David F. K. Mpanga-Your service record should be a source of pride not regret
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DAVID F.K. MPANGA is a Celebrated Legal Expert, Deputy Chairman of Bowmans a leading law firm in Uganda listed by Public Opinions on the Uganda TOP70 Law Firms for the year 2020/2021 in appreciation of its contribution towards attainment of Uganda Vision 2040 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Earlier this week, a brief report consisting of no more than three paragraphs and tucked away in the bottom right hand corner on Page Eight of this newspaper caught my eye. The headline that day was about the ground-breaking agreement by the East Africa Community leaders to build oil pipelines and a new Mombasa to Kigali railway line. This wasn’t major news by any stretch of the imagination, but I lingered over it because it struck a personal chord for me.
In 1976, my late father started suffering pain and other symptoms that caused him to seek for medical assistance. After being diagnosed and treated for various ailments without success, the doctors recommended more detailed investigations. The investigation options at Mulago hospital were limited; even the basic x-ray machine was broken down, or when it was working, there was no radiologist to operate it. So my father opted to seek treatment abroad.
I am reliably told by my mother that a medical referral was obtained and the necessary funds were raised. But there was one small hurdle. Treatment abroad had to be paid for in foreign currency and the foreign exchange controls that prevailed at the time meant that you needed the permission of the Minister of Finance to convert your local currency into foreign exchange. Without the minister’s permission, any dealings in foreign exchange were both illegal and extortionately expensive.
So my mother prepared the necessary paper work, got all of the bureaucratic clearances from the bank and the Ministry of Health then began hunting the Minister of Finance’s approval. On two or more separate occasions, the minister’s secretary advised my mother to go away and come back another day because the minister was in no mood to entertain her application. On the third or fourth time of checking at the minister’s office, the secretary told my mother that although the minister was engaged, he would see her if she could wait.
After a long and anxious wait during which she could hear the minister barking at somebody else over whatever matter had brought that poor soul to his office, my mother was summoned.
The minister, a no-nonsense military man, looked at her once over and asked what she wanted. He didn’t offer her a seat so she remained standing. She said she needed clearance to buy foreign exchange to pay for her husband’s medical treatment. She handed the minister the painstakingly collected and prepared paperwork. The minister cast his eye over the papers that had been handed to him and, without saying a word or asking any questions, tore them up and cast them in his waste paper basket.
My mother was dumbstruck. She wanted to plead with the man but couldn’t find the right words. She didn’t know whether it was wise or even safe for her to ask why the application had been rejected. With tears welling up in her eyes, the only words that came out of her mouth were “Thank you, sir”. The minister didn’t look up from his paperwork so my mother walked out of his office, closing the door behind her.
My father got progressively worse. A few months later, the doctors at Mulago, in desperation, decided to open up his abdomen to take a look at what they thought was a perennially obstructed gut. What they found was advanced cancer of the pancreas. There was nothing that they could do to save him so they stitched him up again. My father’s body, wracked with cancer, was too weak. He did not recover from the anaesthesia. He died post-operatively on December 10, 1976. He was 51-years-and-11-months old and I was six-years-old. He was buried in Masooli, which happens to be in Kyadondo East Constituency.
Pancreatic cancer is fairly aggressive and has a high mortality rate. But even in 1976, an earlier diagnosis could have led to treatment that would have prolonged my father’s life a little. That opportunity was missed thanks to the man who was then the Minister of Finance.
Leaving that to one side, the report that caught my eye was about the 2nd Deputy Prime Minister, General Moses Ali losing his temper in Parliament when the MP for Kyadondo East, Ibrahim Semujju Nganda, addressed him as a former minister of Finance under Idi Amin’s government. It was reported that the incident caused such a furore in the Chamber of Parliament that the Speaker was forced to adjourn the House prematurely.
Only the General knows why he took such offence at being reminded about his service record. Sadly, it’s too late to for him to change the past and I did not write this column for or about him. I have recounted this story as a salutary lesson for all those men and women who hold offices today in which they wield power over others. You can still save yourselves. Act lawfully, be fair and, above all, be humane so that in the future your service record may be a source of pride and joy and not a cause for bitter regret. People never forget
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