LAST week a New Vision story caught my attention. It was about the wrangle over the land on which Kabale Hospital sits. According to the story, Parliamentâ€™s public accounts committee is looking into how land belonging to Kabale Hospital was given to Kabale Institute of Health Science, a private business.
Apparently, the land was given away with the knowledge of the former superintendent of the hospital, and now private businesses, including Warid Telecom have sprouted up on the land. The committee planned to hear from the former superintendent soon. At the time I did not think much about the Kabale story. Then on Monday, on my ten-kilometre jog, I ran past the Southlake Regional Health Center here in Newmarket. This is the hospital where my family goes when in need of medical attention.
Two weeks ago, when Oceng was pulsing with fever and cough, we took him for a check-up. In March, the boy also got a cast for a broken ankle here. This is also the hospital where my friend Dr. Muniini Mulera is the Medical Director of Neonatology, and is part of the team planning the future of the hospital. Here is a man who spent his formative years in Kabale in Uganda, and is now one of the very best healthcare professionals in Canada. How incredible it would be to utilise his knowledge back home in Uganda. Then I remembered the story about Kabale Hospital, and my pace quickened in anger.
As I jogged on, four thoughts occurred to me. First of all, the story of Kabale Hospital reminded me of another story I read a long time ago. It was the story of Victor Lustig, the Czech conman who sold the famous French landmark, the Eiffel Tower in 1925. It was post-war in France and business was picking up again. Everyone was on the lookout for a deal. One day, Lustig read about how difficult it was to maintain the Eiffel Tower. He quickly decided to impersonate a government minister, and sent secret bids to six scrap metal dealers, inviting each to put a bid on the Eiffel Tower. One businessman named Poisson took the bait (poisson is the French word for fish). He paid Lustig bribe money and also money to purchase the Eiffel Tower. The whole thing was a hoax of course, and Lustig and his co-conspirator took a whole suitcase of money and fled to Austria. Poisson was so embarrassed for falling for such a cheap trick that he did not report his loss to police.
Lustig meanwhile sold the tower one more time to another unsuspecting businessman, netting another caseload of cash! At Kabale Hospital, someone must think Ugandans are so stupid you can give away public land and nobody cares.
The second thought that occurred to me was why the police are not involved. Here is a case where hospital assets belonging to the people of Uganda are in the hands of private individuals. Nobody knows why. Surely, this is not a matter for the parliamentary committee to deal with, but the police to investigate. Who authorised such a sale or leasing or whatever arrangement currently exists with Kabale Institute of Health Science?
Why is this institute sitting on public land belonging to the people of Uganda, and why should it not be razed to the ground immediately on basis of trespassing? Am I missing something here?
The third thought that occurred to me was that the most effective way to lose sight of an issue in Uganda is to give it to a parliamentary committee to investigate. There will be some hearings, testimonies taken, witnesses called, a report written, then shelved to collect dust for eternity. The deal meanwhile stands, and the private individuals will, in short run, sell the land to other wealthy investors and the story dies.
The parliamentary committee could still prove me wrong of course. The fourth idea which occurred to me as I rounded the final corner in my run was the absolute lack of public outcry over the Kabale Hospital land deal. If the land belonging to Southlake Regional Health Center was sold off to the highest bidder with deep pockets, you can bet there would be public commotion in Ontario. Ugandans must speak up about Kabale Hospital land precisely because it is a major regional hospital serving Ugandans from all walks of life. It is important that the institution and its assets be zealously guarded.
Think about it this wayâ€”Kabale Hospital is not simply the property of the present generation of Ugandans, but of Ugandans still to be born 100 years from now, and beyond. Why should such a precious institution be given away piecemeal to the highest bidder, and why should Ugandans keep quiet about it? In the evolution of healthcare in Uganda, the one thing we cannot afford to lose sight of is that Ugandans have a right to decent healthcare. It is a public duty therefore to protect all publicly-funded hospitals from the vagaries of todayâ€™s land speculators who may wish to take pieces of the action.
The parliamentary committee should turn its file to police in order to have the matter fully investigated and, if there is any wrong doing, vigorously prosecuted. Our Uganda includes Kabale Hospitalâ€”letâ€™s keep it that way.