Min. of Fi­nance and Par­lia­ment are part of UBC woes

By: Winnie Watera

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.