There is the tendency in Uganda for people to point fingers and say “those people at the centre.” You will recall, with all its weaknesses Uganda’s decentralised system was the best system ever. I am meant to understand that other countries in our neighbourhood have actually borrowed our perfect on paper decentralised system. The decentralised system was genuinely giving planning responsibility to come all the way from the grassroots to the centre – a bottom up approach. And I remember Uganda was celebrated. That time even civil society organisations were organised. It was like a village council will first plan, then it is taken to sub-county, then it is taken to the district, and from the district is where it is brought to the centre. But in the current system, the district administrations have been thoroughly disempowered – through taxation first of all. The removal of graduated tax and the insistence of the Government of Uganda (GoU) to use indirect taxes is a problem, because the indirect taxes are not felt by the general population.
When the taxes are collected at the centre by Uganda Revenue Authority and then the revenue is released piece meal to the districts, with certain strings attached – which may not be visible, some of them are invisible strings - the districts have collapsed. The reason that Mulago is flooded is because the regional referral hospitals are non-existent. In Pallisa Regional Referral Hospital the responsibility for it if you ask the district, the district does not have the resources, because the planning has been brought back to the centre. We need to go back to the genuine decentralised system. The current system does not work. The Local Councillors (LCs) have been there for a long time – LC elections have not been held for decades and therefore you do not have a genuine people’s representative in the local government. We need to go back to the original decentralised system so that the planning is a little more responsive to the people’s needs. You asked about Karamoja. You see all those plans which they are taking to Karamoja which are completely incompatible with the way of life of Karamoja – disruptive plans. The Karimojong are semi-nomadic pastoralists. Your whole business of plant one acre of oranges, plant one acre of potatoes and plant I don’t know what, does not work in Karamoja. In Karamoja it is inbuilt in their way of life that they have to be mobile. The animals have to move. Karamoja became food insecure once the nation-sate Uganda was established and their way of life was interrupted by taking away their land. A chunk of the Karimojong land was removed and reserved as national parks. This is exactly a similar situation as the President is handling in Kasese – how do communities co-exist with national parks. In Karamoja it is the biggest problem. Their land is taken away for national parks.
The biggest challenge that we face, first, we have the governance problem which we have already discussed – how decisions are being made. But the second most damaging to the nation-state Uganda that has happened during the 30 years of President Museveni is the weakening of the civil service. President Museveni has been in power, but he has failed to find a way in which we have a strong civil service. And that is why you end up with those situations of the minister who boxed the journalist being too involved in how resources are being allocated. The most powerful, most educated, most elevated, and my father was one of them, in the civil service should be the permanent secretary. The permanent secretary’s voice in all ministries right now is not as strong as it used to be and it should be made stronger. Now you have a situation in which political appointees, some with questionable papers, are appointed ministers and they want to make technical decisions for which they do not have the expertise. A strong civil service is how nations like Singapore, like Rwanda are doing well, because the people who are running the civil service are not just anybody there whom you just bring and put. We need to review the civil service. It is important that the civil service is strong. Permanent secretaries must be given their voice. Ministries are not supposed to be politicised. Look at the United Kingdom (UK). In the UK, people are advocating for the Prime Minister to resign because of the Panama Papers, but UK government will continue to run because its civil service is strong. But if for us, for God sake, we have a situation where our main man is no longer there we will run into total confusion. Why, because the current civil service of Uganda is not strong enough and that is where we have the disasters.
These are the views that I shared on Monday, 11th April 2016, during the discussion on the radio programme “Spectrum” on Radio One FM90 The discussion focused on the responsiveness of the Government of Uganda to national challenges. It highlighted the case of the crisis at the Uganda cancer institute and other health facilities. It explored how resources are allocated and if there is proper planning. The moderator, Bishop Edmond Kizito asked:
"Would we be better off splitting the planning function away from Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and have a separate ministry for planning, like they have in Kenya?"
The guests were Mr. Robert Kirunda - Lecturer at the Faculty of Law Makerere University Kampala, also a pundit on social, human rights and political matters; Ms. Norah Owaraga: Managing Director at CPAR Uganda Ltd, founding member of Kigo Thinkers and also a cultural anthropologist; and Engineer Raymond Kamugisha Akankwasa who works at the office of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Chairman, also President of Uganda, His Excellency President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
By Norah Owaraga, Managing Director, CPAR Uganda Ltd