Category Archives: Uncategorized

Budo, SMACK, Gayaza etal Stop digging your graves

All through his primary school studies, the young man had his eyes on Kings College Budo (herein referred to as Budo) as his school of choice for secondary education. His parents always reminded him that the only obstacle between him and Budo was obtaining Aggregate 4 in his Primary Leaving Examinations. He promised himself to get those grades and read like his whole world depended on it.

When the results came out, like the adage says, hard work pays, he had the required aggregate 4 to enter Budo as a star pupil. Celebrations ensued at his home with relatives, friends and neighbours congratulating him. His gait even changed to one befitting a Budonian (we all know how they be). After the school selections hat taken place, the young man wasn’t considered for a place at his most highly coveted school.

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I know of pupils that got Aggregate 8 and above who have already secured admission

This led him to stage a campaign of defiance that has seen him refuse to leave the confines of Budo until he’s given a satisfactory reason why he wasn’t admitted.

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Pupils at Buganda Road Primary School studying hard to join the much coveted traditional secondary schools like Budo, SMACK, Gayaza among others.

Reading that story in the Daily Monitor brought tears to my eyes. This is yet another injustice being meted upon the powerless. Having been born in a modest family without the trappings of political or economic power, the young man is being denied what is rightfully his. As anger welled up inside me, I recalled myself exactly thirty years ago, having passed with similar grades, I had chosen St Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK) as my first choice and without any underhand dealings, was duly selected to join the school. What is it that has changed between then and now?

Towards the end of the academic year, many school head teachers in the so called big name Church, Government and Private schools rub their palms with glee as they fathom the upcoming windfall of money that is likely to exchange hands as parents venture as far as the moon to ensure their children join these highly coveted schools. In an earlier post on this issue, I indicated how the few available places in some of these schools are already over subscribed by allocations dedicated to various interest groups. Let’s take Kings College Budo as an example, the interest groups I know of are; Church of Uganda, Buganda Kingdom, State House, Ministry of Education and the Old Students Association. Their lists of students are the first to be approved even before considering the genuine cases of high achievers. This is what must have led to the scenario of that young man.

As a result, Budo and schools of its kind have become hotspots for those with technical-know-who as well as the moneyed elite. Budo is what it is because of the one hundred plus years it has been around churning out highly brilliant merit laden students who have gone ahead to change this nation and the world we live in. By going against the ethos that has seen them select students on merit, they are merrily digging their own grave, albeit in the manner of a slow killing poison. I keep hearing some pedestrian commentators trying to chest thump asking where students of the lesser known schools are and which sectors of the economy they are managing but my assurance to you is that most of these lesser known schools are hardly two decades old and their graduates are probably at best 38 – 40 years old. Using the law of probabilities, one might need to wait another couple of years before you see them swamp the economy. Their numbers are growing slowly but surely.

Back to Budo, with all this injustice they are meting upon brilliant students in order to please the selfish desires of a few who do not care about the school’s long term survival, I guarantee you the grave being dug will definitel be more than six feet. An analysis of the overall performance of schools nationwide reveals that those in Western Uganda are catching up very fast and shall definitely overtake the traditional Central Uganda big guns within the next five to eight years. They are achieving this by concentrating on the core issues while taking advantage of not being under pressure. Take time and ask State House, Church of Uganda and the Ministry of Education how many lists they send to schools like Ntare in Western Uganda and you’ll be hard pressed to find any worth talking about. That very Ntare is however one of the leading schools today according to the metrics in place. Don’t you really think there is a sinister plot to swamp the school with more students than it can handle, hence leading to a poorer learning environment which eventually yields half baked graduates? Think about it.

Another trait of bad manners these high sounding traditional schools have come up with is financially burdening parents. Look at the case of SMACK that is requesting for UGX 500,000/= as Special Development Fees to each Senior One student joining on top of an already hefty school fees sum of UGX 1,900,000/=.

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How is a low income parent expected to cope with such?

In Gayaza High School(Gayaza), a generator maintenance surcharge is required and a quick count indicates that the school can afford to buy a brand new generator each term at this rate. When will all this nonsense stop? Have parents been turned into cash cows? Should poor or modest family heads be made to slave away just to maintain a child in Gayaza?

