By Sarah Achen and Mercy Kyomugisha
A campaign carried out against misuse of government vehicles by Uganda Debt Network (UDN) in partnership with Red Pepper a year ago continues to yield results.
After the campaign, several arrests of government officials caught misusing government vehicles (tax payer’s money) have been and continue to be made.
For example, recently, Seith Tibenda, the head (In-charge) of Rwensande Health Centre IV in Kasese district was arrested for allegedly using the health ambulance service van for his private transport purposes and private clinic (St. Elizabeth) located in Nyamwamba division, Kasese Municipality.
The Kasese district Assistant Chief Administrative Officer in charge of Health and Administration, Johnson Mutungwanda recently said since Red Pepper started publishing pictures of government vehicles being misused, district officials and drivers “have changed for the better in fear of being photographed”.
In this edition, we bring you the views of the drivers who drive government officials on the misuse of these vehicles. This is because these drivers are part and parcel of the problem and above all know more about the vice.
Many of the drivers we talked to say that new measures like parking in gazetted areas and driving the vehicles past the official working hours of 5:30PM may not work.
David Kyakoonye, a driver of a government vehicle at Ministry of Education says, “Parking at Police Stations may not be possible as it may be very far from where the meeting (of his boss/government official) is taking place. Although some meetings take longer, others take like an hour so parking in another place is an inconvenience to the minister.”
He says he has learnt from the Red pepper campaign not to give free lifts to people on the way as it can be “misinterpreted” to mean abuse.
“We never use the vehicles for our personal things unless it’s an assignment from the minister because we also understand the costs government incurs in repairing these vehicles,” adds Kyakoonye.
Nathan Olema, another government employed driver says traffic jam especially in Kampala is too much to allow them park the vehicles before 5:30PM, but also, sometimes, meetings end late.
He also adds that they should be excused for carrying a few items for personal use. For example, he says a bag of charcoal goes for UShs30, 000 in villages yet the same bag costs UShs 80,000 in Kampala.
“When I get the opportunity to travel upcountry, I can buy a bag of charcoal and save some money and this is not abuse!,” he said, adding that he has also learnt from the Red Pepper campaign that sometimes the very people they give lifts are the ones who turn around their backs and accuse them.
“I no longer carry anybody even if I find people stranded, I just drive on,” says Olema.
Yusuf Mutabazi, a driver at Ministry of Finance says government drivers follow and respect the traffic rules.
“We must obey our bosses because that is where we eat from. We do everything we are asked to in order to keep the job and to create a good working relationship with our employers,” ” says Mutabazi.
He says they are also human beings and should be treated fairly. For example, he says sometimes he ‘sleeps’ with the car depending on situations.
“For instance, if it is raining, after dropping my boss home, I go with the car home,” he said, adding, “Always ask for forgiveness when you have committed a traffic foul, no one is above the law. Most of the drivers who think they are driving government cars and feel they can do anything are new on the job.”
Like other drivers, Abasa Waiswa, a driver at the Department of private Secondary Schools in the Ministry of Education says that the suggestion of official parking places for government vehicles after working hours be at police posts/stations is farfetched. He says they should park at a venue convenient for the minister or any other government official to avoid delays.
Ken Muramuzi, also a government employed driver says its “wrong” for the police to impound and arrest any vehicle found outside the gazetted parking premises after official working hours of 5:30 PM without finding out the reasons for the delay.