Dear President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni,
We the members of Uganda Fight Inequality Alliance (UFIA) which is part of global Fight Inequality Alliance of social movements, trade unions, and non-governmental organizations write to express our high esteem in which we hold you. We salute you for the measures you put up in effort to curb the escalation and eventually contain novel corona virus COVID-19, the newest threat of our times not Uganda, but world-wide.
Mr President, during your 6th State-of-Nation address March 30 2020, you ordered a 14-day total lockdown. Ban contains a number of directives as follows; closing shopping malls, arcades and hardware shops, prohibiting all people to people movements by everybody including those using their private vehicles, bodabodas, tuk-tuks, etc, closed saloons, lodges and garages, closing all non-food shops(stores), prohibiting gatherings of more than 5 people, RDCs to give permission to transport patients to hospital(s).
Your Excellency, you directed that food stores selling agricultural products, veterinary products, detergents and pharmaceuticals to remain open, the super markets to remain open but with clear operating procedures, the established food markets in Kampala and other towns remain open, farms, factories to keep producing for they are life-blood of Uganda, construction sites allowed to operate if they are able to encamp their workers, essential services remain open, cargo transport within and between Uganda and the outside allowed, fund to be set up to accelerate industrialization, government to distribute food to some Ugandans, politicians found distributing food will be arrested and charged with attempted murder.
We applaud all these efforts Mr. President and in principle, we agree with your decision on lockdown and we believe, blended with admirable, relentless educating of the public about the symptoms and workable ways of preventing COVID-19 by the Ministry of Health and your able self Mr. President, we are certain, we’ll win ruthless pandemic.
Your Excellency, you have constantly advised that to reduce risks of contracting COVID-19, one has got to practice basic protective measures; regular wash of hands with water and soap, sanitize his/her hands, wear gloves, face masks, and eating food rich in Vitamin C, You have also advised that social distancing, avoiding touching in eyes, ears, eyes, nose, and mouth with dirty hands, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning and disinfecting the frequently touched surfaces daily and enhanced hygiene in general, etc. help in curbing the virus.
Sir, although all people are vulnerable, the medical professionals caution, the elderly aged 65 and above are the most likely to get affected by the pandemic. There are also cautions relating the additional threat the pandemic poses to people living with HIV/AIDs and TB due to already weak immune systems.
Your Excellency, we seek your indulgence, to make a breakdown of key statistical data on Uganda’s vulnerable groups in the wake of Covid-19 vis-à-vis the necessary reduction of its risks;
- The World Bank population prospects (2018) indicated that the elderly population stands at 2% (1.6m),
- 2018 report by World Bank and UNAIDs found that 5.7% of Ugandans aged between 15-49 live with HIV/AIDs,
- WHO report for 2010 revealed 330 cases of all forms and 136 new smear positive cases per 100,000 per year,
- According to Uganda’s 2016 Demographic survey (UBOS) and Health survey, 44% of households had soap and water, 32% had only water and 21% had neither,
- Ministry of Water and Environment 2019 performance report indicated that 36% of rural inhabitants and 40% of urban dwellers have hand washing facilities with soap and water. UBOS report of 2016 indicated that only 8% of Ugandan households have access to piped water with the rest making use of public taps, wells, boreholes or springs,
- International journal of Environmental Health Research (2010) findings that only 20 of households in slum areas had a private toilet with others sharing the public toilets
- Finance Minister Kasaija declared that 80% of Ugandans are in informal sector (50%) in services sector, 35% in Agriculture and 14.4% in industry) during the budget speech of fiscal year 2019/20,
- Findings of the2016/17 National Household survey indicated, 61% of the working Ugandans are in vulnerable employment, 46% of Ugandans are not saving-largely because they don’t earn enough (2018 Finscope report) meaning, they cannot stop working even for a single day and survive,
- Minister Kasaija during the same budget speech informed Ugandans, malnutrition is another serious concern in Uganda having been listed as one of key challenges, the population is battling with 53% of children under five years, malnourished and 29% of them stunted and wasted, and that as of June last year, many women of reproductive age are accordingly malnourished with 32% of them being feeble,
- According to Minister Kasaija, inappropriate feeding which is the major cause of the rise in chronic non-communicable diseases including coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity-especially among the more “affluent” who often live unhealthy lifestyles and that Uganda was spending on average, $500m on treatment of “preventable diseases,”
- Uganda’s general poverty levels, according to the final results of Uganda National Household survey 2016/17, show that eight million (27.7%) Ugandans cannot afford three meals a day,
- Minister Kasaija acknowledged, income inequality between rich and poor, rural and urban areas is widening to drive rural-urban migration which causes challenges of congestion, housing shortage and population pressure on urban services, according to Minister Kasaija,
- Until recently when Dr Baterana Byarugaba, the head of Mulago National referral hospital told media that government has put up 900 units, research indicates that Uganda has 55 functional intensive care units (Journal of Critical Care Volume 55, February 2020, pages 95-99), whereas those diagnosed with covid-19 require to be admitted to admitted to a functional hospital so they can access respirator,
Mr President, on perusing the above statistics from reputable sources, it’s evident, there are things which are fundamentally not willing to enable us as Ugandans to overcome the pandemic that has taken the whole world by storm.
