Special interest groups up in arms over impending mergers

Yona Waswa the Chairperson of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities. Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

Ministers from the public service ministry say they are ready to introduce the merger bill in parliament this week after Cabinet approved the merger proposal

A government initiative to merge youth, children, persons with disabilities, and women councils has faced opposition from different special interest groups. In addition, they oppose the merger of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Uganda Human Rights Commission into one entity, arguing that they were both established by the constitution and that their merger could only be decided through a referendum.

Ministers from the public service ministry say they are ready to introduce the merger bill in parliament this week after Cabinet approved the merger proposal.

Nevertheless, the special interest groups are angry with the proposal and have vowed to reject it in its entirety. They claim that the merger will create more problems than solve them.

During the press briefing, the leaders of youth, women, PWD elders, and children’s councils expressed their opposition to the proposed merger.

The Chairperson of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, Yona Waswa, said Uganda has been benchmarked in disability-related matters as one of the countries to learn about how the government structures, programmes and legislates disability, and this is a significant achievement.

"By merging these councils the government is watering down its achievements rather than consolidating," he said.

"Most of the government projects are promoting inclusive growth and this cannot be achieved if you have disintegrated and excluded the social structure which these councils are doing," he added.

In a joint press statement issued, the special interest groups argued that the councils for youth, women, children, PWDS, and older persons were created because of the historical realisation that was characterized by marginalization and discrimination of the special interest groups.

“In our opinion, the challenges and reasons that led to the creation of the councils still exist,” the members said.

The special interest groups also say that by merging the Equal Opportunities Commission with the Uganda Human Rights Commission and repealing Article 32 of the Constitution, the government is shooting itself in the foot.

“The repeal of Article 32 of the Constitution and the merger of the Councils will have a far-reaching effect on the representation of Special Interest Groups in Parliament and Local Government Councils. This is the beginning by the Government to remove the representation of Special Interest Groups, something that we reject and (are) opposed to,” they said.

While Jacob Eyeru, chairman of the Notational Youth Council, supports the rationalisation policy for reasons such as reducing duplication and saving resources, he rejects the idea of merging everything.

"Councils for special interest groups such as youth, women, Persons With Disabilities and older persons are politically elected leaders and they have a five-year mandate which if we compromise this year changes in their mandate and this will affect the people they are representing," he said.

Mr Eyeru added that these councils were created because of historical realisation that was characterized by marginalisation and discrimination.

“We insist that the above-mentioned issues require special attention and needs and therefore they cannot have one centre. The person with disabilities cannot go to the same Executive Secretary that in the next few minutes, the Youths or Elders are coming to" he said.

The world is aligning itself to ensure special interest groups are catered to separately, since special interests can only be achieved by special attention, which cannot come together when there is only one secretariat.

"If the government is targeting to reduce expenditures the bodies lined up for merging are among the entities which take little amount of money compared to what the government spends in donations in certain offices in this country," he said.

“The EOC and the UHRC are constitutional bodies with mandates that were agreed upon by Ugandans as reported by the Odoki Commission. EOC and UHRC were created because of the demand by the citizens of Uganda arising from the country's history of marginalization and discrimination. Parliament cannot amend and repeal these Commissions without consulting Ugandans through a referendum,” they said.

Support for the merger

Mariam Wangadya, chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission, said in an interview with Monitor yesterday that the Commission is ready for a merger, and whatever the EOC does is human rights work only if there is a specialised entity to ensure equality.

"Equality is the bill of rights which can be enforced by UHRC because we enforce the entire bill of rights,” she said

She added that the commission will comply with whatever the government and Parliament decide and we do not wish to be an obstacle to the government policy we believe is well intended.

The Spokesperson of Uganda Wildlife Authority Bashir Wangi said that they work as government structures and they are waiting for the commencement of the merger.

"We were created by the government and other entities are also under the government and if there is a need to merge some entities we have no objections to that," he said.

Mr Bashir added that UWA is ready to work with the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre because they are both government entities.

Minister speaks out

The Ministry of Public Service has however warned that those opposing the merger are fighting a losing battle because the government will not yield to their opposition.

Mary Mugasa, the state minister of public service ministry said those opposed are greedy and selfish people who are only thinking about their stomachs.

“For them, they are focused on money and selfishness. They are not focusing on service delivery but on money. Some of them have even gone to the extent of abusing this system and they have overstretched the government's patience,” she said.

These mergers and transfers should not be a cause for concern. Government created these agencies, so it is the government that decides otherwise. I don't know why people think they are bigger than the government. Government employees don't have to argue with the government. It is forbidden under the Code of Conduct, so let them stay calm and concentrate on what they are doing while they wait to be transferred or merged," she explained.

Ready to roll

According to Mugasa, the ministry only needs the finance ministry's certificate of financial implication to present at least 30 bills to parliament.

"Since there are now 30 bills, each sector will have to obtain a certificate of financial implication this week. As soon as we receive those certificates, even if it's tomorrow, we can begin," she explained.