By Isaac Mutema
Uganda Railways management moved with speed and firmness to evict the illegal occupiers of its land. Many structures and businesses were ruined during the exercise.
The country was told the corporation was doing so ahead of reconstructing the railways from Kampala to Malaba to facilitate the smooth and quicker movement of goods and travellers.
After a lot of displeasure had been registered by the victims and their leaders as well as human rights actors, the management of Uganda Railways applied the brakes.
The corporation now resorted to issuing deadlines to the occupiers of the land earmarked for the works, to wind up whatever they were doing, and finally, leave peacefully.
Those deadlines came and passed. Hundreds of people and businesses, staying and operating along the land earmarked for the works, credibly, adhered to the deadlines and left before being pushed.
Do you know what? The bosses of Railways flattered to deceive so it would seem. No meaningful work has ever been registered since then. But why? A valid question.
See, the management of Uganda railways, by the time of carrying out the evictions, were hyping the works and telling everyone concerned to pack up quickly and go away, because time was of utmost urgency.
Occupants of the land gave way. Businesses relocated.
But, alas, nothing tangible is there on the ground right now to show for the efforts, time and real funds, spent by the managers of Railways during the exercise of uprooting the obstacles from the land required for the works.
Consequently, the people who and businesses which had reluctantly left have been gladly exploiting the lack of work to creep back to where they had been evicted from in the first place.
But to be fair, the exercise of removing the obstacles was met by challenges of politics and legalities beyond the powers of the managers of the Railways. Some of the squatters were protected from eviction under being investors who the government doesn’t want to leave.
The others are highly connected politically themselves and others were protected by their people who happen to be highly connected politically.
Politicians, especially the parliamentarians and local leaders, milked the exercise for political gains too. They instigated their people not to leave the land required for the works.
The government wasn’t firm enough as well. The regime feared losing political support from the hundreds of victims of the evictions.
The opposition side was also opportunistically waiting there in the wings to grab the support of the victims in case the government left them in the cold.
A group of legalistic victims, prodded on by the human rights defenders, filed a class action which is still dragging on there in the civil courts.
Yet, certain individuals we know of, such as the Born Again Pastor of Palace Junior School at Kireka. Plus Joseph Kasumba of Jokas Hotel lat Bweyogerere, put up separate spirited legal fights. The same is still ongoing.
There is also another big challenge to do with the operators of trailer trucks as well as buses which do the lucrative cross boarder transportation business.
These include big wigs in government as well as their relatives and cronies. Plus, campaign funders for the ruling NRM party and its politicians. Patronage and nepotism, as well as bribery, are part and parcel of our government and its agencies.
That being the case, the fact that the people we are talking of could have exploited the said vices and slowed down the works, would not be casually dismissed in the circumstances.
The domino effect of the above roadblocks would be to unnecessarily cause costly delays to the works themselves, other factors remaining constant. We can’t put to bed this discourse without interrogating the funds attached to these works.
Our Parliament has been authorizing our government to borrow money to affect the works. There is no kind of such work on the ground. Yet, those funds are going to be repaid by you and me and everyone else plus our children and grandchildren.
Consequently, not only is it our professional duty as journalists to ask where those funds are, after all, there is nothing on the ground to show for them, but also our civic duty as responsible citizens to do so.
Here are the loans for the interest of everyone.
In May of last year, the Parliament of Uganda authorized two external borrowings. One was worth more than UGX1.1 trillion. This was obtainable from the African Development Fund.
The second one amounted to ninety-seven billion shillings. This one was supposed to be picked from the Corporate Internalization of Spain Fund.
Now, if the works for which the debts were solicited aren’t on the ground, and supposing the debts were picked, what is going on with the money, honestly?
Hopefully, the money is safe somewhere waiting for the performance of the basics, before the same can be applied for its original purpose.
Be sure, we shall keep irritatingly peeping from outside inside.