts guy asking, “Is the mathematics correct in this?” and he responded minutes later with “Yes it is” (no punctuation marks AT ALL).

The confidence with which he had responded, underscored by the poor punctuation, shook me a little so I asked the people I was with to do a quick mental calculation to confirm that ’75,000 x 38′ was, indeed, only US$112.

Even now, as you read this, it isn’t.

Picking up the phone, I asked someone else at the office to go over to the accountant and set him right just in case he was stuck with a really faulty calculator or computer or mobile phone or neighbours, since all these were available to him to cross-check the mathematics instead of insisting on the wrong answer.

She walked over to him, conducted an arithmetical exercise with the fellow and confirmed that, indeed: “It’s 258,000.”

I wavered.

But I refused to turn to electronic assistance because as far as I knew, 75,000 multiplied by a simple 3 (three) was already more than 210,000. I had a slight headache at the time, and thought that perhaps the problem was with my general body functions, so I asked them to check again and, indeed, their answer was still “258,000”, with a little irritation in their tone.

I hung up and moved on with what I hoped would be more understandable aspects of my work day. One of those was a meeting with a finance guy from one of my debtors, who told me the payment I was chasing after had already been remitted to my bank.

We went to and fro a few times saying “It wasn’t!” and “It was!” enough times to sound like children, then stopped to discuss the matter more seriously.

That’s when he admitted to me that months ago, when the payment had first been remitted, the bank account number had been wrongly written out, so the money had bounced back to them but they forgot about it for a couple of months till we started chasing them down for it.

“So I am sure we sent it this time!” he concluded. We had investigated jointly for a number of hours, querying both our banks at various points till, on this Tuesday, the suspicion came to me that perhaps the money had been sent to the wrong bank.

I was right.

It had gone to an old bank account we had closed over a year ago, in spite of the fact that this same client had received two sets of correspondence advising them of the change and had thereafter made several payments into the new bank account.

“Error”, they apologised, and got about fixing it. And so later on Tuesday night, after disregarding the #PayMe96Million thread a little bit, I looked up sharply remembering that we hadn’t concluded the matter of the ’75,000 x 38′ invoice to the client – many hours later.

Luckily, the duo at the office had put their heads together after the phone call; investigated the matter further, and had written to me:  “Each item is UGX38. For 75,000 the equivalent is 285,000…”

That’s when I turned back to the #PayMe96Million thread and studied the offending offensive document a little bit; and I called someone to ask why it even existed.

“What?! But a correction was sent to Parliament…” PayMe96MnLetter

To cut a long story short, I eventually got hold of the corrected document and saw how the error had occurred, with the annual salary somehow getting pasted into the column for monthly salaries, allowing the rest of the formulae to take hold… …and to me, after my experiences and especially the one of that very morning, it was clear why the junior officer’s error had gone past the supervisor, bosses, proof-readers, printers, document signers, and so on and so forth.

All of them committed errors in NOT spotting that initial error – as would have I, if that ’75,000 x 38’ hadn’t jumped out at me. And even though the correction had arrived at Parliament DAYS before Tuesday, the loud, indignant, sensational allegation on the floor of Parliament had gone unchallenged by ALL the Members of Parliament who HAD received said correction but had not read it – another error. #PayMe96Million 1 #PayMe96Million 2

So for all of Tuesday night, ordinary people who hold loaded guns at the compound gates providing overnight security and those that mix up food in kitchens next to dangerous detergents were angrily considering that their bosses earn salaries such as Ushs96,000,000 a month.

Revolutions and wars have been triggered off by minor errors such as these.

I still can’t imagine what the people whose names appeared on that original list are telling their spouses and domestic staff, if otherwise intelligent professionals are still crying wolf over #PayMe96Million.

Presidency Minister Frank Tumwebaze was gracious in admitting that mistakes happen everywhere and refusing to consider firing the person who committed the first error – otherwise very many people elsewhere would be losing jobs for ‘errors’ – including Cecilia Ogwal et al for failing to read the correction document or even doing some arithmetic before tickling an angry revolution among common folk.Ssebaggala

In a perfect world, my accountant and all State House employees in the chain that led to that document getting to a Parliamentary Member disinclined to basic arithmetics, would be out of jobs right now and providing opportunities for more efficient people to run things with the seriousness required. We would be surrounding ourselves with people who understand that small errors sometimes have a large impact on serious matters.

And Uganda would generally be less prone to incendiary political action such as we saw in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko, that the Members of Parliament found much less interesting than the sensational Ushs96million-a-month salary.

the vintage and classic bits of uganda’s heritage

The Vintage & Classic Auto Show wasn’t just about seeing nice, old, elegant, well-kept cars.

