Wednesday, 30 March 2011

MTN opens media war over FDC boycott

When the senior officials of the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change announced last week that serious party members should boycott the MTN services, the firm rushed to call a press conference to deny any sabotage by them.
The FDC had accused the MTN of malice and sabotage during the recent presidential elections. Infact, the South African firm was acussed of sleeping in the same bed with the ruling NRM party.
In a panicky response, the MTN country chief Themba Kumalo, told journalists that they had been falsely accused.
After addressing journalists, some of who had quizzed Kumalo over his company's open engament in politics against other parties, the man went for plan B.
This plan involved destroying FDC in the media. Sources say that they quickly assembled a budget demand of US $ 250.000 to ensure that the FDC action against them does not get media attention. My sources say that the MTN headquarters in South Africa has already endorsed the budget to stiffle FDC in the media.
MTN reportedly runs an annual budget to the tune of US $125million for marketing and PR activities but with the FDC announcement, another 250.000 dollars had to be set aside just to handle the party's move.
So, when you dont read in newspapers or hear on radios about the development of the FDC boycott announcement against MTN, then know that the money has done the job.
Sources say all the key and influential media houses have to be discouraged from giving coverage  and airtime to FDC and if they dare, they will be denied the advertising business. That is how the MTN has usually kept its dirty tricks from the citizens of Uganda.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Four Opposition figures inline for Cabinet jobs

Its reads strange but these things happen. The campaigns are over and President Museveni is mapping out names to include in his eating clique called Cabinet ministers.
Speculation is right now high on who will join the official eaters and who will be left out.
I have been told by my usually reliable sources that the President first drew a list of  96 names which he later reduced to 86. Lobbying is now in high gear.
But I have learnt that the man is considering giving the incompetent Speaker of Parliament Edward Sekandi the post of Prime Minister. Prof. Apolo Nsibambi who hold the portforlio has been asking to retire because of his poor health.
Its also said that the flamboyant Security Minister and NRM party Secretary General John Patrick Amama Mbabazi is set for deputy prime minister  and minister without portfolio. The intention here is to keep him powerful as other ministers will be forced to report to him. Prof. Bukenya's fate is still in balance but he  has been promised to retain his position of VP with Betty Bigombe as a second Vice President which is a new position. This is meant to appease women and northern voters.
Rebbeca Kadaga appears to be the favoured Candidate for the post of Speaker which the politically wayward Jacob Oulanya as her deputy.  In order to cause more chaos among the Opposition as well as dupe the international community that he is an inclusive person, the President wants to appoint some Opposition elements into his Cabinet.
Among those are DP's Nobert Mao, UPC James Akena, FDC Jeff Akiror and the former Kampala Mayor Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala. Sources say the earmarked Opposition guys are still grambling on which portfolio to take. They want, like, Chinua Achebe wrote: " If you want to eat a tod, you must chose a fat and a juicy one."