Sir, we were happy when you ordered for a lockdown which forbid movements by your country-men and women especially the bazzulu who use both public and private means of transport to move from one place to another. However, our happiness was short-lived, the excessive state of despair majority of your people will comply with lockdown order, is of grave concern to us.
Your Excellency, we are cognizant, you pledged that the government will take care of some Ugandans especially those whose main source of livelihoods was derived from public transport.. You specifically, mentioned that drivers and other unidentified people whom you promised, government will embark on a process of identifying them and distribute food in form of (maize floor, beans, powdered milk, sugar, salt, etc.
Your Excellency, we welcome this particular pledge, but allow us inform you, fulfillment of the lockdown requires much more mainly, reliable, efficient and affordable basic commodities in all people’s lives not a segment of the populace. Other prerequisite requirements include; systematic and effective communication between the population and government agencies especially healthy ministry, transportation means, and a functioning health system with health facilities equipped with testing kits, medicine and well facilitated medical personnel.
As a way forward, Mr President, we urge the government to undertake additional practical solutions through the following actions in order to improve people’s socio strata in the face of Covid-19;
- Whereas Uganda’s domestic prices were reported to be stable with average inflation standing at 3.4% which was within policy target of 5% per annum by June 2019, with increased food supply in markets named one of the major drivers, it has since changed after basic commodities’ prices were hiked by business-oriented people who are hoarding commodities to take advantage of the crisis.
To mitigate this, we propose that government shifts its focus to buy food from the farmers directly to transport that food to those urban centers and sell to people with subsidies in case of fresh foods like Matooke, cassava, sweat potatoes, etc. We further propose that government use public taxes to procure other basics especially food stuffs (floor, beans, rice, sugar, rice, cooking oil etc…) water, salt, soap etc and distribute to those marginalized groups of people which are excessively feeling the pinch of the lockdown like the elderly, the poor women, the homeless people especially in big towns like Kampala, and those completely unemployed youths
- In an event that government cannot procure and distribute the relief items to all people, we recommend for reconsideration of the tax administration. To facilitate a valid call by distressed populace to the President to ask landlords to waive monthly rental dues, the government ought to drop the rental income tax collections, and accordingly, suspend other related taxes like 18% VAT on basic services and utilities and OTT which have got direct bearing on the affordability of basic commodities and digital communication, respectively.
- Government should focus on preparing and improving on the quality of health facilities across the country through equipping them with requisite medicine, procure more testing kits and distribute them to all health facilities and strategic locations such as porous borders, mobilize funds to improve the conditions health officials work under through, providing transport means, buying them protective gears, gloves, then enhance their salaries and or emoluments as a motivation
- Procure face masks and sanitizers and distribute them to all Ugandans and at worst, sell them at subsidized prices given that they are too expensive for ordinary people to afford
- The government should prioritize embarking on distribution of emergency water to public facilities-including health facilities, informal settlements and the government should set up such facilities to boost the hygiene in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in light of the statistics regards their limited accessibility
- We are aware, the government is chocking on the public debt, and it’s on this premise, we recommend to government to embark on the process of renegotiating with both internal and external lenders on either rescheduling repayments, interest waivers or complete absolves, especially on non-concessional loans.