The era of training 21st century students with a 20th century mindset has to cease. I am a proud old student of SMACK but one thing I can admit is that the prioritisation of quantity over quality has put me off totally to the extent that I wouldn’t recommend anyone with a radical mindset like mine to take their child to those traditional big guns. It is time they rethought their strategy otherwise today’s perceived minnows will eclipse them tomorrow when their products excel where it matters, THE WORK PLACE.

Are you a parent? Remember, it’s your actions among other factors that are greatly contributing to this nonsense going on in our schools. If you and me say NO to bribing for places, NO to seeking special consideration, NO to depriving legitimate qualified candidates a place, NO to paying incomprehensible extra fees, NO to grilling our children merely to pass exams, NO to high teacher to student ratios, then we shall have begun our journey of making Uganda’s education system great again. Let’s fight from within.

To the student and parent that have staged a sit down strike at Kings College Buddo, thank you for that stand of defiance. I’m with you 100%. You’ve kindled the light that just might lead to a tsunami whose wake of destruction might actually save our schools from heading into oblivion.

In Bunyole, we have a proverb, “esoŋera ehugwa mwibwa nj’ehwenda (The fly that lands on your wound is the one that loves you)“.

To the likes of Budo, SMACK, Gayaza, Namagunga, Namilyango among others, I may be that fly today, irritating you with my dooms day talk but take it from me, if you don’t wake up, a decade from now, you’ll be history. It’s because I pride in your continued existence that I have taken time off to share my observations.

DUC IN ALTUM.

A blog reader who prefers to remain anonymous did contribute this article titled “Is Uganda’s Education System going to the dogs?” Read on, interesting analysis they’ve got.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

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Stop the Selfishness, become Socially Responsible!!

Its that time of the year when most of us look forward to the Christmas/New Year holiday. Plans are diverse and usually dictated by which age-group you belong to. While in my mid 20s, I always looked forward to engaging in some serious liquor and entertainment related activities as a way of bidding farewell to the year and welcoming the new one. Today, the story is different.

The average individual is most likely engrossed in planning for a cross-section of activities largely pertaining towards the family’s enjoyment. While it’s important to ensure that family is well catered for during such times, I have grown up enough to realise that the tendency to only think about self is one of the worst habits humanity has gotten into.

Social Responsibility is an ethical framework that suggests that an organisation or individual has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. As individuals, we have a duty to perform social responsibility in order to maintain a balance within the societies we exist.

In Uganda for example, the typical middle class family is going to spend this holiday in at least one of the following ways; attend parties hosted at high class venues like the five star hotels everyone who is somebody wants to be seen hobnobbing at, organise parties at home or attend a string of parties at friends’ homes, take a trip with family to a holiday destination (local or international) or undertake a trip to the village with the family.

All these activities aren’t bad at all. However, when they focus on self then there is a big problem. While you’re out there spending UGX 350,000/= (USD 100) each night enjoying yourself;

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Pupils of a UPE School in Adjumani District, Uganda

  • Someone lacks UGX 100,000/= (USD 30) to pay school fees for their child who is getting into a candidate class.

  • A Universal Primary Education (UPE) School in your village needs just UGX 500,000/= (USD 150) to buy a full set of syllabus books to be used by the teachers.

  • Some students who have struggled through school are stuck at making carer choices and need a simple pep talk to show them the opportunities that lie yonder.

  • An elderly widow is struggling to shelter herself from weather elements in her structure worse than a chicken house.

  • A water well in your neighborhood needs basic protective works to ensure that nearby residents have better drinking water.

  • A health centre lacks basic cleaning tools like a scrubber, jerrycans, liquid soap all costing less than UGX 150,000 (USD 40)

The issues are immense, all it takes is looking around you and endeavoring to pick just one to act upon. You see, we do not live in a vacuum. Individual prosperity is not sustainable in a sea of poverty. If you have been blessed to have something, just know there are many that do not have at all. By exercising social responsibility during this festive season, you will have begun your journey towards being a socially responsible citizen.

