Uganda Development Corporation Should Be About Merit, Excellence

Parliament recently passed the Uganda Development Corporation Act, signaling serious intent by government to play a more active role in investment for national development.

The move revives the Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) nearly 20 years after it was closed; it means government is abandoning the "governments can't do business" mantra used to dispose of many state enterprises through the 1990s.

This development is both positive and unnerving, and the Uganda government has a responsibility to ensure that thirty years from now, Ugandans will look back on a momentous day in parliament, rather than on faith squandered.

As we have argued before, it was erroneous for many African countries to uncritically buy the World Bank/IMF prescription that government had no business doing business, and that the private sector would deliver hitherto mismanaged economies to sustainable prosperity.

What resulted was the predictably-erratic distribution of the benefits of growth. A combination of capitalism and lack of strong and focused regulation has meant that the excitement about Africa's growth figures has only peppered cracks in the development trajectory.

The present change of course suggests that Ugandan leaders now realize that while modern economies tend to be driven by the private sector, the public interest is best served by strong leadership or navigation by a developmental state.

However, the government needs to carry forward useful lessons from UDC's earlier phase. The core, non-negotiable motive of UDC must be national development, and this motive must override political short-termism.

Meritocracy and accountability will need to be inviolable values for UDC. The corporation's assets should not be treated as dumping grounds for politicians rejected by voters, or a retirement home for ministers no longer able to stay awake during long meetings.

The latter is what we have seen happen to the diplomatic service and many other sensitive government positions, and we all know the output. UDC should be a network of excellence, deploying the best available human resources to get the best possible bargain for Uganda.

Source: EMM