STONES, DRONES AND WHY LOCUSTS ARE LAYING EGGS FOR HUGE OPM SCANDAL
By Fred W Mutibwa
The best transaction Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda has made in recent times is this Nzige (locusts) deal. This deal is not any different from Amama Mbabazi’s NUSAF projects deals in Northern Uganda where the then powerful politician never stepped foot in his entire time as Prime Minister. The region has been a fertile ground for both Mbabazi and Rugunda in terms of huge cash bonanzas.
Unfortunately, the far East and North is always used as a conduit to enrich the Mbabazis and Rugundas of this world as well as their acolytes. Let’s forget the Mbabazi scandals in NUSAF for now and focus on what is likely to be the next hugest theft of cash in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) – the Locust Scandal – and how it is steadily evolving.
The locusts will cost government over Shs20bn to deal with. And the sharing of the cash has already started, with officials seemingly inflating budgets to take home billions. For example, drones are being hired at a cost higher than the market price of a new purchase. A Stem Drone costs $1,365 (about Shs4.8m) but now government claims to be hiring them at a total of Shs2.3bn. In other words, the money (2.3bn) being used to hire drones can purchase 480 new Stem Drones.
Since the Prime Minister is in the evening of his life (70s), I suspect that he might have fallen prey to the ever-enterprising technocrats that have learnt new skills of making money by turning molehills into mountains that require sophisticated solutions.
Let us look more closely at the figure allocated to the hire of planes. Technically, the technocrats in the OPM have limited themselves to lumpsum figures. Apparently, every plane is being hired at Shs500m. Don’t forget that five planes will be hired from our eastern neighbor of Kenya.
According to flight-way.com, a company specializing in helicopter hire, one can rent the firm’s services for €500 (about Shs2m) per hour. This simply means that irrespective of the number of planes we are hiring, we are paying for a total of 1,250 hours, equivalent to 52 days. Worse still, the assumption that we hired five planes means we are paying Shs195m per pilot, making this one of the world’s most expensive jobs.
Procurement of stones for scaring away locusts is going for Shs1bn. Perhaps these are special stones only similar to the Arua Stone that hit President Museveni’s convoy car during the Arua Municipality by-election in 2018. Ideally, I am astonished by the manufacturers of these special stones which one throws at locusts and the insects immediately disappear. Maybe they will be imported from the “Holy” land of Israel.
I also hope these stones will later become a tourist attraction for thousands of people across the world to come and behold their miraculous power.
Government will also part with Shs2.3bn to pay expert stone throwers. If each stone thrower is paid Shs10,000, then some 225,000 will find employment for as long as locusts are here. This number is equivalent to the population of three districts of Karamoja.
For the first time, God has remembered the once forgotten and deserted People of Karamoja. All of them qualify for stone throwing jobs.
Government is also expected to spend Shs3bn on procurement of drums from the land of the Masai people.If there has ever been any swaggerific creatures God ever sent his People, then these locusts are in their own category. I don’t think it’s the same insects that God was talking about in 2Chronicles 7:13 when he said: “If I shut up heaven, and there fall no rain, or if I give orders, and command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my People.”
I have tried my best to read the Bible but I have failed to find a verse that says the locusts God will send will also seek entertainment through drums, flutes, loud speakers, embaile and the adungu.
To learn that these locusts coming from Kenya have pressured the Ugandan government to entertain them with Masai drums is as shocking as it is unsettling. I will ask my Masai friends to reveal to me the magic in Masai drums and why locusts specifically want to dance to their tunes.
At least Shs460m has been set aside to help in the facilitation of the media. With this money, reporters are expected to zoom their cameras and eyes to capture elusive swarms of locusts – even if they may not exist in some places. That money should be enough to spin the locust story in Kampala to satisfy the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development to release more money for sometimes ‘invisible’ locusts.
And that’s money for the boys and girls, men and women stationed in the field who OPM officials fear could possibly blow the “deal” by reporting facts such as the absence of locusts.
For media house owners, the OPM has prepared Shs1bn. Normally, a talk show in Kotido, Moroto or Soroti goes for between Shs200,000 and Shs500,0000. But the generous office of Mr Rugunda is now offering more than that.
Even if they decided to pay Shs1m per talk show, Teso and Karamoja would need over 1,000 radio stations to exhaust this budget.
With per diem for the team coming from Kampala standing at Shs780m, fuel for local leaders taking Shs700m, out-of-pocket allowances for UPDF and LDUs going for Shs1.2bn, and the cost of chemicals estimated at Shs4bn, then God has only helped make some OPM officials billionaires instead of trying to punish us for our wrongs, and forcing us to repent.
I think the good Lord in Heaven might have to change strategy because Ugandans are not sleeping and the mafia are behind the locust management plans from which they hope to reap a fortune. I, therefore, won’t be surprised if the next OPM scandal touches on the issue of locusts.
Fred W Mutibwa is a Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Administrator