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Boat tragedy: Museveni talks lake radars but where is Shs50bn loan govt took for maritime communication?

PARLIAMENT | In Nairobi, Kenya, President Museveni talked water surveillance. The government, he said, will install radar surveillance on lakes to monitor who is on there and what they are doing there.

At Parliament in Kampala, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah tasked Museveni’s government to produce a progressive report on the implementation and utilisation of a USD14.4 million loan (about Shs55 billion) that was approved by Parliament in 2017 meant to enhance maritime communication on Lake Victoria.

“In a bid to improve water transport on Lake Victoria, Parliament on November 28, 2017, advised government to borrow units of Shs53 billion to support multinational Lake Victoria Communication. Parliament is yet to access the ethnicity of this loan. I urge government to expedite the establishment of the Maritime and rescue centre,” Oulanyah said.

Basically, exactly a year ago today, Parliament approved for billions of shillings to be borrowed from African Development Bank for maritime surveillance and safety improvement, but it has taken a national tragedy for the government to make a mention of safety on water bodies.

Even then, Museveni, who was addressing a conference dubbed, “Sustainable Blue Economy,” in Nairobi, did not make any mention of the fact that the government had a year ago secured funds for the same issue he was raising.

“For now, we are relying on rudimentary methods to patrol the waters but we shall advance with installation of surface radars to enable satellite monitoring,” the president said.

On Saturday, a boat carrying 120 revellers capsized on Lake Victoria, killing at least 32 with scores still missing four days later. Police said 29 people had been rescued.

The tragedy, on the so-called boat cruise for which socialites have taken an increasingly deep liking for, nearly claimed the lives of some big personalities, including Buganda Kingdom prince David Wasajja and singer Iryn Namubiru.

Loan purpose

While tabling the loan request last year, the government argued that the loan money would be used to improve wireless communication on Lake Victoria, making calls for help possible using existing GSM coverage over the lake, setting up 16 search and rescue stations around the lake with boats and rescue teams among others.

Further, government argued that the loan would be used to set up a Maritime Rescue Communication Centre (MRCC) capable of receiving and responding to distress calls, locating the victims, mobilising, controlling and coordinating rescue missions.

However, the tragedy and emergency response on Lake Victoria following the weekend accident have left many unanswered questions about the capacity of Uganda’s maritime security to deal with such tragic incidents.

On Monday, the country was left with eggs on the face when a team of Police and UPDF maritime officers seeking to retrieve the ill-fated boat from where it nestled at the bed of the lake used ropes with humans at the shores to try and pull.

It was mission impossible from the start for the team that, for all professional intent and purpose, took to relying on orders issued by Bryan White Kirumira, a civilian.

At Parliament, Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko tasked the UPDF to explain circumstances under which Bryan White came to take over the chain of command of rescue and recovery operations on Monday.

“When it gets to that nature, there must be a chain of command. This is a joke. This country has a chain of command. Let us know is he is an army officer. Which type of physics is that of people tying rocks?” Nsereko asked.

Bright Rwamirama, the state minister for veteran affairs, denied allegations that Bryan White took over the command structure, saying all the team at the lake were specialised people.

But Nsereko rubbished his claims, saying there was enough evidence of Bryan White’s action captured on camera.

HE also called on UPDF to purchase better equipment other than relying on Bryan White’s rudimentary methods.

“We can have better equipment, imagine that is Lake Victoria which is near, imagine if it had happened in Lake Albert,” he said.

On Tuesday, the marine officials took with them an excavator (digger) that they hoped would help in pulling the boat out of the water. This effort was yet to yield any result by press time.

Meanwhile, government has declared Friday as the day of mourning for the victims of the accident.

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