By John V Sserwaniko
Close to 200 CEOs spent much of Tuesday at Serena Conference Center discussing making economic growth more “inclusive, equitable and sustainable.” Most of the sessions were moderated by Solomon Rubondo who was aided by Standard Chartered Bank Chairman Robin Kibuka who chaired a panel discussion originally meant for Vision Group CEO Robert Kabushenga. The CEOs had converged for their 9th annual Forum where they meet to reflect on the ending year and chat way forward and how to mitigate challenges in the subsequent year. Being a regulator and major stakeholder in what they do, the GoU was ably represented by Minister David Bahati, NPA boss Joseph Muvawala and Finance Ministry’s Dr. Peter Ngategize among others. The event was organized by Strathmore Business School, Finance Ministry and private sector think tank CEO Summit whose boss Peter Kimbowa was commended by all for enthusiasm on private sector matters. The CEOs discussed the contemporary economic challenges and opportunities based on the 8 clusters. Whereas NSSF MD Richard Byarugaba discussed the financial services cluster, UCC’ Godfrey Mutabazi submitted on the ICT cluster. Others were Crest Foam’s Joseline Kateeba (manufacturing cluster), ERA’s Eng Ziria Waako Tibalwa (Energy & Power cluster), Mark Ociti Ongom (agriculture cluster), Prof Charles Kwesiga (human capital development cluster), VIVO Energy’s Gilbert Assi (public investment & infrastructure) and UTB’s Stephen Asiimwe who spoke on the tourism cluster.
WHO SAID WHAT?
In this story, we summarize what the different CEOs said. Sarah Kagingo, the CEO for SME Softpower Communications, decried invisibility of young CEOs in the gathering and was concerning majority where old men and women. Henry Rugambwa observed that the fact that most CEOs are now Ugandan and East African (where you in the past has mostly British) is evidence these annual forum meetings haven’t been in vain. To him, such meetings have had great impact including increasing the confidence of Ugandans to aspire for CEO positions. Byarugaba run through the figures illustrating the NSSF success story and appealed to fellow CEOs to embrace new technologies to improve efficiency, service delivery and to generally remain competitive. He said funding innovations was the way to go which is why his organization will next month unveil the $300,000 program to harness innovations. NSSF will work with other organizations to identify and fully support young people with bankable innovative ideas. He said financial institutions must embrace digital solutions (which he called FINTECH) saying besides improving efficiency, such adjustments will diminish internal and external fraud which remains a constant threat for financial institutions. He gave the example of Amazon that rapidly made it in such a short time because they leveraged on advantages resulting from new technological advancements. He said adapting to new technology will expedite financial inclusion. In reference to the recent information recently released by the World Economic Forum, Byarugaba enumerated job positions that will remain relevant after 2022 and those that will cease to be available in modern organizations. Speaking immediately after him, Mutabazi contradicted Byarugaba’s views on mobile money and OTT tax but also enriched the NSSF MD’s list of jobs that will stay by adding there entertainment which he said for Nigeria it was 2nd top foreign exchange earner after oil.
Mutabazi began his presentation by making a joke in reference to the weekend fake cabinet reshuffle that circulated in the social media space making him Minister of ICT. “It was going to be interesting if I had indeed been made minister because the Minister of ICT is the one who appoints the Board Chair and I rang my chair and we laughed it off,” Mutabazi said causing laughter. He was prompted by MC Rubondo who said it was unsafe attempting to run through Mutabazi’s profile which is supposed to have changed over the weekend. Mutabazi stressed why modern business organizations must think IT and act digital. He said the ICT revolution has seen the global usage of mobile phones grow to 5.1bn people. He said this is expected to grow even more in the next five years where more than 1trillion devices will be out there in active use. He quoted GSM and said in 5 years from now, over 8.4bn people will be active mobile phone subscribers. He said UCC had done very well because, unlike energy and other sectors which are directly funded by government, the telecom revolution has taken place using funds from private sector players like MTN and Airtel. In the radio sub sector, Mutabazi said the South African regulator had sent teams to benchmark on how UCC was managing to regulate 295 fm stations. He spoke of the 5G network that is coming soon to make life even more convenient for internet and smart phone users. He caused laughter when he said in 20 years, there will exist technology enabling humans to live forever without dying. He said with technology helping to overcome the cost of doing business and the inefficiencies, Ugandan businesses should prepare to cash in on the market presented by the over 146m people the EAC region has.