Why Museveni is buying new fighter jets

It's now public knowledge that  President Museveni is buying fighter jets at a whooping Shs1.7trillion, an amount of money that would sort out Uganda's health problems for more than 3 years.
But typical of NRM approach, patients at Mulago national referral hospital have to stage strikes protesting failure to receive treatment for six months. Those in village hospital simply visit the health centers to die "honorably."
But why is the President investing in fighter jets.
Here is why. Soon after elections, Col. Moses Rwakitarate visited  Russia. Rwakitarate works in the Ugandan air force.  A source in Russia told me that Rwakitarate, who is Museveni's blue-eyed boy, was shocked by the discussion of the Russian military chiefs about troubled Libyan dictator Col. Muamar Gaddafi's military weakness. He heard that the Russians knew that Gaddafi had a weak air force with rusty war planes and  soldiers. That Gaddafi had only concentrated on the welfare of his elite presidential guard army at the expense of the general army. Besides, Gaddafi's army had not had any refresher training, so they were ill prepared to fight when the insurrection started.
He had to reorganise his own army before attacking that rebels that iswhy the rebels fisrt moved faster than Gaddafi.
So, for Museveni, this was a lesson learnt. He had to quickly get money to buy fighter jets in case anything happens in Uganda.
And that anything could be possible. Again, here is why. For sometime, the intelligence has supplied Museveni with information that the Opposition elements especially Col. Kizza Besigye were organizing a rebellion. The intelligence claim   thatBesigye has the support of DR Congo and Rwanda.  They further allege that rebels of arrested dissident Laurent Nkunda,  was supposed to have been integrated into the DR Congo army  after Nkunda was nabbed. That some of the rebels agreed to be integrated while others opposed. Even those integrated did not find the working conditions suitable, so they asked to join their fellow rebels. Most of these  were Rwandan interahamwe. Apparently, Ugandan intelligence believes that Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila, felt the rebels would pose a serious headache to them. That to appease the rebels, the two leaders agreed to locate them somewhere between Rwanda and Congo. They are reportedly being paid monthly stipend and have been promised  that they would soon be engaged.
That engagement, according to Ugandan intelligence, was to fight the Kampala regime.
After getting this information, the Ugandan coordinator of intelligence services Gen. David Tinyenfuza evicted Balaalo in  the oil rich district of Buliisa. This, eviction, according to sources, was to try to avoid infiltration from the alleged rebels since most of them have Rwandan links.
However, the Kampala regime is notorious for cooking up rebel allegations in order to unleash violence to genuine Opposition figures in the country.
It's now difficult to know which information to believe: whether this is creation of the intelligence or a real threat to the Kampala regime. There is however, growing tension in intelligence that any time, a new rebel force would be at work. This belief by the intelligence has already created suspicion against some high ranking soldiers. Sources say several soldiers are now under surveillance because they are accused of being sympathetic to the Opposition endeavors.
Because of fear that some elements in the army could defect to Opposition if chaos erupt, the private Security Company--Saracen--which is owned by Gen. Salim Saleh, is reportedly briefed to supply fighters to protect Museveni. Although Saracen provides private guarding services, sources say its top managers are all seasoned military officers close to the President. Their deployment in Saracen is to ensure that when called upon, they should be able to provide extra fighting force to defend the regime. Critics say in effect, Saracen is a standby force for the President.
During the presidential campaigns, there was tension in the army. This tension explains why we saw several roadblocks on highways across the country.  And after the elections, roadblocks are still on highway but Ugandans have not understood why.  Some roadblocks were set up to screen travelers to the city after it emerged that the Opposition led by UPC's Olara Otunnu, had mobilised 1million people for a demonstration in Kampala. Apparently, during the campaigns, Otunnu was not looking for the votes since he knew that Museveni had rigged the elections. Instead, the UN diplomat used the campaigns to silently mobilise rioters to action after elections.
However, the plan leaked. Museveni security set up the roadblocks. And unknown to Ugandans, the intelligence is scrutinising travelers. Any public vehicle carrying more than six male passengers, is highly monitored to ascertain where the men are going. In the roadblocks, the security pretends to be searching the taxis yet in actual sense they are counting the number of men in the car. That is how the mini bus carrying young from Busia was recently arrested. The men were being mobilised to travel to Kampala for a demonstration but the intelligence got wind of wind that is the men said they were going to work in a farm in Mityana. It was not their destination. Kampala was the ultimate destination. To kill off any demonstration, Mambas have been placed on all main roads leading to the city center to scare away potential protesters.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Truth behind high energy bills in Uganda

The consumers of electricity bear the high tariffs largely because some senior ministers and their associates scheme to make power production expensive so as to make some extra bucks for themselves.
New facts gathered by me show that while high power tariffs have, in the past, been attributed to low generation capacity and the high cost of thermal energy, these factors were silently encouraged by the state agents for personal financial gains.
My investigation shows that the power tariffs remained high-- Shs385 per unit for domestic consumers and Shs299 at off peak hours and Shs405 peak hours for industrial users—because of thermal generation.
Energy sector officials said thermal generation which in 2005 was seen as an emergency response, consumes 80 percent of all the money allocated to the energy sector yet it only produces only 50 per cent of the energy used.
The officials said confidentially that the government still funds the thermal generators because, senior ministers, benefited from the money poured into it.
The politicians reportedly commandeer lucrative energy contracts to firms where they are main stakeholders directly or through associates, usually offshore firms.
While generation of thermal energy was generically expensive, in our case, sources say, it has been pushed higher in order to accommodate the financial interests of the politicians and their cronies.
For instance, a senior minister reportedly supplies fuel to all thermal power plants in the country, raising questions whether such a minister would support a policy of facing out thermal energy.
Moreover, the minister, supplies the fuel even after the deal was given to Shell Uganda, a renowned fuel dealer.
“If Shell won the contract, why again middlemen?” said an energy bureaucrat, “The politicians gain from the increased costs of thermal generation.”
In order, to continually fatten their accounts through the country’s energy crisis, senior ministers reportedly influenced Cabinet to adopt the policy of thermal production.
Hidden in the policy was their interest to use it to get huge deals. Although thermal generation was adopted as an emergency response to the constant power outages that the country faced in 2005, sources say it has turned out to be good business for those in the know.
The government subsidises power generation in the country and because of the high costs of thermal generation, our sources say 80 percent of the money pumped into the energy sector, goes to thermal generation, which ironically only generates 50 per cent of the electricity consumed in the country.
Last financial year, the government allocated Shs212billion to pay subsidies to the energy, according to ERA officials. These subsidies mainly covered lease fee [cost of hiring equipment] and topping up in energy fees to reduce the cost which the final consumer would bear.
By extending the period of thermal power generation, sources say the taxpayer / consumer lost in terms of subsidies paid while the tariff remained high.
In fact, an expert told me that the money paid out in subsidies, would have financed the cost of building Karuma Power plant which collapsed after Norpak, which won the contract pulled out.
The cost of Karuma was estimated at US $ 2billion.
“Its six years already but we are still running generators and subsidizing them yet  we claim there is no money for Karuma project,” a senior energy official, “The standard explanation is that thermal power plants was an emergency but an emergency can’t be from 2005 to date; there can’t be ongoing emergencies.”
Although the money put into thermal generation would have built Karuma power dam, industry sources say the government was reluctant to take the approach because it would deprive politicians of the lucrative deals.
Instead, sources say, the government was reasoning that with the discovery of oil, thermal generation would become cheap but experts say the local oil would also be sold at market price thus making no little difference.
Having seen the huge financial gains in thermal generation, several politicians have reportedly been registering firms and putting the ERA on pressure to license them.
Some get the licenses and later trade them at handsome fees to genuine firms engaged in power generation.
Some licensed firms like Invespro which was licensed two years ago, have failed to generate power with reports suggesting that two senior ministers were associated with it.
Invespro, an offshire firm, reportedly wants to sell its license but the two ministers were disagreeing on who to sell to. This, business disagreement, has reportedly boiled into a political fight between the two who are all confidants of the president.

