By Our Reporters
In one of his songs, faded singer GNL Zamba referred to a character whose fault-finding habits he likened to opposition strongman Odonga Otto who is also Aruu County MP. And if he were to sing again, Zamba would probably have replaced Otto’s name with that of Finance Minister Matia Kasaija. We have lately observed that, despite being in government, Kasaijja is increasingly getting addicted to complaining too much when addressing public gatherings. It could be because of the challenging docket of finance that he holds that causes him to be exposed to all manner of financial requests from government entities. Even when that is the case, we never expected Kasaijja to be in a complaining mood even on the day he signs off over $300m into our national coffers. Yet that exactly is what he did on Friday while signing a $300m funding deal with a French delegation. Venue was Finance Ministry Board room 7th floor where French Ambassador Stephanie Rivoal and French Development Agency (AFD) Uganda County Representative Virginie Lerov signed off two funding agreements aimed at funding GoU interventions to increase Ugandans’ access to affordable safe drinking water. The French, who have lately been very aggressive, are giving Uganda a total of $300m as a concession loan payable within 20 years at 1.2% interest. Amb Rivoal said 1.2% makes the deal the most competitive of all funding agreements GoU has recently signed. There is a 7 year grace period meaning repayment only commences after 7 years. The French, who are determined to use such deals to deepen bilateral relations with Uganda, hope such interventions will result in increased access to safe drinking water. While commending NWSC MD Eng Silver Mugisha for being a fast mover and transformative corporate leader, Rivoal said the French government hopes that once water access problems are solved, more women will participate in income generating activities leading to poverty reduction and achievement of gender equality as enshrined in NDP II and Vision 2040. NWSC is to use the money to construct primary infrastructure and water supply facilities to increase water access by the urban poor in Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area and South Western Ugandan districts of Masaka, Mbarara and subsequently Isingiro. The investment will also go into improving water sanitation standards in the same areas. Rivoal said with the good leadership at NWSC, whose speed at implementing projects continues to impress many donors, this is just the start. “Much more will be coming soon,” she repeatedly said in her speech as NWSC’ Mugisha nodded in approval. The French funding (that now stands at over $1.3bn in the last 20 years) is being channeled through Paris’ development agency called AFD which Virginie Leroy heads in Uganda.
NWSC BOSS SPEAKS
Mugisha said the French consistent generosity had enabled NWSC to cover so much mileage in such a short time and promised to exhibit unprecedented levels of efficiency when executing these two projects for Greater Kampala and South Western whereby rivers Katonga and Namajuzi will be used to boost water supply not only for Masaka but Mbarara town too because nearby river Rwizi is now almost depleted and incapable of meeting Mbarara’s water needs alone. Last year alone, the French supported the water and environment sector with $230m which Virginie and Rivoal said Mugisha had put to proper use. Mugisha said Kampala’s current daily water demand is 300m liters against NWSC’ 240m supply capacity. This means there is a daily deficit of 60m liters. He said with the French’s $150m for Greater Kampala, an additional daily production/supply of 160m liters will be added in three years’ time. By 2032, the daily demand for Kampala will be 500m liters, meaning the 460m daily production/supply capacity won’t be enough. Mugisha arrayed fears saying with Danish partners’ support, another 135m daily production is being worked on. The eloquence with which Mugisha made his submission enchanted everyone in the room except the Finance Minister.
From the very start, the fault-finding Kasaijja seemed determined to spoil the good mood in the room by raising one complaint after another. Firstly as he made his opening remarks, he rebuked Mugisha and his delegation (comprising of Eng Gisagara and DMD Edith Kateete) wondering why the water minister Sam Cheptorus hadn’t come. Mugisha’s plea that with him in the room, the entire ministry was well represented, fell on deaf ears. Kasaijja insisted the Minister’s attendance would give the event the weigh it deserves because $300m coming to the sector isn’t a small matter. Not done, Kasaijja also rebuked Mugisha as to why key stakeholders like KCCA hadn’t been invited to the loan-signing ceremony yet many of the slums going to benefit fall under their jurisdiction. Saying he has been a resident of Kampala since 1969, Kasaija also complained to Mugisha as to why Kampala never has enough water supply, something Mugisha accepted saying of the 300m liters demanded per day, NWSC currently only delivers 240m. Forgetting this was a NEMA matter, Kasaija also referred to perennial flooding in Bwaise saying the problem’s persistence is indicative NWSC isn’t doing a good job. He also referred to Lake Victoria water turning green “which I always see across Karim’s Hotel as I emerge from Entebbe State House.” Mugisha, who Kasaija wasn’t easily allowing time to make his point, clarified that was being caused by Nakivubo drainage channel which he said is the biggest pollutant of water in Lake Victoria. Gratefully, Mugisha revealed, Nakivubo water would be properly drained before pouring into the lake through the huge sewerage treatment plant NWSC has built in Bugolobi. Kasaija also complained of NWSC charging people high water tariffs which he said is the reason 29% of the people in towns and 30% in villages aren’t accessing safe clean water. Not one to take ministerial punches without fighting back, Mugisha gathered his guts and firmly responded. “Honorable Minister we have done our best as National Water in compliance with the cabinet directive to reduce the tariff. Industrial grade water has been reduced from 4,000 to Shs2,500 and the rest are buying water at Shs25/- per jerrycan which we think is very fair and equitable,” Mugisha explained. Kasaijja wasn’t yet done and instead said still the walking distance between people’s homes and water sources is still long meaning a lot of working time is lost in fetching water in especially upcountry towns. “It shouldn’t exceed 100 meters so that people concentrate on making money to pay for the water rather than walking long distances,” Kasaijja said as Mugisha politely insisted to carry on with his submission. When Mugisha said with the French cash, primary water supply infrastructure would be constructed to ensure water supply for rural and arid Isingiro, Kasaijja still weighed in saying “that’s very good because some time back I was in water-stressed Isingiro and promised those people water.” The NWSC boss said earliest 2023-24 is when water will reach Isingiro prompting Kasaija to say “Yii nga that’s very far yet Isingiro is water-stressed. Why don’t you try harder so that it’s there by 2021” to coincide with Mzee’s reelection campaigns? Led by URN’s David Rupiny, journalists later on asked about Uganda’s preparedness to economically benefit from Brexit and a fast-pacifying DR Congo. Failing to realize the opportunity before him to eloquently explain trading opportunities Ugandan traders can go after in especially DRC, Kasaijja instead blamed the scribes for asking the right questions to the wrong person. “Those are diplomatic issues which you must ask my colleague Sam Kutesa because that is his area,” Kasaijja said. Another journalist asked about acute water scarcities in his native Bunyoro sub region (especially Hoima & Masindi) and Kasaijja, thinking the scribe was out to politically get him, pushed the question to NWSC’ Silver Mugisha who generously answered it. To Mugisha it was an opportunity to publicize the multi-billion interventions the Corporation has lined up to ensure adequate water supply before commercial oil production commences in Bunyoro. However, in the end Kasaija made up for his earlier elusiveness by generously availing himself to give the Luganda version repeating all that had been said in English. This made hitherto dismayed electronic journalists to walk away with smiles on their faces. For feedback, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755.