You might say, well, am a tax paying citizen. The government should play its role. Just take it from me, we have cried for years without end to get the government to sort out some of the now chronic problems we are faced with but nothing seems to get done. As a responsible citizen, are you going to just look on? Imagine this, the fees of a pupil in a high end national curriculum school in Kampala is at least UGX 1.2 Million. Once I was in West Nile and came across a UPE school with 2000 pupils that received UGX 3 million per quarter. In other words, what you pay for two of your children a term in school is what the government assigns for 2000 pupils. It’s mind boggling and shocking at the same time to the extent that shouting yourself hoarse for change in this regard will be more strenuous than you mobilising friends to address some of that school’s challenges.

Stop being inward looking. Make your family happy but you too need to realise that putting a smile on others outside your nuclear family is a pre-requisite for a proper balance of social harmony.

As you do your thing this festive season, take time off to address a public need. I already have one lined up for me in Butaleja on the 28th of December 2016. A group of concerned Talejaz is launching Tree Planting and Education initiatives under our umbrella association of Naanghirisa Development Association.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Starting a Business isn’t only about Money

So it was early this year when I decided to Google some thing I can do with less capital of not exceeding, 100,000 UGX and thanks to Allah, I landed on your article about home production stuff. Being a Muslim helped me so much because we are told to act upon what you have heard or read.

After reading I selected things I can do and thought of how I would start this, a week passed, another one passed because I was so shy. After realising that shame will do nothing for me, I just woke up in the morning and went to Naalya housing estate and started knocking people’s gates looking for jobs which included laundry stuffs trimming flowers and car wash as you stated in the article.

Lucky enough, for the first time, I got a chance to wash some one’s car in the apartment and there happened to be five houses each with a car. At first I washed that of house number three, remember I didn’t have Omo [Soap] I only had a sponge and a brush as you said. I asked her to help me with something which can provide foam and she provided me with liquid soap and I did a job that I think was great.

So this lady asked for my contact. After two days, she called and told me that I did a very great job for her and she gave me the car to wash it very after one day.”

That is the story of a young man who is an ardent reader of my blog. I had a chance to delve further into his experience and while all can’t be shared here, I can authoritatively say that he is now comfortably earning a decent income from his car washing after realising that he could do it as a business. From one apartment, he now washes cars for all the apartments in that complex on a daily.

Higenyi is a school drop out who failed to complete studies due to lack of school fees. After migrating from the village to the city, he begun scavenging around for survival and despite the hard times he has faced, Higenyi never loses focus of his ultimate ambition, to become a journalist. Now that his earnings have taken a turn for the better, this young man is planning to return to school and complete the Journalism course he dropped out from.

Are you out there struggling with not only identifying that something you can do but also getting started? Reading through his message, I noticed the following attributes that are very key for anyone who has an intention of improving their lives especially through business;

  • No amount of money is too small to start business. We have always paraded money as the pre-condition for business success. While it is important, it isn’t everything. Depending on the opportunity being pursued, there are numerous non financial approaches one can used to get where they want. Higenyi begun his car washing career armed with a mere brush and sponge.

  • Seek knowledge always. Learning never ceases. There is always this mentality that after school, one dumps all books away and starts a new chapter of working. This is a total lie since there are always new opportunities and challenges that we keep getting exposed hence the need to ensure that we arm ourselves with the knowledge to address them. Through online research, this young man was able to address his challenge of joblessness and lack of adequate academic papers for the average office job.

  • Beliefs. We all have beliefs whether religious or non religious. The beauty of some of these beliefs is that they arm us with foundational mindsets needed to survive in life. Do not separate your beliefs from your endeavour to pursue success in life. To quote Higenyi, “Being a Muslim helped me so much because we are told to act upon what you have heard or read.” I have occasionally had to battle with my set of beliefs when presented with seemingly lucrative opportunities.

  • Identify what you can/want to do. Everyone has that thing that they can do well or at least better than others. It is always crucial to go through a self discovery assessment to match your abilities with the identified opportunities. This young man upon reading the article online decided to establish which of the listed opportunities he could pursue. You too need to be honest with yourself.

