Monday February 24 2014

To transform communities, the public sector must change first

By Pascal Odoch

Upon completing my Bachelor degree at Makerere University in 1989, I was employed as Organisation and Methods Officer in the Ministry of Public Service and Cabinet Affairs. I was at once seconded to the 1990 World Bank-Government of Uganda Civil Service Reform Programme that led to restructuring the government as we know it.

The public sector workforce, to me, is the source of the constraints to achieving rapid transformation in Uganda’s society as envisioned by President Museveni at his swearing-in ceremony in 1986. Years, later, the lean public service workforce level that the project designed, was increased as ministries, departments and agencies were mysteriously expanded.
Had it stayed at the 1990 levels, we would not have had the glaring weaknesses in the current public sector workforce and the corruption that is witnessed every passing day.

Any government in power becomes popular on account of its quality of service delivery to the very people that votes it into government. However much the President had wished to transform the Ugandan society as he had committed to doing at the start in 1986, the constraint then and now remains the ideologically un-aligned public sector workforce.

The public sector workers, in essence, do not hire President Museveni; the peasants do, if the elections results are anything to go by. In being permanent and pensionable, the public sector workers are not aligned to the body politic and rhetoric of fundamental change, unlike the elected leaders who renew their contracts every five years with the people. To expect the same people who worked under Obote I (move to the Left) to Idi Amin’s rule by decree, to the short-lived Lule administration to Binaisa’s umbrella government, and later Obote II’s Window One and Two policies, to the military j unta, and later Mr Museveni’s fundamental change, to deliver on the President’s commitment, is being overzealous.

This is where the problem is. Through the successive regime changes, the so-called permanent and pensionable civil service has merely been changing jackets but are ideologically stuck in their past. For President Museveni who renews his social contract, mutually, every five years with the people, also requires a civil service that renews its contract, just like the masses do. This is the negative reality in the new Uganda under the multi-party political dispensation.

During the exposure group tour of western Uganda by the then West Nile region politicians in 2007, at which we toured President Museveni’s livestock farm and the nearly four-acre plot of intensive farming in Masaka, among others, a certain NRM faithful West Nile district chairperson, in moving a vote of thanks to the President and the First Lady on behalf of the entire West Nile region political leaders, requested the President to allow us to “rush back home” to seriously mobilise the population for socio-economic transformation. The Chairperson cited several issues in his speech; from bee hives, fruit trees, to potato vines, etc.

Years later, I have never heard nor seen that very politician as having a mere bee hive near his homestead! But on reflection, I realised that the LC5 chairperson committed himself to carrying out mobilisation of the people, forgetting that the people from whom he would need the car and fuel etc, were the civil servants who are stuck in the past and bent on following the rules to allow the chairperson access funds and any manner of facilitation to carry out his promise.

This is where the realities confronting the people we expect to turn around our peasants and transform them to a modern industrial society, come 2040!

Dr Odoch is a development consultant.