The plan to merge or revert government agencies to parent ministries, which was drummed up about a year ago and the government said it had been agreed at Cabinet level, has been put on hold.
The plan is back on the table for a rethink by Cabinet.
The plan was approved on September 10 last year during a Cabinet meeting chaired by President Museveni.
The proposed merger was part of a mega reorganisation plan aimed at, among other things, realigning functions of agencies and preventing duplication of roles and waste of public funds.
The responsibility to implement the plan was then placed under the ministry of Public Service, Mr Jim Mugunga, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance, says.
“That (rationalisation) was a decision of Cabinet. It is being implemented by the Ministry of Public Service. Anything that you want to do with rationalisation, including the cost implications will be provided by the Ministry of Public Service,” Mr Mugunga said.
Asked about progress on the matter, Mr Wilson Muruli Mukasa, the minister of Public Service, said: “Some of these agencies were established by Acts of Parliament. To scrap them you need to go back to Parliament and have the laws repealed. Others have accumulated debts. You cannot just scrap them (without paying the debts). Those who will be laid off need to be paid. If you don’t pay them they will take you to court. So Cabinet is still studying the matter. Once it is done, it will come up with a report.”
Cabinet had agreed last September to only preserve Kampala Capital City Authority, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and the National Medical Stores (NMS) but disband, merge or transfer up to 60 other such agencies back to parent ministries.
It was agreed, for instance, that the National Registration Services Bureau would revert to the Ministry of Justice. The Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra), Uganda Road Fund (URF) and Transport Licensing Board (TLB) were to revert to the mother Ministry, Works, Transport and Communication.
Under the arrangement, the electricity generation, transmission and distribution companies, and the Rural Electrification Agency were to be merged into a single entity; while the Lotteries and Gaming Regulatory Board and Departed Asians Properties Custodian Board were to be placed under the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.
The National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads), the Uganda Trypanosomiasis Control Council (UTCC), Dairy Development Authority (DDA), Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and Cotton Development Organisation (CDO) were to be sent back to the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.
The National Identification and Registration Authority (Nira) and the NGO Bureau were to be downgraded and placed under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while the National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U) was to be placed under the Ministry of Information Communication Technology and National Guidance.
The Uganda Land Commission was to be sent back to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, while the Uganda Aids Commission and Uganda Blood Transfusion Services were to be sent back to the Ministry of Health.
The plan came into being after Internal Security Organisation (ISO), responding to an earlier demand by President Museveni for information on how much government ministries and agencies were spending, submitted a report on November 25 that year, which revealed that a lot of money was being spent on duplicated or overlapping functions between main ministries and agencies.
ISO recommended reforms by way of abolishing and merging agencies with overlapping roles with a few of cutting down on wasteful expenditure and using the savings for other purposes, including the enhancement of civil servants’ salaries.
The agencies in question account for 37 per cent of government’s wage bill. Scrapping them would save government close to Shs1 trillion a year in salaries.
It is estimated that at least 10,000 people would be affected by the reorganisation. The National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADs), for example, has at least 10 officials in each of the Districts of Uganda, while the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) employs close to 2,000 people also strewn in the various wildlife sanctuaries across the country. The Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) employs nearly 1,500 people.
Mr Museveni, subsequent to the findings by ISO, directed the Ministers of Finance, Public Service and the Presidency, the Chairman of the National Planning Authority (NPA) and the Secretary to the Cabinet to table before a Cabinet and before the end of that year, a plan on how the MDAs could be merged.
Some Members of Parliament led by the Deputy Chairperson of the NRM Caucus, Mr Solomon Silwanyi, also weighed in with a report on how the mergers would be effected. They also issued government with a 30-day ultimatum to affect their plan.
During a discussion on rationalisation of the government agencies organised by Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung on December 4, 2018, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Public Service, Ms Catherine Musingwire, revealed that the exercise was to be conducted in a phased manner over a three-year period.
“Cabinet approved the plan to rationalise, but it is still in the process of working out how the rationalisation will be done,” she said at the time.
Intense lobbying by employees of the agencies that were to be effected then ensued, and other influential players, including representatives of donor agencies and countries, weighed in. Sources say that the import of the lobbying was to forestall the impending phased-implementation of the rationalisation process, which government sources say was meant to start this financial year. The plans for the financial year are already in force following the presentation of the budget last month, however, and there has been no movement towards implementing the rationalisation process.
Mr Muruli Mukasa would not be drawn into discussing how much pressure donors have mounted on government to go slow on the exercise, but some sources within government told this newspaper that some donors had also expressed reservations about continuing to fund some agencies if they revert to their parent ministries, especially given the huge budgets that they run.
“Some organisations are quite unique in their operations, they are largely funded by donors and therefore have budgets that are almost five times bigger than those of the mother ministries. Their operations would be curtailed by the controls in the ministries,” a source said.
Sources close to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), for instance, revealed that some conservation agencies, including the World Conservation Agency and Space for Giants, met the President and indicated that some activities of UWA require urgent funding and cannot therefore be subjected to the bureaucracies surrounding appropriations in government.
“It was in part due to this observation by the donors that the Ministry of Finance recently allowed some government agencies to spend money at source,” the source revealed.
On June 27, Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the Permanent Secretary at the ministry of Finance and Secretary to the Treasury, wrote to all referral hospitals, some tertiary institutions, some public enterprises and corporations and local governments, freeing them from remitting through the Uganda Revenue Authority, all locally generated revenue to the Consolidated Fund.
The policy directive provided for under the Public Finance Management Act, 2015, was aimed at ensuring transparency in the collection and expenditure of public resources, but according to Mr Muhakanizi’s letter, the selected group of institutions were exempted from following the law because of what he termed as “the complex nature of their operations and existing nature of revenue collection.” Minister Muruli Mukasa, however, insisted that the plan to rationalise the agencies was still on course. “What is important is that we are still on course. We (government) gave ourselves two to three years within which to achieve that. We are still within our time,” the minister said.