  • Procrastination. We all suffer from this at one time or another. What we do not know though is that procrastination is the little devil that always tries to ensure we cannot accomplish what is likely the most obvious opportunity for us to pursue. I once heard of this guy who had a stellar idea to organise some Social Media awards. He discussed the idea months without end with his buddies in bars and wherever they met. Unfortunately, due to procrastination, he always gave one reason or another for delayed execution. One day, he was shocked when he woke up only to find the media filled with a starkly similar awards event. Much as he cried out to whoever cared to listen about his idea being stolen, I didn’t sympathise with him.

  • Shame blocks progress. How many times have you feared to pursue an opportunity due to fear of what others will think? Shame is one thing that tends to enslave us hence keeping us from achieving our goals. A young man who was making a living as a taxi tout once had to scamper for safety after seeing his University girlfriend approach the taxi he was helping get passengers. Am told he never surfaced at his workplace again. I know of a gentleman who had been retired by his employer after a high flying professional career and when his wife proposed that they set up a wholesale goods shop, he frowned upon her idea claiming, “How will people see me?” Higenyi too had his moment of shamefully looking at the opportunities but gladly, he overcame it.

  • Take action. For any opportunity to materialise, you need to move from talk to action. It doesn’t matter what the challenges are ahead. The most crucial thing is to move from point A to B. There is never a perfect timing for any opportunity and preparation can never be full. Often times, you learn along the way. This young man decided to walk to a residential neighborhood in Naalya and begin soliciting for work. You too need to start walking NOW !!!!

  • Luck. This has occasionally been defined as “When Opportunity meets preparation.” Luck usually manifests itself for the prepared. Now that you have been able to overcome fear, identified your abilities and zeroed in on an opportunity, chances are high that once you start moving, lady luck will smile upon you. To his credit, Higenyi got lucky upon approaching the very first apartment he went to. Sometimes the luck may take a while to manifest but it always does.

  • You’re never fully ready to start a business. It is highly unlikely that you will be fully ready to start a business. There is always something that you feel you need to do before opening those doors for business. However, do not be tempted to cave in to such expectations. Just kickstart your venture. Am sure that day when Higebyi woke up with a resolve, he looked at what he had (a sponge and brush), and without hesitation begun looking for cars to wash even when he didn’t have the soap.

  • Good Work speaks for itself. When you get a chance to do a job for a customer, do it to your level best. The best business is one that is repeat or comes through a client recommendation. Having started off washing for one apartment, this young man now washes all the cars of the other apartments in the same complex on a daily.

  • Happy customers mean more business. This does not need explanation. It is as obvious as it gets. Higenyi made his first client happy and that was the secret towards getting other customers.

You might be in a similar situation like Higenyi and while the circumstances are kind of different, I do believe that we can learn a thing or two from this young man. His decision to take charge of his future is very encouraging and shows that today’s youth are not all out there waiting to be baby sat.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

MODERNISING AGRICULTURE CHANGES UGANDA’S LAND USE – ARE WE PREPARED FOR THE CHANGES?

My sentiments on the proposed agricultural land use changes are well represented in this article.

MODERNISING AGRICULTURE CHANGES UGANDA’S LAND USE – ARE WE PREPARED FOR THE CHANGES?.

AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION SERVICE AND THE UGANDA PEOPLE’S DEFENCE FORCES

The humanist view

While we celebrate the arrival of the rains for our first cropping season 2015, we are also apprehensive of a major change in our agricultural system – the allocation to the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) the role of logistical distribution of planting material; a role which has been removed from trained agricultural extension workers. Apparently, the logic is that the UPDF will only distribute the planting material and then the agricultural extension service providers will either precede or follow up with agricultural advisory services.

Sadly, the negative impact of using the army – UPDF – to logistically distribute seeds is coming fast and furious. “Ngora Town council is stranded with 900 kilograms of maize and 90 kilograms of beans meant for seed inputs to farmers” according to the Ngora Town Clerk as quoted on social media. Apparently, the ‘beneficiary’ farmers were scared to pick up the seeds for fear…

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go straight to the top to get services fixed

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ONE morning this week, a friend of mine texted us a call for help; his internet connectivity was faulty and he had failed to get a response from the provider’s Customer Care department, so he needed the contact of “someone” in the company “to help”.

