Dr Atwine: Profile of a troubled star wobbling in galaxy of failed regime 

Author, Gawaya Tegulle. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • ‘‘Profiteering of the regime functionaries has come at the expense of the common man”

Fact: the coronavirus response in Uganda has been badly messed up – what other conclusion would you draw, looking at the body count enjoying upward mobility?
Fact: trillions have been sank into the corona response – and there is hardly anything to show for it. Fact: monies have been used, misused and abused. Fact: regime functionaries have enjoyed themselves immensely in this pandemic, with lots of limelight to make political capital and, more importantly, they’ve had lots of money at their disposal. 

Fact: the profiteering of the regime functionaries has come at the expense of the common man, with hundreds of lives lost because the entire health system is a mess, thanks to a leadership that has worked hard to dismantle what they found, under the guise of “transformation”.
Fact: there is absolutely nothing the common man can do about it, at least in terms of plucking the offenders out of their hallowed positions in the clouds. So you have Ugandans screaming at the injustice and the offenders smiling patronisingly back, middle finger stuck up and out with “and what you gonna do about it?” written all over it. One word for this: impunity. 

At the centre of this all is the Permanent Secretary (PS), Ministry of Health, Dr Diana Atwine, one of the stars fixed by the President in his galaxy that makes up the governance framework. Dr Atwine caught public attention a few years ago as the head of the State House Health Monitoring Unit (HMU), one of the numerous agencies that report directly to the President. If media reports are anything to go by, let’s just, very politely, say she is not exactly popular just now and is wobbling badly in her place in the galaxy, as Ugandans struggle – on their own, like they have no government – in this pandemic. 

She and the HMU represent just about everything wrong with governance in Uganda today: a huge government set-up, with no clear shape or formation, but with numerous ministries, departments and agencies, supported by taxpayers money, some of them accountable, many absolutely not. 

And all are geared towards one thing: keeping the military junta in power, with a façade of finesse and civility…and competence. Towards that end, they bend or break the law, policy and procedure with impunity. The concept of respect for citizens and public funds is completely foreign. The various bodies are headed by people specially chosen by the President; not necessarily for their stellar competence by the way, if they ever so be possessed of such a thing, but for their commitment to his cause. The other example that quickly comes to mind is the State House Anti-Corruption Unit (you can yawn twice here), headed by Lt Col Edith Nakalema – another star in Museveni’s galaxy.  When the stars excel in these amorphous bodies, they are trans-located to the mainstream public service – not to excel as quintessential senior public servants, but as tools of control that defy or by-pass accountability frameworks. 

And just like that, you see a culture of non-transparency and non-accountability being superimposed on the civil service, where transparency and accountability are the hallowed ideal. It is a case of ruthlessness superimposed on a framework of effectiveness and efficiency; a square peg forced upon a round hole, because you have sensitive ministries in the civil service headed by militaristic individuals whose loyalty is to the President, not the people of Uganda.

We saw Brig Noble Mayombo leave the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) to Permanent Secretary (PS), Ministry of Defence years ago. Then we saw Dr Atwine move from HMU to PS Health. It is not unfair to think that Nakalema is lined up for some PS position - Defence or some other such place.

The theory cats will call this “state capture”. So you have a situation, take now, where government is failing to do the most basic of things, where well-trained, highly experienced and exposed civil servants are being failed and frustrated in their tracks. Key to the puzzle? Just check the stars in Museveni’s galaxy.  Problem is, touch any of them and you will have opened Pandora’s Box: your goose is cooked, for you’re touching the Leopard – in all the wrong places. 

Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda     [email protected]