High-Level Policy Dialogue on Re-opening Uganda's Economy
ACODE and the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) in partnership with the Ministries of Finance, Health, Local Government and Education is organizing a High-Level policy dialogue on Economy under the theme 'Re-opening Uganda's Economy and Containment of Covid-19 Pandemic: Emerging Issues, Policy Options and Implications'. The dialogue seeks to provide a platform for different stakeholders to discuss alternative policy options for fully reopening the economy and containment of the spread of COVID-19 across the country. The high-level policy dialogue also seeks to mobilize national support to the existing Government efforts in containing the spread of COVID-19 amid calls for lifting ban on all sectors and an election period that is politically charged.
The limited adherence to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that operationalize the COVID-19 prevention guidelines being witnessed currently poses great danger to the population. Reopening the entire economy must take into account the issues emerging from a partial opening up, the implications and capacity to adhere to the SOPs. The planned dialogue will bring together key stakeholders in government, civil society, private sector, development partners and citizens to explore alternative measures to support full reopening of the economy. The dialogue is scheduled to take place on Tuesday September 29, 2020 from 08:30am to 12:30pm at Serena Kampala Hotel - Katonga Hall. The proceedings of the dialogue will be telecast live on television and streamed on social media.
Background and Rationale
As Uganda opens up its economy, some sectors of the economy remain under lock down. The education and tourism sectors are some of the key sectors whose activities remain constrained. Education is key to socio-economic and political transformation of any country around the world. The knowledge and skills necessary to enhance productivity can only be attained and shared through educational investment in human capital. The lock down to contain the spread of COVID-19 resulted in shutting down of education institutions in many parts of the world. In Uganda, education institutions have been closed since 18th March 2020. This greatly disrupted social life. By children remaining at home, the workload for parents has increased significantly and the psycho-social well-being of children has been compromised. There are reports of increased exposure of children to psychosocial abuse and other vices like unwanted pregnancies. It is expected that by the end of the lock down, a significant number of children may not be able to resume studies. The shutting down of schools also had profound effects on the education economy whose contribution to GDP is estimated at 5%. The longer learning institutions to remain closed, the higher the social and economic costs borne by the country as a whole.
The tourism sector on the other hand while operational within the country, continued closure of boarders and airports to non-cargo traffic has denied the sector income from foreign tourists. Foreign tourists are major contributors to Uganda's foreign exchange earnings. It is projected that the country will lose income from tourism worth about USD 1.6 billion in 2020. The tourism sector and related wider effects from investment, supply chain and induced income impacts accounted for 7.7% of GDP for 2018. Thus, tourism and education sectors jointly account for over 10% of GDP which is significant by all measures.
There is widespread interest in fully reopening the two sectors and indeed the entire economy. The decision has to be balanced with the implications for the containment of COVID-19 in the country amid increasing infection rates and deaths. Several stakeholders and analysts have called for the reopening of the economy and a repertoire of options has been proposed. However, many questions and concerns loom large especially in relation to reopening learning institutions. First and foremost is the level of risk of catching COVID-19 faced by learners and how to minimize it. The proposal to adopt online schooling as a coping mechanism has been impeded by limited access to internet, radio and TVs by most of the households in Uganda as well as absence of a guiding policy framework. The option of declaring the academic year lost as was the case in Kenya is likely to be un-popular since many parents are adamant that their children will not repeat if the academic year was to be declared lost. This may trigger changing of schools on a large scale.
The school owners are also concerned that the cost implications of the SOPs to prevent COVID-19 may be way beyond what the parents can afford. At the same time, the discussion on reopening schools and the leisure industry is devoid of the preparedness of local governments and the national and district COVID-19 Task Forces which are expected to play a critical role in enforcing SOPs in schools, churches, hotels, restaurants among others. There is therefore an urgent need to convene a multi-stakeholder dialogue.
It is against this background that ACODE and CSBAG in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Education and Sports are convening this dialogue.