While emphasising the real power centre at KCCA during a tour of its projects, President Museveni comically stated that Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago was just a man moving around in robes, chains and padlocks (sic).
He said the position had been ‘diluted’ and the real authority was with Lukwago’s nemesis - executive director Jennifer Musisi, as if he was oblivious of the fact that the Lord Mayor is in charge of the political arm while the executive director heads the implementation of policy. This has been the source of an endless fight between the two.
If observers did not see any significance in this, they did not have to wait for long. This time it was at the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb). The time of the executive secretary Mathew Bukenya tending to his 80s and after 16 years in office, is up by contract.
His nemesis Fagil Mandy, the chairman of the board which appoints the executive secretary, goes to remind him to vacate office. The executive secretary literally tells him to go to hell and ‘reminds’ him that he did not appoint him. Then members of the Very Important People Protection Unit of the police deploy to protect someone apparently holding office ‘illegally’.
Next, Mr Mandy receives a copy of a letter extending the executive secretary’s contract from the President. The minister directs the board to approve the extension and Mandy resigns with egg on his face because everything has been done contrary to normal procedure.
This is the tale of dilution.
It all begins by the appointment of individuals in the formal structure. Then a parallel body is set up or individuals are identified and bequeathed with special powers and instruction meant to undermine and disorganise the formal structure.
The latter is given all the powers and protection. Their contribution is glorified as being the most significant and vital to the institution while ignoring or belittling the formal structure.
It may be taken to other levels between different arms of government. When the Judiciary takes a decision that is unacceptable to the Executive, like it granted bail to the rebel suspects in 2005, police come in to re-arrest the suspects.
The President then praises the police and ignores the pleas of the Judiciary. With all the institutions in place, from the Lands ministry to the land boards, etc., the President still gives powers to a minister to deal with land matters.
She overrules court decisions with impunity and life goes on. (No wonder the IGG has decided it will not deal with land disputes any more just to steer clear of embarrassing fights that expose individuals and institutions as having power without authority.)
Soon the smarter people in institutions of government recognise that being on the board, a director, commissioner, even a judge or army commander is at the behest of the President.
For the sake of comfortable tenure, they quietly second-guess the President and go according to what they think is his wish. They can thus stay in office and pay school fees for their children while carrying out the President’s wishes.
This has been the mode of operation of President Museveni’s 28 years in power. He has used this method to consolidate his power while emasculating institutions of State.
When seeking a service, it makes matters easier if you know someone who knows someone who knows the one who has the President’s favour and blessings in an institution.
If you take the straight text book lines written in the Constitution, you end up sitting where the Lukwagos and Mandys find themselves. That is among angry glorified men with ‘diluted’ ineffective powers.
That is how the President keeps his tab on everything.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.