Civil servants must up their game to improve our investment climate

Tuesday January 6 2015

By Gideon Badagawa

Uganda has continued to slip on the competitiveness scale – not for lack of resources to execute reforms but more for the lack of commitment and will by the persons behind these reforms – the civil servants. Countries in the region are improving their investment climate because they have had to change their style of work. Leaders and civil servants have woken up to the reality that it takes commitment to compete.

In Uganda, we are still grappling with very obvious barriers to competitiveness which should have been addressed a long time ago. Why should it continue to take so long to register property, start a business, connect electricity, secure a trade license, a construction permit, pay taxes and move goods across borders? The answer lies in the mindset of our civil servants. Many of these have constituted themselves into another big barrier to investment and growth.

Change required
The civil service must change their work culture and wake up to the reality that all counties in the region and far beyond are competing for much the same investors like we do. Everyone must know that while we promote EAC as a single investment destination and while we tell all these investors about the huge market opportunities in Eastern Africa, each of our countries is a sovereign state with citizens yearning for jobs, and governments seeking to build exports and stabilise their macro-economies through increased market supplies.

Civil servants must know that the answer to all this lies in facilitating investments both local and foreign. Countries that have developed or positioned themselves on a steady growth path have gone this route.

The President recently launched the civil service college and public service reforms have previously been drafted. The private sector wants to see change happen in the way the public sector handles our businesses and investments. Benchmarks should be set, clear targets and deliverables agreed with timeframes, if Uganda is to ride with the violent competitiveness tides.

Civil servants must have performance contracts i.e only renewable on satisfactory performance. Government must run business like the private sector does. Short of this, we are headed for doom as a country. Our children are graduating with no jobs, exchange rate is depreciating due to limited capacity to export and our tax base has remained dismal. Uganda must wake up to these realities.

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Reasons for high business costs
The high cost of doing business in Uganda is precipitated by among others, the high level of corruption, poor ethics and errant work culture in the public service. The flaws in procurement and contracting for energy and other infrastructures have made projects extremely unviable.

Unfortunately, investors pay for this inefficiency as they produce to compete!! You cannot compete this way!!

The writer is the executive director at Private Sector Foundation Uganda.

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