This guy, Hajji Kironde of Butambala, was one of my clear favourites with his 1972 Datsun 1600SS (also called the Datsun 510 in the United States).

IMG_8350The energetic Hajji told me in no uncertain terms how fantastic his car has been these 42 years past – and he has driven it practically every day of those years.

“I bought it in Amin’s regime after making some good money and I have driven it ever since. My children have gone to school, I have owned and lost businesses, and I am still alive and thriving!” he told me in Luganda.

“See this?” he pointed into the engine of the car, “Original! All metallic. All working perfectly fine. Don’t tell me about these Japanese cars of these days!”

IMG_8352And, he continued, taking me round his car, in Amin’s regime you could not drive around without a fire extinguisher in your car – so he still has his!

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And, he took me on a tour of his rear window louvres:

IMG_8354As well as his fuel tank in the boot of the car, which horrified me a little bit but was balanced out by the enthusiasm with which he got me to stick my head into his car boot; if only a few more Ugandans showed as much pride in their cars as this Hajji…

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Obviously, his car was not the cleanest of the lot, but the fact that this ‘ordinary gentleman’ could not only keep his car running well for over forty years but also feel proud enough of it to enter into the Vintage & Classic Auto show was heartening.

He went on to challenge anyone to a race from Kampala to Nairobi; which he claimed he would win hands down judging from his trip to Kabale and Mbarara last year.

My other favourite was this Citroen because as a child I went to school in this very car:

20140705_135620 20140705_135625 20140705_135638 20140705_135640 20140705_135741Amos Kasule Mwesigwa, a cousin of mine with long memories, was livid over a couple of missing details on the Citroen, and the change of number plate; and I let him jump around in anger for a while before placating him with the reasoning that at least the car was still here for everyone to see – and in pretty good condition too!

This truck also caught my eye, and one day the Sterns will write their story into a book for all of us to enjoy – detailing how they decided to move to Uganda in the late 80s, how they acquired this truck, and the journey they undertook with their nine (9) children to settle in Uganda.

IMG_8340 IMG_8342Then there were the really expensive vintage offerings that set the skin tingling:

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And the really, really, really old cars:

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This car up here is a Hudson owned by Sam Patel:

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20140705_135444 20140705_135526The Combis and Beetles also caused great amounts of excitement – and I even found one on offer for just Ushs6million!

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Some cars are old enough to fit properly within my lifespan (year of manufacture), starting with Sam Muwanguzi’s Toyota Crown:

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And there was a whole lot more – words are not enough:

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IMG_8372And unlike many other car shows in other parts of the world, there is a way we dress up here that is different yet colourful:

IMG_8331The pictures won’t end in a hurry – there are hundreds more!

Last off, though, thanks to this guy for his hard work in getting us there – together with many others, but a great round of applause goes straight to Peter Kagwa, Events Warehouse for being the only outfit that could ever pull this off with such aplomb:

IMG_8231On to next year’s edition – WE now have 12 months during which we should go round to all the garages and compounds nearest to us to rescue as many vintage and classic cars as possible, then get them back on the road.

We now have enough mechanical workshops to make this a reality, and where we need parts from anywhere else, we can use the internet.

And we all know that there are hundreds of other classics that simply didn’t turn up this year or last year. We need to get them to all make a showing.

No excuses!

 

 

 

 

 

 

paths paved with good intentions

The news on Tuesday morning triggered in my mind the proverb “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

For me, reading news involves flipping through newspapers while keeping watch on my Twitter timeline. On Tuesday I got this repeated sense of confusion over all the good, correct, sensible, viable and positive things being said, read against a backdrop of so little being done about them.

The news is always full of national events and even some private ceremonies at which people with power, influence, authority and audiences say sensible things while doing quite the alternative; and people without that power, influence, authority and audiences listening but not following.

For instance, last week Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, Member of Parliament and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, announced that the use of money in Uganda’s politics must be stopped.

He raised laughter when he said some of his constituents ask him to pay school fees for their children as if he had been present when said constituents were getting pregnant.

“We must end this culture of begging,” Otafiire charged.

Yes, we must! But then, it sounded too familiar and I found that he had said this before – most recently at the start of May, while closing a workshop (hopefully not the type to blame for the culture of begging). #Eish.

Is he going to say it again a few more times before someone creates a law? Should he go to his Member of Parliament to come up with a law? Or perhaps to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs?

