Museveni finally Sees the light on bloated government. Sort of.

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Museveni’s directive is set to rattle many of his bureaucrats : AP picture

President Museveni should be credited over his circular to some of his ministers that is making rounds on social media. In the directive, issued yesterday and addressed to his ministers of Finance, Public Service, and chairpersons of the Public Service Commission and National Planning Authority, the president complains about multiple Agencies and Authorities that are being used as cash cows for their administrators in form of ridiculous salaries and not doing any significant work. In my view, This is the boldest, smartest and wisest decision the president has made in his current Kisanja. As a researcher and analyst of public policy, I have been wondering, and writing about this issue for over 10 years.

“Why have an agency,” the president asked in yesterday’s circular, “When you have a department of the government dealing with the same responsibility?” A simple, yet very important question with enormous consequences for fiscal discipline and responsibility if the government is interested in having one.

The president is right in several ways:

Public Administration, considered a ‘sector’ in Ministry of Finance budgeting parlance, takes the lion’s share of our national budget every year. From National, to local level Ministries, Agencies and Departments (MDAs) of the government, we spend most of our public resources on ‘Recurrent Expenditure’, a ministry of finance jargon that mostly means salaries and emoluments, or the wage bill. It is recurrent because the wage bill has to be paid every financial year so there is little you can do about it if you wanted to reign in expenditure unless you fire people or reduce salaries.

We spend enormous amount of money on ‘Boards’, ‘Authorities’, ‘Agencies, ‘Commissions’, ‘Bureaus’ etc that are rather useless in my view. For some of them, it is difficult to know what for example a typical day looks like in those offices for employees; what, in ACTUAL sense they do to deserve the enormous amount of money they are paid. Many of these, when they are created, have similar mandates with existing, traditional agencies and this creates role confusion and ambiguity, leading to unnecessary and unhelpful  interagency rivalries which, rather than create synergy, cause competition and stalls progress in executing public policy. Ministries in most cases have directorates and departments charged with these same responsibilities! I can’t tell you how many government meetings I have been to and they spend half of the day discussing under whose mandate or ‘docket’ a particular activity falls. Most of the fights you have heard in the media (where some jilted staff even employ witchcraft to fight their battles) are caused by these multiple players jostling for influence and money, hence no work is done.

The president gave his officials up to December 20th to give him a list of these boards, ‘Authorities’ and Agencies and how much they take, and justify their existence.

Actually Mr. President, 5 months is a long time to do this. Most of this information is already public. I woke up at 6 this morning to look at some of them, and I have come up with this write up, for less than 2 hours!

To its credit, The ministry of Finance is the most transparency ministry not just in the country when it comes to budget transparency, but Uganda is always ranked top, (No. 1 sometimes) by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) and other budget transparency organisations as among the most budget transparent country in Africa, and on occasion in the world!

The Ministry of Finance publishes all budget allocations to each sector up to the lowest level, on its website. In the past, they used to buy expensive newspaper pullouts to publish this information but now they have a solo ‘budget website’ on which this information is published, always on time even before the budget is read to parliament (check budget.go.ug). The Budget Framework Paper, as well as Ministerial Policy Statements, have information on how much goes to each agency, even salaries of each employee and their names (that’s how you came to know that people in State House earn millions when then Minister of the Presidency Frank Tumwebaze a year or so ago presented a Ministerial Policy Statement to Parliament that had errors). The problem is that most Ugandans do not read these public documents. I will confess that I also read them probably because as a researcher, that’s what I do for a living. Also important to note of course is that Transparency and Accountability are two different things. You can be transparent but not accountable! This is true  especially where the public never critiques or ask questions of these publications. That’s where the problem is. Has anyone really ever asked what these agencies, commissions, authorities, bureaus, etc, DO in reality? I want to see their monthly, quarterly, and annual work plans costed against their budget allocations.  I want to see the job descriptions of their staff, and their performance appraisals. I want to know!

Just by looking at the 2017/2018 Budget and related documents on the internet this morning, I have a list here of   agencies, many of whose mandates are already covered in existing institutions that for some of them, the president, if he so wishes can scrap immediately and there wouldn’t be even the slightest bump in government running. Many of the staff here earn millions, have offices in upscale city neighbourhoods renting real estate office space to the tune of billions, have complex ‘organisational structures’ with multiple useless ‘technical’ positions and boards of directors, that for a poor country like Uganda, it is ridiculous that we run a country like this. Some of us have written about this for years, without anyone paying attention. The president, while late to the party, should be commended for finally seeing this egregious example of public sector mismanagement.

