President Museveni on Tuesday did what a “Magufuli” would do to negligent ministers and technocrats, in a remorseless purge of corruption, laziness and laxity in public service- a critical issue that has stalled service delivery and plagued his government.
A tough-taking President fanned tension at a Cabinet retreat in Kampala when he demanded accountability from the ministers, permanent secretaries, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) and Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs).
Some officials, including ministers, stammered through answers on lack of monitoring yet others struggled to pass the blame to other departments as the President sought “convincing explanation” for the continued poor service delivery, poverty, high electricity prices and corruption, particularly in government departments.
Trouble started after Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere, the minister of General Duties, gave the highlights of a two-day Cabinet retreat, detailing inaction and “persistent poor performance” on the part of the various sectors of the economy.
For instance, the Cabinet retreat observed that 95 per cent of schools are not inspected, low staffing levels in local governments, encroachment and degradation of wetlands, illegal land evictions in the country, high maternal mortality rate, congestion in prisons and theft of government drugs.
As a commander-in-chief, Mr Museveni said he makes surprise visits to barracks without necessarily seeking the permission of the Chief of Defence Forces and wondered why ministries and other government agencies were reluctant to monitor service delivery in the country.
“You cannot delegate corruption, everything you delegate you are responsible. The centre must check on local governments,” Mr Museveni said.
The President wondered why he spent few hours with the people during the just-concluded 2016 presidential campaigns and effectively picked the issues affecting the people particularly in the countryside, yet the RDCs, the CAOs, the permanent secretaries and ministers are oblivious.
“When you go upcountry, you find a lot of unrealistic expectations yet we have RDCs and CAOs. They don’t communicate what is unrealistic, they just keep quiet,” Mr Museveni complained, before he asked: “Do we have RDCs here? Can one of them stand up and I see how they look like?”
He said in the past, RDCs were special district administrators and that over the years, they have become “ordinary” because they don’t talk, they don’t inspect government programmes, “yet they should be informers to the public guided by the command centres- the OPM [Office of the Prime Minister] and presidency”.
Addressing the dangers of “poverty conservation project,” Mr Museveni noted that it’s unacceptable to have 68 per cent of homesteads under subsistence farming.
“Somebody harvests either a sugar cane or an egg and goes to church to thank God after one year and they do this very happily. They think they are already in heaven yet they are busy conserving poverty,” Mr Museveni said.
As a solution to poverty conservation, Mr Museveni said, he had wanted to introduce a new law on “commercial farming and ending land fragmentation” but he dropped the idea because he never wanted to cause controversy and resorted to sensitisation of the people on the dangers of subsistence farming and dividing land.
On lack of supervision, the President changed tone, toughened a bit and called officials one-by-one in front to explain their inability to monitor government programmes. He started with the health docket, observing that “the ministry is not working”.
“Where is the director general of health services? Dr Ruth Aceng where is she?” There was silence in the room before the President went on: “They have boycotted inspection, everywhere people are complaining. The Medicines and Health Service Delivery Monitoring Unit at State House arrests people and they are released by courts. The courts even order that the criminals are compensated for unlawful arrest.”
“That we should not inconvenience thieves who steal government drugs! And this is happening in the Republic of Uganda. Uganda is God-fearing country with 96 per cent either Christians or Muslims but can easily become a Sodom and Gomorrah if we continue like this.”
Since Dr Aceng was not present, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda asked the Health permanent secretary (PS), Dr Asuman Lukwago, to explain what is going on. The PS attempted to blame ineffective supervision and delegation of ministry roles to local governments but the President said: “Don’t tell me about delegation, why can’t you arrest the suspects and those who have failed to supervise [the drugs]?”
On education, the President said district education officers have refused to inspect schools yet they are paid a salary to do the job.
“You find children under mango trees playing because there are no teachers. Children from private schools perform well because schools are inspected. Our inspectors are paid but they are a problem,” Mr Museveni said.
“You said it’s a retreat, is the PS for Education here? Where is Dr Nassali Lukwago? Okay [Jessica] Alupo come and explain… and the rats in Kyenjojo ate a whole school. Have you heard about it?”
Mr Museveni also thought to know whether ministry of Education officials had colluded with Dr Kizza Besigye to stay home.
The minister explained: “As a ministry, we are part of the retreat, we were invited and my PS is around and the head of planning even today [Tuesday] morning saw them.”
But the President asked: “Why are they not inspecting schools?” Ms Alupo said, the ministry allocates resources to local governments for inspection, but “the question we have always asked is why the money we sent is not used”.
Then Mr Museveni asked: “But who is the national quality controller of education, it can’t be the local government. Do you still have anything useful to say?”
Alupo kept quiet and responded: “We have taken your guidance and we are going to improve.”
In his parting shot, Museveni said: “I am glad the PM invited me so that I can give you limited quarrel because of some actors. Please ensure corrective measures to eliminate the bottlenecks that jeopardise progress. With those few quarrels I officially close the retreat.”