While mulling over that, I got to Page 2 of Tuesday’s The New Vision where the President was reported telling dairy farmers not to use the same acaricides for tick control for a period exceeding three years, while taking guests on a farm tour ’to show them especially how to grow fodder and land partitioning’; which further strengthened his arguments for scrapping NAADS because if this is what the President is doing then we really can do without agricultural extension officers and even Ministers of Agricult…eh, wait!

The meeting was attended by the State Minister for Animal Husbandry as well (making one wonder what he was for). But the message made absolute sense, so: next?

During the upcoming census will we gather details of all dairy farmers as well as vets and dealers in veterinary medicines, match them with the phone registration and national ID database, and then create a robust monitoring system to ensure that dairy production is not compromised by stupid practices?

Then on Page 3, ‘National rally driver on the run over smuggling’ tells of how the police has cracked a case involving Ponsiano Lwakataka smuggling fish valued at Ushs300m. A car chase ensued – which could only end one way, Lwakataka being a rally driver, so he escaped arrest.

The hunt continues, but will we ever hear about him again doing anything else but engaging in more car chases, showing up in court and being thrown in prison? Only time will tell, but if he returns as a ’tycoon’ or businessman winning awards, we will have earned the rights to call him fishy.

A page or two later, ‘Uganda needs trade, not aid – Museveni’ wasn’t a new message at all, but one that still has to be delivered, surprisingly, in Uganda.

This time he was telling religious leaders at their summit in Munyonyo on Tuesday, after they reported difficulties in raising funds for the summit due to ‘aid cuts by the West to the Ugandan Christian community for their support of the anti-homosexuality law’.

The leaders (that word again) had to hear from the President the logic that if we engaged in more agricultural production and then competitive trade, we wouldn’t need aid – we would be giving it instead!

Unfortunately, there seems to have been no mention of ideas such as lowering the costs of the summit if funding were difficult… but the religious leaders made a good point in return by calling for an end to impunity and an abuse of public resources.

Logical resultant action? Tighter public spending controls and penalties for corrupt practices, more efficient government fiscal management? A quick review of the budget proposals in light of the so-called aid cuts? Will we see news in coming weeks of Parliamentary Committee meetings discussing this? Will we?

The chances are as slim as our seeing every household in northern Uganda being equipped with a dairy cow.

‘North needs dairy cattle – Onek’, was the story, reporting that Disaster Preparedness Minister Hilary Onek had said that northern Uganda needs massive restocking with dairy cattle to enable the region to produce Hilary Onekenough milk for home consumption as well as for sale in the local and international markets.

“We can start with one heifer per household…” Engineer Hilary Onek said, at the June dairy month celebrations at Pece Stadium in Gulu.

That’s a very good idea, and one we have heard before in variations. He is an engineer, so he has a structured mind and should be able to get this done.

Ironically, the story continues that Onek recalled right there at that event that when he was Agriculture Minister several restocking projects were launched but very few focused on increased milk production.

The fact that he was honest enough to say this is encouraging, but the eyebrows went up and an #eish escaped.

Then he added: “Uganda has the capacity to be the leading producer of milk in the region but we need to help the small-scale farmers with soft loans to enable them acquire inputs such as acaricides…” he added.

The second time in two days that I had encountered this word, without having ever heard it before in my life!

Ignorance aside, the very next para revealed that Animal Husbandry State Minister Bright RwamiramBright Rwamiramaa was ALSO present at this event! And he shared some statistics about milk production, after which the Dairy Development Authority Executive Director, Dr. Jolly Zaribwende, also made a speech saying good things. This was all at the still-listed June Dairy Month Celebrations held in Gulu Municipality.

And the photo accompanying this depicted the officials handing over one in-calf heifer (one) to Gulu Public Primary School.

Focusing on Onek’s superb proposal of one heifer per household, please note that the cost of one heifer, as distributed by the two ministers and the Executive Director, could be equal to the cost of the same officials and their attendant staff driving up to Gulu and spending one night there.

One journal I encountered after reading Onek’s words of wisdom (http://journals.sfu.ca/jmde/index.php/jmde_1/article/viewFile/341/346) stated that “due to Heifer International’s expenditure of US$7million over six years, 8,500 Ugandan facilities are likely to experience income gains exceeding US$8.5million a year on an ongoing basis, and asset gains of about US$17million.”

And it even outlined more benefits of this programme.

Will we therefore see, shortly, the launch of a massive government-led programme to stock each household in northern Uganda with a heifer?

Again, might there be a Parliamentary Committee meeting to consider transferring all money from politics into heifers? Or are the chances as slim as those of our seeing Parliamentary Committee meetings in the near future to discuss the so-called US aid cuts?

Heifer