Opinion: Will policy reforms secure a balance of justice?


In the wake of the Panama papers, the World Bank and IMF are calling for financial, socio-economic reforms and steps to make it harder to hide wealth from tax collectors.

While these institutions are advocating to governments to pledge a stronger effort to reform and stimulate their sluggish economies, in Uganda’s case, our MP’s are working tirelessly towards exempting their salaries and benefits from being taxed. Will policy reforms secure a balance of justice?

The demand for policy reform in Uganda’s institutions is long overdue. Institutions, such as the electoral commission, Uganda Police have been described as a “nonreformer” due to their continuous gaps in executing their mandates. E.g. organizing presidential elections and hard handedness on opposition political politicians respectively.

Even revamped Uganda Revenue Authority has registered nearly Shs195billion shortfall with three months to close the financial year, according to Daily Monitor, publication on April 21, 2016. This supports the scepticism surrounding Uganda’s policy reform.

Recently, government embarked on an impromptu and ad hoc rescue stunt at UNRA. Partly, instigated by corruption in the road sector and the need to reverse the trend.

For some populist politicians, this ad hoc and exclusive policy reform is “wasted of time, for others, it’s tailored to reward patronage demagogues, and appropriated by rent – seeking technocrats toward their own personal gains.

However, not so long ago, the World Bank described Uganda, as a “successful reformer that grew rapidly and reduced poverty” in the 1990’s.

Unlike other African states, when Uganda gained independence, the country did not immediately suffer from a civil war “the transition to independence was orderly and relatively harmonious”; this harmony therefore contributed to its policy reform success.

What is intriguing; however, is the fact that denizens still witness extreme poverty in certain regions, especially, in the Eastern and Northern regions that have “benefited little from Uganda’s impressive rates of both economic growth and western sponsored reforms in the 1980s and 1990’s”.

The holy trinity, WTO, IMF and the World Bank provided multilateral initiatives as a tool to encourage policy reform with an overall aim to “fight poverty” and encourage reforms.

Uganda benefited from these financial institutions and in return was persuaded to administer policies. They were referred to as structural adjustment programmes, imposed by the IMF and World Bank.

These reforms included “trade liberalization; reductions in budgetary deficit; reductions or removals of price controls, and regulations on trade”. The revenue generated from economic reforms trickled down to sections of the general population and the country was slowly being lifted out of poverty.

The country is seen as a state that cooperates with external governments and does not need pressure form external forces.  As such, “conditionality has become less instrumental in inducing reforms”.

Uganda has also seems to adhere to some rules of international institutions and international efforts like the war on terrorism and extremism.

However, the promising economic growth has not trickled down to all denizens, which highlights the weakness of purely using economic growth to indicate “successful” policy reform.

Interestingly, policy reforms seem to have contributed to growth in “urban areas and the coffee zone in the central region, while at the same time widening already large spatial discrepancies.

In 2001, White et al provided a theory to explain Uganda’s anomaly; the country’s inability to implement redistribution policies derives.

The theory offers four explanations. First, is ‘the absence of stable framework for growth, including the collapse of the state into conflict’. Conflict dominated the Northern and Rwenzori region of Uganda for many years.

“High levels of displacement and restrictions on mobility in recent past also caused major disruption to people’s livelihoods” and loss of lives. Reconciliation and truth telling could remove mistrust and restore hope.

Secondly, “poor social service delivery has skewed distribution and access to services”. This lack of equitable distribution of wealth and inability to equalize opportunities for all implies the lack of reform or policies for institutional reform are not a priority for political representatives.

To make matters worse, government has not systematically supported nor promoted good policy environments, including election reforms. It seems the government is simply playing the game when it comes to policy reforms and there is no genuine interest in conducting desired reforms.

“Our leaders submit to economic reforms unwillingly, only to assure their continued access to external support”. Some scholars have argued that the deterioration of certain development policies in Uganda is inevitable, “the state structure should not be expected to direct scarce state resources for policy reform”.

For policy reforms to be genuine, local people have to be a part of the political process.  There is fear for the unknown. Policy reforms will significantly empower denizens to start demanding state answerability, enforceability and transparency.

Where, answerability is the ability of citizens to demand the state to provide explanation for its actions. Including, police brutality on opposition politicians.

Enforceability means citizens are able to hold the state to account if the state deviates from agreed criterions or performance contracts made with citizens.

And transparency means that citizens have access to information concerning commitments the state has contracted itself to meet. The denizens should also be able to view information on whether the state has met its commitments

Policy reforms will improve the security and work prospects of the least secure denizens. The parliament should consider supporting policy reforms with an effective institutional framework for policy implementation.

If policy reform is a step in combatting corruption and improving quality social service delivery, denizens should take it individually and consider it a moral obligation to sound off and not shut up until reforms are implemented.

 Walter Ochanda, the author is an international development specialist. 

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