In recent years, the risks to government assets and private property have become more acute
Times have changed and so is the way of doing business.
While celebrating our 58th Independence Anniversary, our message was and is still on encouraging ourselves to embrace, prioritise and adopt insurance, considering the rate at which uncertainties are occurring in the current times.
Uncertainties do not have boundaries and neither do they choose where and when they should or should not occur. On September 20, 2020, fire gutted the iconic Ivory Tower, a prominent landmark at Makerere University.
The overnight blaze left the university's distinctive white walls with blue-shuttered windows blackened, a situation described as destructive and unbelievable.
Fire has always been a risk to all private, government assets and properties and continues to be a frequent cause of loss of government revenue. It is even worse when it guts buildings rich in history like we witnessed in 2010 when fire engulfed Kasubi Tombs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Similar occurrences may happen to places of worship, cultural sites, tourist attractions and historical buildings that have been in place for the last 100 years. I will not give examples but they are well known to all of us.
The nature and fabric of many historic buildings frequently places them at increased and high risk of fire spreading once ignition occurs.
Away from fire, in 2006 the MV Kabalega which capsized after colliding with MV Kaawa on Lake Victoria, investigations into the incident showed that both government vessels were unfortunately not insured, causing an estimated loss of close to sh45b.
In May 2020, as the country was grappling with the COVID-19 lockdown, residents and patients at the Kilembe Mines Referral Hospital in Kasese, ran for their lives after rivers Nyamugasani, Nyamwamba and Mubuku burst their banks flooding homes, washing away and destroying lots of hospital equipment. The sad incident forced the hospital administration to temporarily close and the hospital's medical superintendent, Dr. Edward Wefula, then said sh3b was needed for renovation.
In the recent years, the risks to government assets and private property posed by fire, storms, extreme rainfall and flooding have become more acute thus the need for adequate protection and insurance of the assets and properties (buildings) with their contents.
The changing circumstances, threats and risk exposure we are experiencing today, introduce new perceptions of risk, vulnerability and at the same time the under or overestimations made for repair and rebuilding costs, are also creating considerable challenges for policy makers.
Insurance is an important aspect in the risk management and the assumption that insuring government assets and properties increases the Government's expenditure is farfetched. There is value in insuring properties and assets. Replacing an asset or property is such an expensive decision because the cost of replacing an asset can change, depending on variations in the market value of components required in reconstructing or repurchasing the asset, in addition to other costs needed to get the asset or property ready for use.
There are so many building structures, vehicles, machinery out there in the care of the Government which are vulnerable to different risks and are not insured.
Hundreds of government vehicles that had accidents and need minor repairs are lying in public parking yards and private garages across the country ostensibly because of high repair and maintenance costs, resulting the waste of public resources yet insurance can take care of such costs when such risks happen.
We have also witnessed government spending on re-establishing, rebuilding and or repairing assets and properties with no support.
Makerere University authorities are devising fundraising strategies (sh15b is required to repair the tower) that will see alumni and people with an attachment to the university donate towards the restoration of the iconic Ivory Tower.
The story could have been different if the authorities had embraced insurance and provided adequate protection to the properties and assets. It is never too late. Since university is still exposed to risks, the authorities are encouraged to embrace, adopt and prioritise insurance before any other occurrence.
The idea of insurance for assets and properties should not actually be a concern of the Government alone. We have witnessed private properties suffering related losses. For instance, factories, schools, supermarkets and fuelling stations going up in flames as well as incomplete buildings collapsing among others.
The Insurance Regulatory Authority of Uganda (IRA) continues to engage and appeal to government ministries, departments and agencies to consider insuring public properties. We commend those who have come through on this and emphasise that they engage licensed insurance players because they have the technical and financial capacity required to provide adequate insurance of properties and assets.
To help manage risks of government assets and properties and with support from the World Bank, the authority is undertaking a risk assessment to advise the Government on the appropriate insurance protection.
The assessment shall use accurate, up-to-date valuations that consider matters such as indemnity value, replacement cost, maximum probable loss, demolition costs and inflation.
With the risk exposures and happenings, we should avoid the choice of not insuring which means that the costs incurred in damage, repair or total loss of the assets are met from government reserves or continued government borrowing which affects economic growth.
So let the recent fire incidents be a wake-up call for all policymakers, embrace, adopt and prioritise insurance. Accounting officers should also be held liable for such omissions or commissions.
The writer is the chief executive officer of the Insurance Regulatory Authority of Uganda