People, Institutions and the Market in Uganda


David Hume, a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, well known for his highly influential system of radical philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism once remarked; I quote from Hume, ‘In all public affairs men are often better pleased that the truth, though known to everybody, should be wrapped up under a decent cover than if it were exposed in open daylight to the eyes of all the world.’

The government should embrace criticism for its inability to counter the current economic predicaments and failure to resist MPs rent seeking demands. Shockingly, our MPs seem to have relegated their primary function of scrutinizing government policy, passing laws for good governance of Uganda, giving legislative sanctions taxation and debating matters of topical interest such as the risk being transferred to government by Bank of Uganda taking over Crane Bank, in favour of a demand for approximately shs20 billions for new cars.

If MPs were to demand for more power to legislate, they would have received overwhelming support since it’s derived from the people by a positive voluntary grant and institution, can be no other than what that positive grant conveyed, which being only to make law, and not to make legislators, the MPs can have no power to transfer their authority of making laws, and place it in other hands.

Of course government institutions like the parliament can play a very big role in helping people have a balance of justice. There is the role of democracy in a sense of allowing plurality of voices to be heard and public reasoning to be practiced. The media to expose wrong doing as well as praise right doing as it were.

Denizens also need a functioning economic base which includes the market, flourishing market but of course more than that. We also need an ability to restrain the market in some cases. State institutions are needed for that purpose.

We also need the ability to go to the state for redress if wrong things are done to us. So we need freedom of information. We also need a legal system which allows us to bring these questions to the public arena.

Legal rights that people may have in case of minority tribes, or in case of women, or in case of underdogs of the society may be ignored. What opportunities do they have to bring these issues to the fore?

So I will place Uganda government institutions within a wider network. Which is qualified by MPs, government behavioral patterns and our standard concerns that make us take a sympathetic attitude towards each other rather than belligerent attitude towards each other.

Recently, there has been so much focus on another institution since National Resistance Movement came to power. Just on one institution, namely, the market. Any kind of interference appearing to be a mistake.

Partly driven by blind allegiance by our government to the holy trinity of World Bank, IMF and WTO’s Structural Adjustment Programme implementation without scrutiny. The importance of public scrutiny cannot be underestimated. In fact, it’s a central part in the holy Bible as well.

In the Act of Apostle, Paul was speaking to Timothy. He told Timothy that the difference between the people of place called Berea and Thessalonica was that every time he had preached to them, they would go and interrogate the Bible to scrutinize if what he preaching about was the truth.

Unfortunately, however, Uganda government’s blind allegiance to the holy trinity’s recommendations led to the demolition of the kind of checks and balances that the state provided in the past. And I think the crisis we are seeing with Crane Bank and in other part of Uganda’s economy is partly generated by the need demand for a plurality of institutions.

It’s also true that public parastatals, corporations and unions acted badly and were characterized by human frailty and human stupidity on the one hand and regulators sleeping on the switch and general high operating cost on the other hand.

For some, human stupidity and seeking for profits at a rapid rate made the difference. For others, these are actually not new thoughts. Smith argues in the theory of moral sentiment as well as the wealth of nations for the need of a plurality of institutions.

He was on one hand the theorist of the market but pointing out that we could have very irresponsible speculations aimed at quick profit and ruining the entire economy and why we do need state regulation. It is that level of pragmatism that Uganda needs.

In this case, a warning by the person who is seen on one side as the guru of the market and on the other side he is arguing that the market could fail badly; and what Uganda needs is an intelligent state and ultimately an intelligent public reasoning.

I think the government and MPs do not have our priorities right. But, the question is; why not? A lot of our MPs and the government’s inability to remove unnecessary morbidity among the poor comes from their not being able to understand what the priorities are.

In the same way young children beat animals or the police torture people demanding for their rights because they have not been able to conceive or think through what pain is like. I believe by debating with each other, placing oneself in the position of each other, we shall be able to generate critical ability to scrutinize what is going on in Uganda.

Walter Ochanda, the author is an International Development Specialist

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