KYANKWANZI. Government is plotting to downsize the civil service in what President Museveni has proposed will help save money to improve on service delivery, this newspaper can reveal.
The President has subsequently tasked former Finance minister Dr Ezra Suruma to lead a study on the bloated public service and associated wage bill and recommend appropriate actions for the government to take.
One of the solutions Mr Museveni proposed, according to a source that attended the Cabinet retreat that ended in Kyankwanzi last night, is to reduce the number of civil servants.
Discussions at the closed-door meeting were grainy, another source said, after permanent secretaries demanded for a pay rise saying the Shs3 million salary they get is inadequate yet they hold and account for budgets running into trillions of shillings.
The President, who has dubbed his new tenure as “Kisanja hakuna mchezo”, meaning a term of not playing games, reportedly rejected the higher salary demand and instead proposed that the wage bill is already unsustainable and the numbers of civil servants be slashed. This, he argued, will enable savings to achieve social economic transformation. Mr Museveni has promised that Uganda, under him, will leap into a middle income country by 2020, although the national Planning Authority and Justice Minister Kahinda Otafiire separately expressed reservations.
At the Kyankwanzi meeting, the President reportedly informed the permanent secretaries that increasing their pay alone would demoralise their subordinates and that in the past, he rejected similar requests for the same reasons.
Uganda last undertook a massive retrenchment in 1992 under Bretton Wood institutions-enforced Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) as a pre-condition continued funding and debt relief. The proposed downsising of government workers, coming months after an election which the Opposition says was rigged, could likely render the exercise to claims of political witch-hunt.
At the Cabinet retreat, ministers also agreed to amend the Land Act to provide for compulsory acquisition of land for investment purposes. The law currently allows the government to compulsorily acquire land for public works, but after compensation.
Under the proposed amendments to current legal framework, sources told Daily Monitor that some ministers were pushing for expeditious amendment to the Land (Amendment) Act to stop illegal land evictions and provide for compulsory acquisition of land for investment purposes and job creation.
The proposed amendments to the Land Act are contained in the draft resolutions of the Cabinet shared with journalists by Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre. It reads: “[The] government shall propose expeditious amendment of Land Act and other relevant laws to enable government acquire land for timely implementation of public works.”
If President Museveni and his ministers get Parliament’s nod on a matter so emotive in the country, some ministers warned that compulsory acquisition of land without compensating owners is likely to cause “public discontent” in the country.
Shadow attorney general Wilfred Niwagaba reacted with consternation, describing the government plan as a plot to grab land under the cover of investment and job creation. “In acquisition of land for public works, government must follow the Constitution,” Mr Niwagaba said.
The proposed amendments follow refusal by communities, in some cases, to surrender ancestral land to government-sourced investors. The most outstanding was the contested attempt to take land in the northern Amuru District for sugarcane plantation.
Sources at the Cabinet retreat in Kyankwanzi told Daily Monitor that ministers, permanent secretaries and members of NRM’s Central Executive Committee supported the proposal on land and tasked Lands Minister, Ms Betty Amongi, to work with the Attorney General’s Chambers to expedite the draft bill for Parliament’s consideration.
The retreat also resolved “to deal firmly with lawlessness and rioters”, particularly in urban areas, to security of persons and their property. There is a nation-wide criticism of police’s excessive use of force particularly when handling Opposition supporters, and it was not immediately clear what the new call by the political executives for a firmer action would translate into for those carrying out orders in the field.
To eliminate delays and corruption in procurement, Cabinet also resolved to amend the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) Act. They also authorised Internal Security Organisation to work with the Ombudsman, Auditor General and other anti-corruption agencies to step up the fight against the vice.
To speed up investment and job creation in the country, Cabinet resolved to reinstate tax holidays to investors. The government contracts will also be studied by the Office of the Prime Minister and NRM secretariat to ensure that jobs go to local entrepreneurs. Because government is implementing NRM’s 2016-2021 manifesto, Cabinet authorised the party secretary general, Ms Justine Kasule Lumumba, to demand for accountability from government departments particularly in the implementations.
By press time the President and the ministers were still discussing the resolutions.
In July, this year, particulars of about 5,000 civil servants were deleted from the payroll in a questionable clean up exercise. There are currently some 300,000 employed, with an additional 10,830 pending validation, according to the Public Service ministry records. These exclude Foreign Service officers, administrative attachés, and officers on study leave abroad.s