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Museveni pre-budget address met with protests over high cost of living

Monday June 13 2022
museveni

President Yoweri Museveni has advised Ugandans to look for alternatives to expensive food commodities, adding that the country was looking at producing agro-commodities that are in short supply globally to reap from the food crisis. PHOTO | NMG

By NELSON NATURINDA
By JONATHAN KAMOGA

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni this week delivered his annual State of the Nation address, even as he was met with cries of a high cost of living and fewer economic opportunities.

This was the first speech delivered to Parliament post-pandemic.

But the Tuesday speech to MPs, usually delivered before the reading of the national budget, was met with protests over soaring commodity prices and rising inflation that is making life difficult for ordinary Ugandans who can no longer afford soap, cooking oil and sometimes food.

James Ochama, a resident in Kampala, said his family had hoped for a presidential intervention over the prices of basic goods.

“What we used to buy at Ush1,000 is now Ush5,000. Our only hope is in the president’s message,” he said.

Frank Muwulya, a trader in the city centre, said the taxes were too high and the business environment had become increasingly tough, pushing some traders out.

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For Ochama and Muwulya, President Museveni held their answer.

However, when he rose to speak, he offered no answers to their questions. He spotlighted the problem of soaring commodity prices, which is eating away the purchasing power of households, but offered no immediate relief.

President Museveni reiterated that there would be no tax cuts and subsidies, which he argued would haemorrhage government revenues, stalling planned infrastructure developments, including paving roads.

“Cutting taxes or giving subsidies especially on imports is suicidal because our people will buy carelessly and we end up drying our foreign reserves. Cutting taxes also takes away money from other long-term development projects for a temporary situation,” Mr Museveni said.

Instead, he advised people to look for alternatives, saying the country was looking at producing more agro-commodities that are in short supply globally so Ugandans can cash in on the food crisis.

“Uganda is a country of surpluses that were crying out for markets in the form of sugar, maize, milk, chicken, eggs, bananas, cement, steel bars, soap, beers etc. This global crisis actually presents Uganda with plenty of opportunities,” he said.

Protecting economy

President Museveni said such economic interventions as some EAC neighbours have taken could have a devastating impact on the country’s economy in the long run and were, therefore, not an option.

The Uganda leader has been criticised for being insensitive when in his push for cheaper food substitutes he said Ugandans should opt for cassava instead of bread.

In the last two weeks, several activists – including four-time presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, Kampala Deputy Lord Mayor Doreen Nyanjura and MP Anna Adeke – have been arrested and remanded on charges of inciting violence following their public protests against government’s inaction to curb the sky rocketing prices.

But Mr Museveni has remained adamant that the high prices are temporary and ought not to push his government to make drastic decisions that could affect the economy in the long run.

“I have fought bigger problems like going to war without ammunition, so the high commodity prices are not as big but what I don’t want to happen is the lack of food,” Mr Museveni, a former rebel who came to power in 1986 after overthrowing Gen Tito Okello’s government, said.

He said he was involved in diplomatic efforts to broker talks and end the Ukrainian war that has choked global supply chains.

“We are doing two things. One is to engage the global actors that have caused these artificial shortages. I have contacted some of the actors. I am glad H.E. Biden is going to Saudi Arabia to meet the Crown Prince to get Opec (oil producing and exporting countries) to pump more petroleum out of the ground. That would definitely help. Also, the chairperson of the AU (African Union), H.E. Mack Sall, met H.E. Putin in Sochi, Russia, to ask him to assist in getting the wheat of Ukraine out of the Ports of Odessa and he has also talked to the Europeans to stop sanctioning wheat from Russia and fertilisers because Africa needs them,” President Museveni said.

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