UMEME in loses
While political schemers took the money, national electricity distributor, Umeme, faced challenges collecting revenue.
Part of Umeme’s loses, according to sources, was failure by the politically connected industries and businesses, to pay up.
Apparently, most of the student hostels around universities in Kampala were owned by politicians who do not pay up their bills and Umeme is constrained to debt collect.  For instance, when Umeme sometime back found a fish gear producing firm using power illegally, ERA was called in to arbitrate but to ensure that ERA and Umeme arrive at a decision acceptable to the industry stealing power, a state minister reportedly sat in the sidelines of the meeting for the whole day just to ensure the ERA officials “behave.”
Many businesses owned by connected people reportedly use power illegally or have outstanding bills but Umeme was intimidated into not cutting off their power supply.

ERA fights
Already, a rift between Energy minister Hillary Onek and the officials at the Electricity Regulatory Authority has been linked to accusations of sabotage and counter sabotage of individual interests.
Mr Onek accuses suspended ERA top officials: Dr Frank Sebbowa and Johnson Kwesigabo of disregarding his policy directives aimed at generation of more energy hence push down tariffs.
But the officials say the minister suspended them because they were against arbitrary tariff rise and licensing of politically connected firms which had no capacity to generate power.
  However, a draft report of the investigation team set by Mr Onek, a copy of I have obtained, concludes that “…this committee finds that Dr Sebbowa and Mr Kwesigabo failed in their duties under the Electricity Act and the Human Resources manual.”
 It accuses the duo of reported failure to audit and amend licenses of firms which reportedly inflated costs of power generation.
The minister wanted a two week’s audit of Tronder Energi Bugoye power plant in Kasese and Jacobsen Uganda Power Company operating in Namanve in Mukono District.
Both are Norwegian owned firms.
Mr Onek is accused of trying to use ERA to frustrate Norwegian firms engaged in power generation.
The minister reportedly has issues with these firms after he disagreed with one of them—Norplan- over the intellectual rights compensation of US $3.3million [about Shs6.6billion] from government after the botched Karuma power plant.
Mr Onek’s firm Pakwach Power Plant had merged with Norplan to form Norpak with the mission to develop Karuma power plant. However, the deal fell through over financial complications. Sources say Mr Onek needed part of the money but they disagreed of the sharing after the Norwegians declined to make unclear payments. The matter is before court now.
Because of that hitch, sources say Mr Onek has blacklisted all Norwegian firms so as to send a message to them that he had the clout to affect their business interests hence his call for license review for Tronder Bugoye and Jacobsen.
Mr Onek declined to comment on this and switched off his phone when this newspaper contacted him on Friday.
But Dr Sebbowa and Mr Kwesigabo say their suspension which could lead to their termination, was part of a larger scheme by Mr. Onek to get them out of ERA for menacing interests.
First they argue that the constitution of the probe team chaired by Richard Santos Apire, business partner of the minister in Pakwach Power Plant Ltd, was a sign of the plot to fix them unfairly.
But Mr Onek said “it’s false and we have asked our lawyers to respond” to allegations that he was Mr Apire’s business buddy.
The suspended ERA officials were also suspicious that the presence of Dr Mohamad Serujongi, who earlier was appointed by Mr Onek as secretary to the botched electricity sector restructuring committee.
“To have Mr Apire as the chairman of the investigating panel and Mr Kabiito, the secretary to the panel yet he is also a lawyer defending the suspension our suspension on Onek’s behalf only confirms witch-hunt,” reads a letter.
Mr Onek and Apire are also accused of ignoring to ask the acting ERA boss Benon Mutambi to produce his PhD which was funded by ERA.
Apparently, Mr Mutambi picked US $42.000 [about Shs85.0000] from ERA for his PhD research in 2008 but has never showed the paper neither accounted for the money.
I have got copies of payment vouchers for Mr Mutambi.
Mutambi, Serunjongi and Apire previously worked in Bank of Uganda raising suspicion of collusion to kick out Sebbowa and Kwesigabo.

