Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Earning an honest wage – yeah right!

KAMPALA - Why is it next-to-impossible to find honest contractors in Uganda? Of course we know that government wastes a lot of our taxes on all sorts of schemes, school children are thrown out of their schools, buildings are razed and the ground is let to fallow, awaiting some hotelier to make up his mind. We know that people displaced by war are given rotten seeds when they finally get to return to their homes, complete with flexi-pangas to help them till the land and start new lives. We know all that, and more.

What irks me the most are the smaller things; the micro-corruption, the cutting corners that we are subjected to daily – and not from Mr Government, which is too busy carving out plots, parcels and projects. Several months ago, one of the panes in my living room window broke. No, I have not been throwing stones and I do not live in a glass house, you desperate pun-hunters. The pane intercepted a rock cast by kids playing in the grass below. It fought a good fight, the pane, but ultimately suffered a fatal blow that left a huge gaping hole.

After unsuccessfully asking the estates manager to fix the pane (part of their contract, by the way) for several weeks, I took matters into my own hands, identified a fella who was fixing a window somewhere in the estate and paid him to fix mine. I paid for the cost of a new pane, his labour, and money to hire a ladder. He turned up the next day with one of his mates and they started fixin’ it up. In the course of holding down the glass in the frame, his mate broke it. Just like that.

I told the fella that it was his responsibility and that he should buy a replacement pane as the breakage was his fault. He mumbled something under his breath, climbed down from the ladder and went away, his mate in tow. They returned, all right, in the dead of the night, and carried away their ladder. My window is still undone. Even the shattered bits that offered some respite from mosquitoes and the elements were knocked down.

A few weeks later, in a moment of madness, and against my better judgement, I reinstalled satellite television. The crew turned up, and installed the dish smack right over my neighbour’s, blocking out his signal. When I called them back the next day, they said it was my fault, living in a flat. Or not seeing my neighbour’s dish. Or subscribing to satellite television. Whatever. It somehow had to be my fault. So they grumbled, moved it to a new spot and asked me to pay an installation fee. I refused but offered Shs10k as their transport refund. Two days later, the signal was off; they had unscrewed a bit off the dish and rainwater had now poured in, literary drowning the signal. I had to get a new crew to replace the missing bits.

Three other episodes come to mind. The first, involving a boda boda. One of those crazy days when the roads are all blocked, getting them ready for CHOGM, I am running terribly late for an appointment so I do the natural thing; park my car by the roadside, jump onto a boda and ask him to whisk me as fast and as safely as is wistfully possible, to my destination. After my appointment, I grab another boda and ask him to take me to my car. We get there. I get off. I ask him what the fare is. “Shs1,500,” he says. So I hand him two thousand-shilling notes and turn to open the car door, holding out my hand for my change (note: change, NOT balance, people!). I turn back to see the fellow speeding off on his boda, confident in the fact that I am not likely to chase him down the road screaming thief. That is what dressing up like a ‘corporate’, complete with flash disc hanging down your neck does to you. It soothes the primal instinct out of you.

Another time, another scene; a roadside roast meat market in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb. I park by the roadside and a fella dutifully comes to the car and takes my order. He returns 10 min later with the sizzling meat, packed to go. “That will be Shs8,000,” he tells me. I give him a Shs10k note. “Let me bring your change,” he says, and walks away. I wait. One minute. Then five. Then 10. Then it becomes clear; the only change the fella is getting is a change of scene for the rest of the evening, or until, as happens in another minute, I drive off.

I could go on and on – just don’t get me started with the car mechanic who got his house up to foundation level by inflating the cost of spare parts which the car seemed to need every time it had to go in. “Anti this is a German car,” he’d announce, until the day I rejoined “and I am a Ugandan employee” and found a new mechanic.

Why can’t people do an honest day’s work and earn an honest wage? Maybe it’s me putting too much trust in people; not holding the boda guy by the scruff of the neck – just in case – while he found a coin for my change; holding the bottom of the ladder and telling the window man I would pull it away if he did not somehow get an accomplice to bring a new pane.

Maybe everyone is doing it and I just came late to the party. You just have to read the papers and learn of folks bottling tap water in mineral water bottles, supermarkets recycling goods by printing new expiry dates and sticking them over the old, expired ones, etc. I guess everyone is stitching someone else up somewhere, somehow. This thought has just brought shocking images of what chefs, having been cheated out of their change by boda boda riders on their way to work, might be doing in revenge. Let’s just say that I am eating in today.

Enjoy a stitch-free day.


Blogger Atin said...

What? Is this another term to dress up yet again the unsavory face of grand corruption?

Corruption, bribery, shoddy workmanship etc stems from the structure of society itself. It is not accidental, it’s about survival. Until the denizens can see it being fairly addressed and prosecuted from the top, or appreciate and understand the benefits of leaving corruption it will continue to be a choice.

There are very few non-corrupt people – their presence and effects are insignificant.
The big question is what is one’s part is unwittingly or otherwise supporting, promoting, or benefitting from ‘micro or macro corruption’ .

12:21 am  

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