We fell upon him like a tonne of bricks; questioning why he was so accommodating of a service from a corporate entity he was presumably paying money to yet he often rants angrily when some government service or another does not meet his approval (even though he does pay taxes for it).

Some people, however, responded giving him names and numbers of people to contact within the organisation “to help” him.

Before he could make the phone calls for assistance, we told him he was subsidising mediocrity, abdicating his customer rights, and most importantly, wasting our own mobile internet packages because we were using WhatsApp.

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Data Thieves? Orange Telecom?

October 14th 2014 started off just like any other day. I dropped my kids at their various schools, passed by a Petrol Station to buy airtime and while at it, I play the piki piki ponki game of trying to decide whether to buy Orange or MTN Airtime. Eventually Orange takes the day. One thing for sure, Orange has always been my preferred data provider even amidst all the allegations that have been levied against them of cheating customers on data bundle usage. Those who know me know how spiritedly loyal I can be (ask KCCA). Fast forward, I head to my office, proceed to activate 200Mbs of data on my Orange line which still had 26Mb of data due to expire in a short while.

Having set up the hotspot on my phone enabling only USB access to my Mac, he fumbling then starts as I don’t seem to get access to the internet for about 5 minutes. The next thing I see is a message from Orange at 7:29 am “Your internet bundle has expired. Internet access ….” I could hardly believe my eyes. I then consoled myself with the thought that being a pre-programmed message maybe it was referring to the previous day’s bundle that had 26Mbs left. I was expecting to start consuming my freshly loaded 200Mb. To my shock, the fumbling continued and on checking my data status, I got the message “No valid package.”

A call to Orange support follows at 7:41 am and I am greeted by a one Patrick .O. After explaining what transpired, he advises that I had actually used up my data. This sent me reeling in shock. I recalled all my 16 years spent on the internet, how as one of the pioneer internet techies in Uganda I had learnt from first principles to use bandwidth in the most lean manner. The first ISP I worked for had a 64 Kbps data link that was shared among close to 600 customers and the Office LAN. Such lean access made me grow up as a natural miser of bandwidth. Now this guy tells me how I had used 226Mb in five minutes?What was I downloading? For starters;

  • I don’t play videos online save for when I am using some kind of fixed free internet.

  • I have optimised my phones and Mac never to make any reckless downloads without my permission

  • I am always careful to keep my Orange Phone switched off when I ain’t using it for data access in order to avoid ‘false data usage triggers’

  • Apart from Gmail, WordPress, Whatsapp, Tweetdeck and occasionally Facebook, I dont have any other applications that are likely to be bandwidth hogs

So, Patrick O takes me for a fool not to know when I have got my money’s worth yet the records on my Orange Account should be enough to show him that I am a consistent user of their bundles on a daily basis? In otherwords I am so much of a fool that I am like that chap who went to a petrol station, paid for a full tank of fuel and after driving for a mere 50 metres, the tank was empty. On heading back to ask the Pump attendant what the problem was, he was told; “You have used up all your fuel.” [duh!!!]

Orange Telecom, where do you school these support personnel of yours? Or is it that they are a reflection of the average levels of understanding of IT in Uganda? Patrick .O proceeds to advise me to send an email to customer care and wait for 24 hours for the problem to be resolved? In this day and age? What is a tech company doing replying to emails after 24 hours? So if I have no alternative, how do they expect me to send that email now that I am too scared to use Orange Data again? I was only lucky to have a ‘connected’ friend link me up to someone ‘upstairs’ but what would an ordinary consumer do? Just accept their fate and curse on the sidelines?

Recently my son touched the bathroom taps when he has a slight wound on his hand and received a mild electric shock, since then, he has boycotted touching those taps, I now understand his feeling and thats the same way I feel too about Orange as I rant.

It has been alleged that Ugandan Telcos are hiding behind the veil of Internet bundles to cheat unsuspecting customers and I am a living testimony to that, courtesy of Orange Telecom. Many users keep complaining and information has been passed on to the Uganda Communications Commission to this effect but the trend continues.

Many are the questions regarding how the traffic is computed to determine the actual data usage and this will remain a subject of debate until we call a spade a spade.

