By David Lumu, Patrick Okino and Hudson Apunyo
By 10am, pupils of Alira primary school in Akura Sub County, Alebtong district had lined up along the school's play grounds to welcome President Yoweri Museveni, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) presidential flag bearer.
Before the rally kicked off, Rebecca Amuge Otengo, state minister for Northern Uganda, invited the pupils to recite a poem. It was about HIV\AIDS and its dangers to society-and not the Universal Primary Education (UPE), which parents in the area say, has courted grave ills since it was implemented in 1997.
Mary Akullo, 49, a resident of Alira told New Vision that she is finding it difficult to pay fees for her eight children.
"I am a widow. I have ten children and I can only pay fees for two. The others help me with chores at home. The school fees is too high and government should intervene," Akullo, who told the New Vision before Museveni's rally started.
Akullo's main complaint is that UPE, which she thought is a free service, has been turned into a money-making venture in Alebtong district and neighboring districts.
Ban on UPE fees
As if by telepathy Museveni responded to Akullo when he took to the podium.
He said more emphasis should be given to children, especially by uprooting UPE impediments that make children of school-going age to abandon education.
"We planned that there should be no school fees for the children of the poor. However, I have heard that some people are still charging money in our UPE schools. Some are even expelling these children. This is not good because if children are expelled it is Uganda that will suffer," he said.
Putting a freeze on payment of fees-for UPE schools-that have been charging pupils, Museveni told voters on another rally at Alanyi Primary School in Abako Sub-County that a school's inspection centre will be established in Kampala to monitor all UPE schools and ensure that pupils are not forced to pay fees.
He said when they decentralized education to districts or Local Governments; he thought that people will do their work. But, he said, inspectors of schools are no longer doing any work.
"When we started UPE, we wanted to share jobs where you parents would provide uniform, exercise books, packed lunch so that government would pay teachers, build teachers' houses and school facilities," he said.
"When we say everybody should go to school, it is for the benefit of all of us. But some of these people without consulting me and decided to charge fees for UPE children,"he said, emphasizing that some Ugandan parents are not yet rich enough to pay for primary education.
"Children whose parents are not able to pay should not be expelled from school. If we are all educated, Uganda will be much better," he added.
Free scholastic materials, sanitary pads
On his third day campaign trail in the Lango Sub-Region Museveni, who spoke in English-laced with some words from Luo dialect-said that to boost the UPE programme, free scholastic material will be provided to pupils.
"In order to support our children, we are going to buy them exercise books, text books, mathematical sets, pens and pencils. The parents will remain with the job of buying uniform and providing lunch," he said.
The other issue under UPE that Museveni tackled was the question of how to retain a girl child in school.
He lamented that a number of girls drop out of school when they experience monthly periods.
"When our daughters are in monthly periods, some parents don't know how to help them. We are now going to provide free sanitary pads for our daughters," he said.
In 2013 Jessica Alupo, the education and sports minister, revealed Government deliberate plan to keep the girl children in school.
Addressing to parliament, she said distribution of free sanitary towels in selected schools, provision of washrooms for adolescent girls and supply of a spare skirt or dress, lesu (wrapper) and soap are among tactics to be adopted by the Government in a bid to keep girls in school.
Health Centers at every sub-county
Yesterday, the more supporters interviwed by the New Vision grabbed opportunity to present their wish list.
"Giving support to schools, especially the girl child is good but more emphasis should be put on health and roads in this area, especially the road from Lira to Alebtong and Otuke," said Kosta Apio, of Awei, who braved the heavy downpour to travel to Lira municipality to attend Museveni's rally at Golf Course.
Earlier during a rally at Alanyi Primary School in Abako Sub-county in Ajuri, Alebtong district, Museveni pledged to construct health centre III facilities in every Sub-county in the country.
Listing NRM Party strategies, a jovial Museveni said "our plans for Alebtong in particular and Uganda in general is the prioritization principle that aims to increase funds for the provision of planting and breeding materials to our people to boost their household income
"I am now happy and relaxed. It is not like 1986 when we had no money. We now have money and we are going to get more. We have worked on all the developments using our taxes. We are using only this ordinary money but there oil money. What will happen when we get the oil money?" Museveni said, adding that more focus in going to be put on boosting the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), where Sh 1 trillion will be injected up from sh200b to provide seedlings and livestock breeds to farmers in the country.
According to Museveni, the other areas to finance include: the Sh7b women fund, the Sh33b youth fund and the Sh44b microfinance projects, which targets village saving groups.
In the microfinance, Museveni said the money injected there will be increased from Sh44b to Sh500b.
The President assured the people of Alebtong district and other affected areas that compensation funds for their cattle that were stolen by Karimojong rustlers will also be increased. He clarified that what was done for the infrastructure in terms of funding will also be applied to other areas such as the compensation for their cattle. He expressed his gratitude over the current availability of funds unlike in 1986 when money was scarce.
Museveni urged Ugandans to adopt a discipline of planning how to do things step by step and not to be tempted to scatter resources as this would lead to failure.
Museveni explained that the NRM journey started with liberating the country and ensuring that there is minimum recovery before embarking on rehabilitation and reconstructing.
By prioritizing the above stages, especially working on roads, electricity, immunization and education, Museveni said the NRM government has laid a solid foundation for development to take shape.
A New Vision poll of 6,626 Ugandans of voting age in July found that roads and health are the major issues that majority of voters in the north want candidates to address.
Ask Mbabazi where he was?
Throughout trail yesterday-from Alebtong, Lira and Otuke-Museveni was accompanied to the podium by Justine Kasule Lumumba, the Secretary General of NRM.
Museveni, who said he wanted Lumumba to introduce herself before the voters in Lango sub region, gave her four to six minutes to speak.
Lumumba said that when Independent presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was the security and defence minister, he never paid attention or visited northern Uganda during the phase of insecurity-partly caused by Joseph Kony rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and cattle rustlers from Karamoja.
"When he was security and defence minister he never came to check on you when we were facing insecurity here. Instead, it is Museveni who came to check on you people. If he (Mbabazi) comes here ask him where he was when there was insecurity here?" She said.
"The President used to come here regularly to lay out strategies of pacifying your area and yet those calling for your votes never bothered at all. Don't support people whose plans you don't know," she cautioned.
Lumumba added "We also hear candidates who are preaching insurgency. Nobody should talk about defiance," she said in direct reference to FDC presidential flag bearer-Dr. Col. Kizza Besigye.
Museveni asked people of Lango sub region to vote him in 2016. Today he will conclude the Lango sub region campaign with rallies in Apac, Kole and Oyam.