A number of public institutions are grappling with efforts to stay afloat, especially those that are supposed to be self-sustaining. For some, the Ministry of Finance whether unintentionally or knowingly has successfully derailed the process. Although not entirely at fault, it has played a big role especially in the case of Uganda Broad Casting Corporation (UBC). By self-sustaining, I refer to those that use their non-taxable revenue to considerably execute their mandate. This somewhat unfair deduction, as some would say, stems from a meeting had on the morning of 2nd August between the Committee of Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises [COSASE] at Parliament and Management of UBC, Uganda’s national broadcaster, also charged with being the sole digital signal distributor since 2015.
Does anyone remember, the live broadcasts of plenary sessions of the Ugandan Parliament in the afternoons that aired on UBC in the early 2000s? I do. I vividly recall those boring afternoons that we had to sit in front of the television and watch UBC as there was no choice for us who grew up outside the city. Other stations like WBS, LTV, Africa TV and the like, were a privilege of the city dwellers. Yes, those sessions aired were purportedly free of charge and no charge whatsoever was levied on the Parliament of Uganda. Free of charge would make sense if as UBC management claims did not cost them USD 500 per hour of broadcast.
In a letter by the Clerk to Parliament, Mrs. Jane Kibirige to UBC, after the latter billed the institution to the tune of UGX 10 billion for the services rendered, stated in Clause 5 of the MOU signed between the two parties that the Ministry of Finance had waived all the costs to be accrued on the service. Also, the current board chair, and his predecessor had no idea, there was an MOU signed and had based their failure to demand for this money or seek legal recourse on the same. Whether at the time of the MOU, MoFPED deemed the payment not necessary, it was an oversight on their part as they had to factor in the operational costs. Given the circumstances as a national broadcaster and as the new board chair, Mr. Simon Kaheru says UBC has a mandate to provide a range of services for Ugandans even without making any commercial sense, it is imperative that it leverages all opportunities to generate income.
Like any other commercially viable institution UBC must levy charges on many services it renders available to those that require them. However, how the same institution is expected to function even without money is truly mind boggling. Of course this gives me the opportunity to extend my dismay in the way UBC conducted its business during the 2016 general election, favoring one candidate as opposed to the seven more that contested, this was also cited in the African Center for Media Excellence report titled, Monitoring Media Coverage of the 2016 General Election,’ hopefully this candidate paid for the services but any way, that’s beside the point.
If Parliament as an institution that stands for accountability, expects UBC and any other public institution to act like a business, it inevitably has to be treated like one. There should be money allocated for its broadcasts of Parliament if they need its services or better yet in this case pay up what is owed to UBC or the others. Private stations are giving the national broadcaster a run for its money and rightfully so, even when the odds are skewed in favor of UBC; National broadcaster, doesn’t have to be on a set top-box to be accessed, has a signal in even the remotest of Ugandan villages, has government backing just to mention a few.
UBC has stood the test of time but unless the underlying issues (this is another blog entirely) affecting it are not addressed, it will not live to see the light of another day, year or decade.