Govt agency mergers and risks

Seith K. Barigye

What you need to know:

Government efforts to streamline must be met with a healthy dose of skepticism and scrutiny. There must be transparency...

Last Friday, the chairman of the NRM party, President Museveni, met members of the party caucus in State House, Entebbe and the exchange between him and the members of the caucus revealed sharp differences on the subject of their discussion.

And as a concerned citizen, I also stand at a crossroads in this journey towards administrative reform. The government’s decision to pursue the merger and rationalisation of government agencies warrants scrutiny and caution, as it raises concerns about the potential impact on service delivery, accountability, and socioeconomic stability. Let us explore critically the inherent risks of the proposed restructuring initiative which, for the President, is becoming a do or die.

First and foremost, the lack of implementation discipline and foresight threatens to undermine the success of the mergers and rationalisation process. In the past, Uganda has struggled with the effective execution of large-scale reforms, often resulting in unintended consequences and inefficiencies. Reform into privatisation and many other projects intended to change the livelihoods of Ugandans, including Operation Wealth Creation, Entandikwa, Bona Bagagawale, and Parish Development Model have all fallen short of their expected impact on society.

Without meticulous planning and robust mechanisms for stakeholder engagement, there is a risk of exacerbating bureaucratic red tape, disrupting essential services, and marginalising vulnerable communities. Morever, the rushed approach to the agency mergers overlooks the nuanced roles and functions of individual entities within government.

While consolidation may seem like a pragmatic solution to streamline operations, it runs the risk of overlooking the specialised expertise and mandates of certain agencies. It is the reason why we created them in the first place. Civil Aviation Authority, Uganda Revenue Authority, Uganda National Roads Authority, among so many others were created because of the need for the specialised handling in the different sectors, and therefore cannot be easily replicated or replaced.

It is not that the principle is bad but any attempt to subsume these agencies within larger bureaucratic structures must be met with careful consideration to avoid compromising their effectiveness and responsiveness to the needs of the citizens of this country who pay taxes.

The President also believes that we would save a lot of money through streamlining the salaries of the staff in the agencies with those in the ministries, which would be fantastic. But how much money is that for us to risk compromising service delivery. In any case you would have to pay them severance packages or risk facing them in court for termination of their contracts.

While the rationale behind reducing government expenditure is sound, the endemic culture of corruption within Uganda’s public sector undermines these efforts. Without decisive action to tackle corruption head-on, any savings realised from agency mergers are at risk of being siphoned off by corrupt officials, further eroding public trust and exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities.

And so the proposed mergers and rationalisation of government agencies may fail to address the root causes of inefficiency and mismanagement within the government. Rather than addressing systemic issues such as nepotism, patronage, and poor governance practices, the emphasis on downsising overlooks the need for comprehensive institutional reforms. True fiscal reform requires a holistic approach that addresses the underlying structural weaknesses that perpetuate waste and inefficiency within the public sector.

Therefore, the government’s efforts to streamline must be met with a healthy dose of skepticism and scrutiny. There must be transparency, accountability, and meaningful stakeholder participation in the process of decision-making.  Parliament must exhaustively look at the different agencies through the respective sector committees and the reports thoroughly debated.

It is only through rigorous engagement and oversight that we can ensure the mergers and rationalisation of government agencies serve the best interests of Ugandans, rather than perpetuating the status quo of inefficiency and corruption.

Mr Kangume Barigye is a patriot and labour rights advocate.