COVID 19 Ladies making facemasks. Inset a hawker selling facemasks in Kampala

Masks: Gov’t should stick to regulations leaving supply-side economics to SMEs

(Last Updated On: 19 May 2020)

By Odongo Lango

The greatest weakness of communism was central planning. And one of the key problems and criticism of the command economy is that it stifles private sector creativity and inventiveness in solving problems.

It also distorts the supply and demand equation. In such a system, people become passive recipients of State’s benevolence; and this kills their entrepreneurial spirit. History tells us that central planning and command economies invariably stagnated and catastrophically failed.

Given experiences from the former Soviet Union to North Korea, Angola, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Cuba, it is best if the State concerns itself with creating an enabling environment for private enterprise  —  market regulations  —   leaving private enterprises and to respond to the supply and demand for goods and services.

Listening to the President’s 14th address on the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, and how the country would emerge out of the restrictions and stay-at-home orders, I was horrified to hear him announce, that his government will liaise with a single supplier, NYTIL to supply the population with face masks!

This comes when he had already called on, and encouraged local industries and entrepreneurs to convert to manufacturing Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs), such as masks, hand sanitizers, face shields, and latex gloves during the lockdown. The President himself had previously reported that such production had begun, and had reduced dependence on imports, and had also driven prices downwards. Indeed, it is visible that the sub-sector is thriving.

This government’s decision, however, to partner with NYTIL to monopolise the supply of face masks to the population, will most likely distort and stifle this thriving business, drive many small players out of business and endanger the livelihoods of thousands of other small businesses and individuals who are selling face masks.

I am afraid that this seems to signal “uncoordinated movements of troops” at the State House. Such incoherent advice and directives, disconnected from the principles of a market economy that the President has successfully steered for the last 34 years, have the potential to not only publicly embarrass him but also make the President lose the enormous national and international recognitions and goodwill; and support that he has so far garnered with his masterful management of the pandemic.

In my view, government should leave the Ugandans to buy their own face masks. The government is already constrained, resource-wise, and it is only prudent that it should not stretch too thin, the scant resources at its disposal on problems that individuals are best placed and able to solve by themselves.

If the State goes through with this misguided idea, where will it end and what will be next? Will the government distribute bed sheets and underwear?

There should be a rethink, and I urge that good sense and sound policies should prevail – soon.

The author is an NRM party enthusiast from Oyam District

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