May 21, 2014(The Observer) — For every day that Ugandan troops stay in South Sudan, ostensibly to keep peace, we officially spend Shs 277m.
This cost does not include the life some of our soldiers have lost trying to prevent the collapse of President Salva Kiir’s government, injuries, plus wear and tear of our equipment.
Therefore, for every month that we have stayed in South Sudan, we have spent Shs 8.3bn.
Minister of state for Defence Abu-Baker Jeje Odongo gave this information to the parliamentary committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, to which I am a member, on May 7.
He, with senior officials from the ministry, had appeared to present their next financial year’s budget. The commander-in-chief had projected that our troops would stay in South Sudan for not more than three months, according to Odongo.
Going by the figure of Shs 8.3bn per month, it means that for the five months we have been there, the cost of executing a war that no regional, continental or international body has assigned us, is officially Shs 41bn.
We have also caused wanton destruction in this new nation. When the rebels of former South Sudan vice president, Riek Machar, hit us on January 15, we flew in the much-talked-about jets and nearly erased the town of Bor in retaliation.
These foreign military expeditions can be abnormally expensive. Take the example of Somalia where we spend Shs 550m a day, translating into Shs 16.5bn a month and about Shs 200bn a year. We are lucky someone else is picking the Somalia bill. Our only loss in Somalia is life and some equipment, which, by the way, is also compensated.
In South Sudan, however, we are footing the bill, although senior officials there claim they are paying. Odongo told us in the meeting, which I attended briefly, that South Sudan would now meet the fuel cost.
The commander-in-chief treats us with contempt. His Defence minister, Dr Crispus Kiyonga, and Chief of Defence Forces Gen Edward Katumba Wamala, all lied to parliament. They aggressively asserted that our mission was to rescue hundreds of Ugandans, and that is why they had deployed at the Juba airport.
Yet the ordinary person needs this money badly. Kyadondo East, which I represent in parliament, comprises two sub-counties (Kira town council and Nangabo sub-county). Nangabo, which comprises Gayaza, Kasangati, Wattuba, Masoli, Bulamu, Kabubbu, Wampewo, Nangabo and Katadde, has 52 community access roads.
The government gives us just Shs 18m per quota (three months) to maintain these roads. This means Shs 6m per month for road maintainance. In truth, we have been abandoned to ourselves. What the population has done is to wait for the vote-hunting MPs – a soft target.
Just imagine spending Shs 277m per day, fighting a war in a foreign country, and just Shs 200,000 per day, on grading and maintaining roads in one of the fastest growing urban areas!
And for unknown reasons, Nangabo is still categorised as a rural sub-county, which doesn’t qualify for even a single kilometre of a paved road. The above is just half the story. The full story is that government has submitted to parliament a second request to spend more money than what was budgeted for this financial year ending next month. We had not even considered the first request.
In the second request, government wants authority of parliament to spend Shs 196bn. The biggest request is from Defence. They want Shs 170bn for unexplained reasons. The first vague reason is that they need Shs 85bn to top up their classified expenditures and another Shs 85bn “to address urgent security challenges that require urgent attention.”
You certainly don’t need any expertise to know where this money will end. Part of it will go towards financing the South Sudan war and the rest to bribe the population so it can bear with the man for another period.
Bribery is now the biggest preoccupation at State House. Everything that the big man orders must be accompanied with boxes of shilling notes.
And in this circus, we have lost faith in our country. The ministry in charge of urban planning is given just about less than a billion shillings to plan for the whole country.
Also, in all this, you should ask yourself, “what is the share of the ordinary soldier who keeps this regime in power?”
The answer is in visiting barracks. I pass by one every day in Mbuya, where our soldiers still sleep like goats. Their senior commanders ride in the latest Land Cruiser models while going to their comfortable offices at the army headquarters.
Then I keep asking myself: does the commander-in-chief really like his soldiers? What about spending half the money being requested for right and left on the welfare of these soldiers?
The author is Kyadondo East MP.