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Policy analysts question govt rationalisation plan

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Legislators during a plenary session chaired by Speaker Anita Among at Parliament on April 23, 2024. Parliament last week merged several government agencies and a few others singled out by lawmakers received a saving grace on the premise that their role is critical to service delivery. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA. 

Parliament last week merged several government agencies and a few others singled out by lawmakers received a saving grace on the premise that their role is critical to service delivery. 

Among the agencies not merged are the National Forestry Authority, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, the National Agricultural Advisory Services, the Dairy Development Authority, and the Uganda Cotton Development Authority.

However, policy analysts argue that the much-vaunted rationalisation policy to avoid the duplicity of roles across the civil service— meant to save the government an estimated Shs1 trillion in expenditure— is flawed.

This comes at the time the funds doled out on a bloated public administration outstrips the cost of financing the development budget to sustain critical services such as infrastructure, hospitals and schools. 

Mr Godber Tumushabe, the executive director of Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), proffered that the exercise of rationalisation will always be in futility as long as the cost of running government remains bloated to fund the clientele-patronage networks that sustain the current government.

“If you want to rationalise now, what you rationalise is not the agencies but the government. You need to deal with the problem of a bloated Presidency… Almost every department of government has a unit in the Office of the President. You have a parallel government that runs in the Office of the President,” he told Sunday Monitor, adding, “If you wanted to rationalise you would have to deal with the problem of the Presidency. Make it lean, make it more efficient and more accountable.”

Bloated government 
As managing government spending lurches from one crisis to another, the Minister for the Presidency, Ms Milly Babalanda, recently appointed about 300 new assistant Resident District Commissioners, all of whom will be shouldered by the taxpayer.

Mr Tumushabe said there is a need to trim the size of Cabinet and Parliament. 
“You have 80 busybodies because what do they do? I think Kampala has two or three ministers. You have ministers for Kampala, a capital city that is completely broken with a collapsing road network [...] you can’t manage your waste. And then you have a whole authority with ministers,” the GLISS top official said.

Mr Tumushabe said the size of the House, which is currently at 529 and will likely expand after the 2026 parliamentary election, goes against the grain of rationalisation and efficiency. 

“You need to deal with the legislature. You can’t have a crowd of some 529 MPs seated there doing nothing and saying you are running the government,” he said, adding, “You have to deal with the dysfunctional local government system […] where you have a bunch of elected officials who hang around. They have no budget. They have no power. They have nothing.”

Clientelism, patronage
The creation of agencies was part of the Bretton Woods institution blueprint to roll out efficient units of government to improve service delivery. Uganda rolled out neo-liberal Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) between 1987 and 1992 to improve prudence and efficiency. 

The SAPs included a package of economic adjustment policies broadly divided into stabilisation and fiscal policies, supported by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. 

These SAPs resulted in the scaling down of the bloated civil service meant to reduce bureaucracy through retrenchment and the reduction of the size of the army from 100,000 soldiers to 30,000 soldiers, among others.
But after the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government held its first presidential election, a decade after President Museveni and his triumphant guerrilla bands captured power, the size of the civil service began to eventually grow as the country leaned towards a neo-patrimonial system. 

This system of political hierarchy ensured that NRM cadres relied on state resources to secure the loyalty of the population through informal patron-client relationships that are structured at the highest echelons of power and rolled down to individuals in villages. This resulted into the creation of duplicate roles, including RDCs, hundreds of presidential advisors, a large Cabinet and Parliament as well as several districts and cities. 

Xavier Ejoyi, the country director of Action Aid Uganda, said the exercise of rationalisation is superfluous. 
“At the very time Parliament is debating this motion of merger of agencies, they are also passing assistant RDCs who are entitled to a security detail, vehicles, fuel, so you can’t be taking from the left and giving with the right hand. You have the Ministry of Land but you have the State House Land Unit, you have the Inspectorate of Government and you have State House Anti-Corruption Unit, that is obvious duplication and it is siphoning tax payer money,” Ejoyi told Sunday Monitor, adding, “There is a question of patronage that led to the creation of multiple institutions. There may be legitimate institutions set up to address different tasks [...] but along the way it became an avenue of patronage.”

In a rough place
Timothy Chemonges, a policy official with the Centre for Policy Analysis, said the current attempt to rationalise displays a state of confusion and the lack of clarity by the Executive.  

“The decision […] to appoint RDCs and the like is unfortunate as we are trying to reduce the wage bill here. If you have people who were formerly employed in government, you expect them to go somewhere. The most likely place would be the private sector. We have a struggling private sector that would not be able to consume the individuals removed from government,” he said.

Dr Godwin Ayesiga, who has been the manager in charge of training and research at the Uganda National Meteorological Agency, which is one of the agencies that has been merged, told Sunday Monitor that the process required a specific criterion to be followed. 

“There might be agencies that duplicate [functions]. So, to me the question would be how do we get rid of the duplication…This is a good policy,” he said, adding, “The question is: how is it implemented? Have these agencies been heard to understand their functions and roles?”

The process of rationalisation comes at a time Uganda’s economic outlook remains dim for a country with a voracious borrowing appetite whose national debt will likely scale the Shs100 trillion mark by June 2025. 

The ruin left by the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed Uganda to breach borrowing thresholds as the principal and interest for its debt in this year’s budget rose exponentially to Shs17 trillion—an astronomical figure, which will likely erode the gains made by government-generated revenue. 

This has affected Uganda’s overall credit rating by Fitch, an American credit rating agency. The rating stands at B+, with a negative outlook. The negative outlook reflects Uganda’s weak external liquidity position and challenges to its access of external concessional financing and grants related to concerns about democracy, human rights and corruption. 

The negative outlook could lead to borrowing at higher interest rates given the few options of lenders willing to provide credit. With the global economy roiled by the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine and the taps of funding from cheaper long-term concessional loans drying up, Uganda continues to borrow in a futile attempt to extricate itself from emerging budget rabbit holes.

In June 2023, the government rolled out austerity measures, including a freeze on the creation of new units, the reduction on domestic borrowing and the merger of government agencies, which it estimates will save about Shs1 trillion. 

The government has, however, already reneged on its promise to scale back on domestic borrowing. In the last financial quarter, it borrowed Shs3 trillion from domestic banks, which will likely crowd out the private sector from the credit market.

Rationalized agencies 

• Cotton Development Organisation
• Departed Asians’ Property Custodian Board
• Dairy Development Authority
• National Agricultural Advisory Services
• National Curriculum Development Centre
• National Forestry Authority
• National Physical Planning Board
• Non-Performing Assets Recovery Trust
• Uganda Coffee Development Authority
• Uganda National Meteorological Authority
• Uganda National Roads Authority
• Uganda Microfinance Regulatory Authority
• Uganda Road Fund

• Agriculture Chemicals Board
• Higher Education Students Financing Board
• National Children’s Authority
• National Youth Council
• National Council for Older Persons
• National Council for Persons with Disabilities
• National Library of Uganda
• National Population Council
• Non-Governmental Organisations Board
• Trypanosomiasis Control Council
• Uganda National Commission for Unesco
• Warehouse Receipt System

• Export Promotions Board and Uganda Free Zone Authority
• Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre and Uganda Wildlife Authority