As I wind up the article, Orange has refunded my 200Mb, and assured me that I visited the site akamaitechnologies.com and that is where I lost all the data within a minute. Wow!!! I didn’t know the speeds were that crazy on their network. That would be a download speed of slightly more than 3.5 Mbps. Possible but not practical here in Uganda.

I am grateful for that action but at the same time shudder to imagine how many other subscribers have lost their hard earned money to telcos. If you dont live in Uganda, you may wonder, what the heck anyway? 200Mb of data valid for 24 hours costs US$ 1.5. In a country where a significant section of the population is earning less than Two dollars a day, it matters a lot.

To the other operators, you too are equally culpable, many are the stories that have been shared about similar challenges. I leave you with Exodus 20:15.

Record Keeping for the Agri-Business SME

Africa’s commercial farmer doesn’t have to be a photocopy of the Large Scale Industrial farmer typical of the Western World. Our future lies in harnessing the production potential of the small farmers and agri-businesses that are rife on the continent. I explore the importance of adopting proper record keeping in this article.

Why Raise School Fees?

Ever since the Minister of Finance read out the Government of Uganda’s Budget proposals for the financial year 2014/15, we have been treated to numerous threats by the some proprietors of Private Schools under the umbrella body of National Private Educational Institutions Association (NPEIA) to increase the School Fees charges. This came up as a result of the Government proposing to remove the Income Tax Exemptions currently enjoyed by the Educational Institutions.

As a parent I feel insulted by these continuous attempts to blackmail not only the Government but we parents into joining the crusade of these capitalists involved in our education industry. Do they think that they are dealing with illiterate parents who have no understanding of how the taxation system works? Do they somehow wish or hope that as parents we shall rise up based on mere emotions and lack of proper comprehension of issues to back their pleas?

Having read the Minister’s budget speech in its entirety, she stated; “… I propose to terminate the exemption on income derived by a person from managing or running an educational institution for commercial gain. This is consistent with the principle of equity and transparency in tax regime, and broadening the tax base by bringing more tax payers into the tax net.”

With all due respect and knowing that the proprietors of these institutions are all out to contribute to the Educational advancement of our population, why would one not want to pay tax on income accrued as a result of pursuing this agenda? Working class Ugandan citizens are taxed left right and center and Income Tax is one of those that they do not survive. While the Government might have given the Education industry a tax break in this regard, it didn’t mean that it would last a life time. Besides, the challenges that brought up this decision years back by Government to waive income tax seem to be no more. The proprietors of these institutions should just be ready to file their income tax returns and pay up.

I don’t see an argument of being over burdened by taxes as holding water. This tax only applies to those schools that are making profit. If no profit is made, then it doesn’t apply. This therefore means that the so called struggling schools will still not fall victim to this tax.

To simplify this, add up all the School income from school fees and any other sources then subtract expenses like costs of feeding, salaries for Admin, teaching and support staff, utilities, Local taxes among others. Whatever remains is expected to be the profit and that is what the 30% Income Tax is applicable to. Profits after expenses belong to the business owners and that is probably the bone of contention to many who have been enjoying a free ride making massive untaxed income.

Another argument that is being forwarded is one of loans that are even causing some of the schools to close. The performance of a school in regard to loan repayment cant be directly attributable to the existence or lack of Income Tax. In Uganda, most financial institutions lend against assets. It is highly unlikely that a school with assets worth Ushs 100 Million will be given a loan of Ushs 1 Billion.

It is a good idea for all actors in the Ugandan economy to realise that as we move towards full funding of our national budget, we have to bear the brunt of raising the much needed financial resources. This definitely might mean us remaining with less in our pockets in the process but lets avoid looking for scapegoats. Increasing school fees by the proprietors is not the solution to the Income tax resumption on the industry. Let the business owners readjust their expectations and those that have been stashing away massive profits, its the time to share the loot with Government. As for that poor struggling school that hardly makes a profit, they have no reason to be bothered by this tax resumption.

Fellow parents, let us not be drawn into this well orchestrated scheme by a few who want to continue earning untaxed income. Any school fees increments should be justified with facts.

@wirejames

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