THE TOURISM STORY;
Stephen Asiimwe explained the potential of the tourism sector and highlighted areas where the private sector can lucratively invest to cash in as Uganda remains focused on its target of having 4m visitors annually from the current 1.4m. He said there won’t be regrets because a number of factors have combined to make tourism Uganda’s fastest growing sector. He said the 4m visitors being targeted will earn Uganda over $2.7bn annually. He invited the private sector members to read the 2014-2024 tourism sector Strategic Plan to acquaint themselves with investment opportunities in areas like accommodation facilities, skills development, service delivery and new innovative product development. He said whereas they are pleased tourists stay for long enough in Uganda, there is still a challenge of tourism products being limited “the very reason why many tourists fail spend the money and return to their countries with a lot of it.” EPRC Director Sarah Sewanyana called for increased public investment to grow the private sector and make economic growth more inclusive. NPA’s Muvawala said Uganda was doing well on the planning aspect and the larger challenge now was the implementation of the policies that remain very good on paper. “Uganda has very good plans on paper and people in other countries can develop even faster if they get those plans and just remove the cover replacing Uganda with their country’s name.” He said whereas it was a great thing that we have invested a lot in physical infrastructure, it was regrettable the outcomes remain too low.
ROBIN KIBUKA SESSION;
In this final session there was UIA Ag ED Basil Ajer who explained what SMEs can do to benefit from the GoU’s very generous tax incentives regime which is equally available to both foreign and local investors. He said the local investors often fail to qualify because most SME businesses are informal and unregistered yet to register for incentives you must have complied with a range of registration requirements. He said even when full information is available on URA and UIA websites, local SMEs never take advantage. He reiterated Prof Charles Kwesiga’s observations on the need to strengthen the skills development to increase the fresh graduates’ employability in the private sector. He called for increased linkages between Universities and private sector, something Prof Paul Muyinda (who represented Mak VC Nawangwe) said Makerere was working on as a matter of priority. Muyinda challenged CEOs like Richard Byarugaba to go to Mak to speak to and inspire students on the expectations of the employers out there. Muyinda also criticized private companies for not being very enthusiastic about taking up students for internship. He said the situation was so bad some businesses even charge students money to come for internship. He said Mak is ready to do research in areas the private sector requires them to. He said Mak’s research now was rated best in Africa outside South Africa, something he said the private sector should take advantage of. Peter Ntagezire admitted Stephen Asiimwe was right to decry underfunding of the tourism sector but said progress was being made. “Before he became head at UTB, the budget allocation was low but it has been increasing. That’s how he is able to hire the PR firm and even construct the [tourism] school in Jinja.” WB’s Racheal Sebudde agreed with Fagil Mandy’s observation that we need an agency exclusively devoted to aligning formal education to the required practical skilling. She also adopted his points on the need to address the mindset problems insisting parents have a role to play in determining their children’s career paths rather than leaving it to schools. She also said there was need for serious thinking as opposed to mere “buzz words” to properly plan for the absorption of the 1m young people annually joining the labor force. She said its good government has invested heavily in public projects but feared for the sustainability of these grand projects whose benefit side she said has often been exaggerated. Charles Katongole, the nice-talking young executive from Standard Chartered Bank, said inequality must be addressed to break the poverty cycle which he said was leaving many youths and women badly marginalized. He said banks aren’t attracted to funding SMEs because they lack corporate governance structures yet there is a lot of competition for the limited financing they have for lending out including the government that currently takes up to 51% of the available bank liquidity. He said unless inequality is addressed, many of the government interventions won’t cause the desired transformation. He also proposed that the technical colleges be more involved in selecting youth groups to be funded under YLP and other forms of seed capital for the young people. He said his (SCB) bank recently tried to intervene under its SCR initiatives but discovered many of the young people lacked employable skills. This prompted them to prioritize the skilling of the girl child in the marginalized communities. Gorette Masadde wondered why this year’s CEOs forum didn’t prioritize discussions on cooperatives which she said was a best way to deepen financial inclusion especially through agriculture which has potential to impact many people’s lives.
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