On May 8 The Observer had a headline, “President Museveni blasts ministers over Bobi Wine”.
The newspaper reported that on April 29, as the President chaired a Cabinet meeting at State House Entebbe, he allegedly scolded some of his ministers by asking “what importance are the ministers to the President if they can allow an ambitious young man to attack him, especially since becoming MP for Kyadondo East and later showing interest in running for President”.
Although the President’s question to his ministers is understandable, it seems to have left some people wondering what exactly are the roles and duties of a Cabinet minister.
According to the 1995 Constitution, the roles, duties and functions of a Cabinet minister includes formulation of policies and administration of their ministries/departments; collective responsibilities to participate fully in Cabinet decision making processes and defending government’s actions and policies.
The assumptions are that since different policies are normally made in the interest of citizens and implemented through the Legislature, therefore, ministers are directly accountable not only to the appointing authority but also to Parliament as well as the public.
However, difficulties seem to arise when ministers are expected to defend complicated politically charged actions of government against the public or Opposition politicians. Several issues and actions against human rights, constitutions rights and freedom of speech can become difficult for Cabinet ministers to defend during their term in office knowing fully well that after their political tenure ends, organisations such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) might come looking for them.
It is, therefore, not surprising that cracks may be emerging between Cabinet ministers and the appointing authority over which side of history they would eventually want to fall.
The said National Resistance Movement (NRM) ministers are caught between a rock and a hard place. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about what should be done to avoid confrontations and political violence in dealing with the Opposition.
In an ideal world, the public would expect ministers to speak against any wrongdoing by government. However, in order to maintain their jobs, ministers must seem to support government actions, regardless of who it is for or against.
Less than two years to the 2021 general elections, and the political environment seems to be changing dramatically. The level of public interest and awareness is also changing with heightened attention in regards to government actions relating to any form of violence and unfair treatment at the hands of security forces.
Therefore, faced with the possibilities of going the ICC on one hand and maintaining a good relationship with the public on the other, Cabinet ministers are in a dilemma.
It is possible that some ministers have over the years amassed significant wealth for themselves that guarantees them a comfortable life away from politics. Therefore, some ministers may no longer be interested in holding political offices. If this observation is true then that would mean potentially difficulties times ahead for the NRM government.
It remains to be seen if the NRM government will change tactics and become a proactive party or if the political environment will unnerve government into a predictable defensive position.
Ms Victoria Nyeko is a media commentator.