Did you hear about the scared teenage girl who failed her school exams and feared to face her extremely tough parents? She sent them a message saying she was pregnant, had contracted HIV and decided to follow her marijuana-smoking boyfriend to go wandering from town to town begging for food and sleeping on the streets.
The scared parents beseeched her to come home immediately so they look after her. She then told them she had even failed her exams but they assured her that it didn’t matter. With that assurance about failing exams not mattering, the perfectly healthy girl triumphantly reported home.
Ugandan treasury officials seem to have adopted the teenager’s trick to prepare citizens for a not-so-bad situation by first painting a scary picture that looks like the National Treasury is being run by a bunch of madmen.
They kicked off 2020 with a horror story of a dangerously indebted government claiming that arrears owed to locals alone shot to Ush3.9 trillion (more than $1 billion) this financial year from Ush2.6trillion ($700million).
What gave away their joke was the response to Members of Parliament who asked how they had arrived at the figure and they said some private audit company had given it to them. Asked what the treasury’s own auditors thought, the treasury men mumbled some unintelligible explanation, and the nation smiled with relief, comic relief. So when they come up with the accurate debt figure and the rate at which it is growing, we shall not be that alarmed.
Good leaders keep people’s morale high in adverse times, and did our Treasury bosses. What with an extremely rainy 2019 that left roads and bridges washed away, gardens unplanted, prices rising in the market while nosediving in the farms, they have to prepare us using comic relief.
So the humorous treasury men also told the MPs that they could not explain some Ush400billion ($110 million) an amount you cannot fail to see even if you are counting a million trillion. So when they finally balance our accounts, the amount they cannot explain will only be about a million, and we shall smile and tell them it doesn’t matter.
Treasury’s humour is infectious and soon caught the MPs. So they came up with their teenage girl joke for the taxpayers. There is this 47-year-old story of expelling Indians from Uganda in 1972 and their property being seized. Most of them were compensated but two decades later, government decided to close the chapter once and for all by letting any few ageing Asians who hadn’t been compensated repossess their properties.
But it transpires that some con men claimed and repossessed many properties for which the government had paid compensation, and like any smart thief would, they quickly sold off the said properties, mostly commercial premises in the city. It is even alleged that parliament itself pays office rent for some such premises that were paid for, fraudulently repossessed and sold off. What is the jocular spin from this unfortunate case?
The humorous MPs have now said that they will fly to Canada, UK, India and Kenya in four groups to go and investigate the matter! Of course even a child knows that they the investigations should be done in Kampala where the repossession took place (and the child knows that the fraudulent claimants were just fronts for local thieves).
If there are any investigations required about the con men who purported to come from the mentioned four countries, then government just needs to write to the governments of the four countries and the country’s missions there can follow up. Soon we expect the MPs to say that is what they mean, so we can smile with relief, comic relief.
Joachim Buwembo is an independent journalist based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]