Here are some of the agencies which in my opinion needs a review, or at least those at their helm should tell the public what they do and what they contribute to public management and for some, frankly, why they should continue existing:

Sector:  Trade, Industry and Cooperatives

  • Uganda Development Corporation (UDC)
  • Uganda Exports Promotion Board (UEPB)
  • Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI)
  • Uganda Ware House Receipt System Authority (UWRSA)
  • Management Training and Advisory Centre (MTAC)
  • Uganda National Bureau Of Standards (UNBS)

Sector: Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF)

  • Diary Development Authority (DDA)
  • Cotton Development Organisation (CDO)
  • Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA)
  • Plan For Modernisation of Agriculture Secretariat
  • National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS)

Sector: Health

  • National Medical Stores – Important, but can improve its workings
  • National Drug Authority
  • Uganda National Health Research Organisation
  • Health Service Commission
  • Drug Monitoring Unit, Office of the President  (If the Ministry was doing its job, this wouldn’t need to exist.

Sector: Finance, Planning and Economic Development

  • Insurance Regulatory Authorityof Uganda
  • Financial Intelligence Authority
  • National Planning Authority
  • The Privatisation Unit – rebranded Uganda Government Public Enterprise Reform & Divestiture Program (PERDS) – Now why do we still have this one??!
  • Uganda Micro-finance Regulatory Authority (UMFRA)
  • Micro Finance Support Centre (MFSC)

Sector: Energy

  • Rural Electrification Agency (REA
  • Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA)
  • Directorate of Petroleum, Ministry of Energy
  • UgandaNational Petroleum Authority

Then there are ‘companies’ – private I get it, but still curious

  • Uganda Electricity Transmission Company ltd (UECTL)
  • Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL)
  • Uganda Electricity Generation Company limited (UEGCL)

Others that need review

  • Local Government Finance Commission (LGFC)
  • Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB)
  • National Identification Registration Authority (NIRA)
  • Uganda Revenue Authority (URA)
  • Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA)
  • Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA)
  • Uganda Road Fund

Uganda Retirements Benefits Regulatory Authority (URBRA)

  • Recommendations

I wouldn’t be surprised that most of you reading this have never heard of some of these agencies.

Just to remind you once again, I did wrote this morning from 6am, to 8am, so there are possibly many other outfits in several sectors that I haven’t been able to remember, which, with more time I would have mentioned. The government is more blotted than most people think. Some are obscure and don’t even have website or any online trace so, for those there is no way I would have found them as I have mostly used internet search to get these ones.

What the president should do

The president should not entrust responsibility of reviewing mandates of these Authorities, Agencies, Bureaus, with a government insider such as a minister as these will likely have conflict of interests and will easily be lobbied by these hungry, sometimes ruthless holders of these offices for fair reviews and protection of their jobs. Rather the president should entrust this responsibility to the Auditor General, and hire an independent public management specialist to work with him, to do an independent audit of these institutions to determine not just whether the money they are allocated is worth it but what role they play in the government ecosystem and whether it’s worthwhile to continue having them, or whether some need whittled down mandates and reduction of staff and bureaucrats at their helm, or whether some need to be merged or put their roles reallocated to traditional departments and directorates in ministries.

Legal limbo

Many of these have been put in place by acts of parliament and/ or statues and are enshrined into law, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be reviewed. Parliament should therefore be part of this process, either playing an advisory role, or part of development of Terms of Reference for the independent reviewer.

The review should compel these outfits to detail what they do on a daily basis, what their competences are by technical expertise and experience, ask them to submit reports on their achievements, and value addition to the mandate of their sectors, etc. Push them hard like they do to us in the private sector. These guys are after all swimming in public finances, which are miserably inadequate.

In part 2, I will look at State House and the presidency itself as it is not immune from this waste either. I wanted to commend the president for now, as he has done a commendable thing with this circular. We will look at his own turf later but for now, every one that understands public policy should thank the president for this move.

Contact bernardsabiti@gmail.com  or 0782658042 for any questions

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