By our reporter
So Uganda will fail to make lower middle-income status by 2020, according to the Director of the National Planning Authority, which is hardly news to anyone who has been observing the progress of the economy over the past eight years. Uganda’s national planning and budgetary process is linked to the goals of the National Planning Authority, which sets the agenda in terms of targets.
Reaching middle-income status has been a central tenet of those goals and plans for the past decade. I have sat in meetings at State House and KCCA where all the planning was around how we would progress from an average per capita income of $600 to $1,200 over a period of about seven to eight years.
The only problem was that we were always behind our targets, even from the very outset, but we just kept talking, even though we were falling further and further behind. There were great presentations by the NPA and a breakdown of budgets into yearly targets, but there was little in the way of implementation. If we could advance development in Uganda through good plans and a lot of talking we would be the most advanced country in Africa.
We make excellent plans, we hold conferences and workshops to disseminate these plans, and then we stop. Rwanda sometimes adopts our plans, but then takes the unusual step of actually implementing them.
This state of affairs might be due to the disjoint in our education system between theory and practice, which has led to the widespread mentality that knowing the theory is the same as being able to put it into practice. But in the real world it is not. Consider how many conferences have been held by the NPA to disseminate the middle-income target and explain how we can achieve it. If it was obvious to me six years ago, when I sat in some of these meetings, that we would not achieve these goals, why did this not occur to the Director of NPA until we had almost reached the deadline?
James Comey is about to release a book, which likens the Trump Whitehouse to a cocoon in which everyone living in that bubble tells the boss-man what he wants to hear, so he is able to continue to live in his own state of virtual reality. Government Ministers and civil servants do the same thing in Uganda. They live in a cocoon in which no-one wants to disagree with the government position, so everyone says how wonderful it is, and no-one raises any objections.
No-one is prepared to step out of line and say ‘but wait a minute’ because everyone is trying to please the powers that be, and no-one wants to be seen as being cynical or a nay-sayer. So they drift along in this bubble of virtual reality until it bumps into actual reality and the bubble bursts. But even then they prefer not to talk about it or question why they failed so miserably.
In other countries if goals are not met, there are consequences, the least of which is the person in charge of the program resigns. For example Toshiba chief executive Hisao Tanaka resigned after an investigation said he bore responsibility for an accounting scandal in which the company overstated profits.
The person with overall responsibility resigns, because it is the honourable thing to do, but in Uganda we don’t have a resigning culture. In fairness to the Director of the NPA, the fact that we have so miserably failed is due to many issues beyond his control – such as local politics, the state of the world economy, and the deteriorating financial climate within Uganda.
However although he could not control the factors of economic growth, he could see the failure coming, and he need not have waited until the eleventh hour. But he probably did not want to be the one to burst everyone’s bubble.