By Duncan Abigaba
Veteran journalist, Andrew Mwenda’s article titled URA’s disastrous headquarters exposes his ignorance and absolute lack of knowledge on processes of the public sector;
Firstly, the argument that URA could have built the 22 storeys in two years is ignorant of the processes and nature of Government funding. If the tower cost 139b in a period of four years, it implies that URA was allocated UGX 35b every year between the years 2015/2016 and 2018/2019 – an unprecedented vote in itself, for an MDA (Ministry, Department and Agency) for an internal project that’s not a public good like roads. Take an example: The whole Tourism sector was allocated UGX 32b in 2018/2019, way lower than the average allocation to URA for the tower. Therefore, URA could never find UGX 139b in one allocation to build the tower in two years.
Secondly, URA tower houses 1,700 staff. All their mini offices scattered all over the Kampala metropolitan area, have been compressed into one. The increased efficiency and effectiveness that will accrue to the authority as a result of this harmonization is not something that Mwenda factored in in his criticism.
Take an example of tax registration; one would begin the process at Crested Towers but they would eventually need input from someone at Nakawa, to complete the process. This would drag on business for more than a day in some cases. URA too would lose resources; both money and time, in unnecessary movements around their offices in various locations to perform certain services. Now, with most of the staff located in one place, we can expect increased tax to GDP ratios.
Thirdly, the argument that the building isn’t a going concern or won’t make money doesn’t hold. This is because Government doesn’t build to sell or to make a profit. One may as well make a case for URA to remain renting, but where could have Government invested UGX 139b and got more returns than the much needed efficiency and effectiveness that we’re now certain to get from URA?
Take an example of the Mpigi-Kanoni Road. Government is spending the exact amount spent on the URA tower, UGX 139b, to build Mpigi-Kanoni Road (65Kms). What is the internal rate of return for this road? How long will it take Government to get the returns on this road investment? We don’t know. But we still think it a good investment in the hope that it will open up the area’s farmers and businessmen to bigger markets in the city, motivate increased production in the area, and in the long-term, improve the living standards of locals, as we seek to achieve inclusive economic growth across the country.
Equally, we may not in the present put a monetary value to the increased efficiency, effectiveness that the centralizing of all URA services in one place may bring to the tax body. But if we must look at how to increase our revenue collections, then efficiency and effectiveness of the tax body is inevitable. And the tower is a welcome step in that direction.
Lastly, on a lighter note, the very Andrew Mwenda will praise the Kigali Government and the RPF party, even if they constructed a pit latrine with tiles. He would argue how it is the first pit latrine in Sub Saharan region, to have tiles.
The writer works with Government of Uganda