- We heard with happiness, government’s intention to engage banks and related financial institutions to declare a moratorium on loan repayments to those Ugandans that are servicing loans. Mr President, our player is to expedite the process and we would prefer the moratorium to span 4 months
- Ensure that the routine services to Ugandans living with HIV/AIDs, and TB and any other health-related services like malaria, maternity services, etc continue in a smooth manner
- Considering that a considerable percentage of people in formal employment are no longer working, we recommend that government works out a modality of enabling NSSF to cede some monies to the savers. A 10% to 15% disbursement to savers is fair enough because no saver will enjoy his/her money after demise
- We appeal to government to expedite the process of working out modalities of implementing the president’s pledges especially those touching to relief items like food
- Any response to Covid-19 must be adhere to principles of non-discrimination and equality and ensure that groups most affected by inequality in our country-women, persons with disabilities, children, the elderly with an intent of avoiding further deprivation of their rights
We therefore, against the use of disproportionate force which security agencies often apply, while enforcing presidential directives in respect to Covid-19. We saw human rights violations being meted out on people especially women, recently and we don’t expect a reoccurrence of ugly scenes during a lockdown intended at curbing the increase of Covid-19 cases. We accordingly, ask the administration of police force and UPDF to always respond by bringing their rogue officers including Local Defence Unit to bring to book.
Your Excellency, we recognize, the government might be financially drained given that the crisis abruptly hit and not many sectors are working. It’s on this basis; we recommend that the government significantly cut on its cost.
Mr President, it would serve a purpose if government deploy the full range of resources to contain the pandemic through retaining only critical sectors in this fight against Covid-19, like Ministry of Health and other essential health and care needs across the Country, Ministry of Water, the President’s Office (where RDCs) fall, the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Security (UPDF, Police), Agriculture, and Animal Husbandry and some few additional agencies like UNRA, Ministry of Trade and Industry, etc.
Sir, at this unprecedented time, we recommend that all other Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) which are inactive now, be suspended for 4 months and relinquish their funds to be utilized to procure required packages to support the majority vulnerable populations. In absence or limited cash flow from the tax payers to government coffers, freezing the colossal sums of money used to run the now non-operational government agencies, remains the viable way to mobilize resources to enable government procure and deliver basics to our people.
In addition, we propose that all political leaders whose salary is over 1.3m cede their salaries by 50% as a measure so that the government obtains enough funds to combat Covid-19.
These particular recommendations are in spirit of making strides in sustaining your directive to have government officials stay at home.
Your Excellency, it’s of grave concern to us that all workable preventive measures from washing hands with soap, hand sanitizers, masks, gloves, eating the immune boosters, disinfecting surfaces, social distancing etc, are almost all, a preserve of the few effluents suffering from avoidable non-communicable diseases and a huge burden on the lives of the majority poor Ugandans, if the earlier statistics are anything to go by.
In conclusion Mr President, we wish to reiterate that with rising cases in Uganda, a total lockdown was a proper measure, but it calls us to stand together as Ugandans without minding one’s social status, ethnicity, political affiliations, religion beliefs, privileges, age, gender, or otherwise because we can beat Covid-19 pandemic through solidarity. There are some of your people whom cannot afford anything during this crisis.
Mr President, you banned any food distribution by politicians and among the justifications was that the act leads to needy people forming groups which might end temper with the notion of social distancing and therefore infecting people. We recommend that this particular measure be revised to ask all political actors with capacity to offer relief in form of food to conduct the exercises with relevant government authorities. We sense, the country needs every resource from everyone to save the lives of Ugandans through complementing each others’ efforts at this time of responding to painful consequences of Covid-19 pandemic.
In solidarity, we propose.
For more information, contact;
National Coordinator, Uganda Fight Inequality Alliance
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