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What the chamber needs to remain relevant

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Added 8th December 2016 09:43 AM

Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI) currently is in the public spotlight. This

What the chamber needs to remain relevant

Martin Okumu is the Head of Communication Department, UNCCI

Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI) currently is in the public spotlight. This

By Martin Okumu

Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI) currently is in the public spotlight. This was sparked by its constitutional provision that every five years there must be elections of the board of directors and district officials. However the real ginger is that this time there are more serious contenders to the Presidency of the Chamber.

There are two contenders who have publicly launched their campaigns by throwing their hats into the ring. First is Andrew Rugasira and secondly Amina Hersi Moghe. No doubt all are prominent and successful business captains. The incumbent president of UNCCI, Olive Kigongo, who had been at the helm for 16 years is yet to launch her game plan in public! Perhaps there could be more other contenders too.

About a month ago the Acting Secretary General of the Chamber, Ezra Rubanda published a public notice that elections at a delegates conference 2016 shall be at Nimrod Hotel in Luwero on December 16. Usually two delegates are selected from newly elected district officials and one representative each from major business associations form the delegates conferences to elect the national leaders.

While the jostling of who is going to be the President of Chamber is going on, with excerpts of what the contenders said being published in the newspapers, the Minister of Trade Industry and Cooperatives, Amelia Kyambade throw another spanner into the works. In a press conference at Uganda Media Centre, she issued a directive that Chamber elections is postponed sine die, a committee to probe anomalies will be instituted, the board of directors term expired in September 2016, therefore suspended forthwith, and the Chamber constitution should be reviewed! This has added to more confusion, especially at UNCCI Secretariat and district offices!

However, while all the above is going on, the questions all stakeholders should ask and get clear answers are: What is the relevance of the Chamber in Uganda's business arena? What is the role Chambers play globally to promote trade? What is the current status of UNCCI? Who are the members of UNCCI? And what should be done to foster UNCCI to provide opportunities and services to the business community?

First, the Chamber was established in 1933 as an umbrella organisation of the private sector in Uganda, to advocate for good business environment, provide essential services to the business community, a link between regional, continental and global Chambers and business associations with Ugandans, foster trade and promotion of investment and assist in development of the economy through private sector participation. If you are to rate the status of the Chamber in performance of these core functions, it may earn 55% honestly.

Second, membership of the Chamber is voluntary: categorised into-Associate, Gold, Silver and ordinary, through payment of sh10,000 registration fee and annual subscription fees of sh1,000,000, sh500,000, sh250,000 and sh100,000 respectively in the chronology of membership. There are many members of the business community in Uganda who are not members of the Chamber because they are not approached, convinced or assured of essential services to ensure business growth. The law also does not compel you to be a member like in most countries. There are many who are among the over 20,000 who once became members but currently less than 10,000 are paid up members! Again if you are to rate the Chamber as a membership organisation in terms of mobilisation, it may also score about around 50% in all fairness.

Third, Chambers globally is a major brand organised under the tutelage of International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and World Chamber Federation (WCF) for over 400 years with observer status in the UN General Assembly. There are other major umbrella organisations of Chambers like Islamic Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture (ICCIA) for all Organisation of Islamic Conference member states; the Pan African Chamber of Commerce & Industry (PACCI) and the East African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EACCI). UNCCI is a member of all those and even sits on their board of directors. Here it scores over 80%, for instance UNCCI was the first ever in Sub-Saharan Africa to host ICC.

Fourth, as a link between Ugandans and global business communities UNCCI has signed over 100 memoranda of understandings with partners to foster trade relations. Yearly it organises trade delegations going abroad, host incoming delegations, business fora and business to business meetings. Egypt, Turkey, India, UAE, China, South Africa, EAC region, among others, are destinations that UNCCI had been sending delegations. We need to build more capacity to handle the foreign relations better. It can be securely rated at 70% in terms of performance.

Fifth, when it comes to trade promotion and investment UNCCI had been participating in the Inter Institutional Trade Committee (IITC) chaired by the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives. UNCCI sits in the Board of Uganda Investment Authority, National Planning Authority, and Presidential Economic Council among many others. In terms of being the voice of the private sector it scores highly up to 70% but can still do more.

Sixth, the current status of UNCCI is what the incumbent and whoever shall be the President, Board Members and all the members should address. There are challenges of recruiting, establishing and retaining good staff, leading to very high staff attrition. There are challenges of finance, assets to sustain operations and serve members diligently. These need urgent attention. It is closely intertwined with governance at the Secretariat, Regions and District offices. The Secretariat staff should be versatile in all parts of the country but we do not have any movable asset! How do we relate with Government and partners who could assist need to improve. So we could honestly say UNCCI scored 40% in this spectrum.

Lastly, UNCCI needs to actively increase its membership base by providing essential services, avail opportunities to members and address key concerns of members. Yes that is what a membership organization should do if it is to remain relevant. The issues of business environment; high interest rate for bank loans; influx of cheap capital through foreign business community therefore hedging out Ugandans from businesses because of unfair competition; high taxes compared to member countries of EAC for instance tax on fuel; and payment of domestic arrears by Government. The informal sector is still bigger than the formal sector, leading to only 13% of tax to GDP ratio! If Chamber does not strongly advocate solutions to some of the issues, then its relevant is justly questioned. In a fair evaluation we could only earn 58% mark.

We therefore need to conduct Chamber elections with humility. We need to admit what we have not done well in certain aspects and propose solutions to diligently serve the business community. The winners and losers in the election should amicably congratulate and embrace one another. Chambers globally are very powerful multi-sectoral umbrella of the business community and they up hold democratic principles in the governance of its structures. All stakeholders should therefore focus on key areas of improvement not individuals. We need to strengthen the institution of the Chamber for meaningful contribution to the economy now and for posterity. Let us therefore have good political hygiene as we conduct Chamber Election 2016.

The writer is the Head of Communication Department, UNCCI

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