MTN boycott is welcome

The announcement by the Opposition  Forum for Democratic Change party [FDC] that her supporters should boycott the services of the countries leading communications company MTN is long overdue.
I might be wrong but wait a minute. When will  modern businesses learn to reconcile their  interests with  the country's governance needs.
For business to thrive, there must be good governance. Unfortunately, most businesses especially in Africa, start on criminality or outright thuggery if you care. The businesses are not bothered by the national interests but they care about narrow political interests of those in power. Granted. Deals are cut with politicians for businesses to move on but isnt it foolhardy for any shrewed business to surbodinate its long term interests to the shorterm demands of the parochial political class?
MTN arrived in Uganda  and got massive goodwill because its competitor, the late Celtel tuned Zain and now baptised Airtel attacked the virgin Ugandan market with aura but smarked arrogance. They charged at least Shs1million for a bulky Ericsson handset. Celtel was damn expensive. They never cared to listen to the client. Then MTN made entry. Opened up access to moblier phone services. Tired of Celtel arrogance, the Ugandans embraced MTN and that is how it gained the giant status it now brags of. That was then. Slowly, MTN has been a thuggish firm; reaping off Ugandans with expensive call rates. It offered annoying services with its ntework usually on and off. They cheat clients of their hard earned money.
Then stories emerged of poor governance. The managers engaged in sex orgies with the beautiful young girls they employed. Some of bosses broke marriage by grabbing wives.
When Ugandans were about to take note of this South African firm, it hatched a mega plan: compromise the media. MTN should be in our records for making jouirnalism in Uganda die. It began by compromising individual journalists then the media houses through advertising.
Ugandans continued to whisper about something being terrifically wrong with MTN. Then stories of alliance with the ruling NRM politicians emerged. Either by accident or design, MTN chose Yellow colour which is the official colour for the ruling party.  In Uganda, there is no difference between MTN functions and those of the ruling party; at least going by the paralephalia .
Although the MTN continued to broadcast its achievements, Ugandans continued to murmur. The political connection between MTN and the ruling party, became apparent during situations when the Opposition engaged the ruling party. For instance, during the violent demonstrations againts the planned give-away of Mabira Forest by President Museveni to the ever greedy Madhvani Family, the MTN network was cut off. THis was to disable communication by the rioters. Then during the Buganda riots that erupted after the Kabaka was blocked from going to Kayunga, the MTN network was again cut-off. Even if Ugandans had not taken the MTN connection with the government seriously, this time, they had gotten live evidence.
Whenever there is a political engagement between the Opposition and the NRM government, the first network to get off is MTN. Is this by coincidence? How come the network that boasts of being the giant, is usually the first to get off whenever there is a small demonstration. Your guess is as good as mind.

Fast foward. When the FDC says their supporters should boycott the company. I agree with them. First because its an arrogant but inefficient company that cheats with impunity just like the ruling NRM party. Secondly, MTN has never made its ownership open to Ugandans. Who are its local shareholders and how much shareholding do they have? How did MTN chose to work with those individuals?
Thirdly, local Ugandans associated with MTN are criminal capitalists who got money through robbing the state. By joning MTN, they simply wanted to clean their dirty money. Any Ugandan , who, therefore, cares about the lack of drugs in hospitals, low pay for teachers, potholes etc, should give their money on MTN with care. The company hobnobs with people who have stolen state resources with impunty thus denying citizens the basic social services. If the MTN can sabotage FDC activities yet the party supporters equally buy its airtime; isnt it about time that MTN deals only with NRM supporters?
THis boycott should also extend to other companies who have chosen to serve the interests of the political class at the expense of the citizenry. All yee sober Ugandans, simply dump the arrogant and cheaty South African firm.

My first blog

The action by the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change