By Andrew Visper
The Central Bank was back in the news for most of last week over claims, originating from official sources, that extra currency notes had been printed in Europe and furtively flown into the country.
The flight cargo manifest was brought out and examined item by item. Pallets were counted and recounted. Homes and offices were raided, or not raided. Documents were seized, or not seized. People sniffed boat glue.
Experts in freight forwarding, customs procedures and cargo clearing stepped forward to enjoy their 15 seconds of fame.
A nation took off its trousers, shook them to see if any spare change would fall out, and hasn’t fully put them back on. MPs, back in session and eager for some action, lustily begged for a chance to have another go at the Bank. One could almost imagine a mob outside the bank on Kampala Road; some baying for blood, some for a chance to personally inspect the vaults!
Even the media, not letting the facts get in the way of a good story, careened from one extreme to another, breathlessly reproducing one fantastic account after another without stopping to catch our breaths and ask if it all made sense. It didn’t.
The facts of this one-minute phantasmagoric orgy are an anti-climax: Someone cuts corners to save or make a buck and bulks up sensitive cargo with other cargo. Over-eager, trigger-happy investigators on the look out for brownie points leak the information, different versions from official sources add fuel to the conspiracy theory fires and voila! Onto the next one.
The Executive does not need to print bank notes surreptitiously when it can walk into BoU’s vaults with a trolley. It did so a decade ago when it spent $750 million on fighter jets without parliamentary approval, and has done on the oil tax bounties.
MPs should know this: Not only did they investigate that fighter-jet ‘break-in’ at the Central Bank for which they extracted a half-sincere “oops, sorry!” from the Executive, they continue to appropriate supplementary budgets every year for money that has already been spent.
An Executive that can spend at will need not print and smuggle in extra notes. In fact, the only reason it would investigate such a claim is to keep out private sector players seeking to get in on the action.