By Harold Turigye
While the nation was lost in the noise of insecurity, a long presidential State of Nation address, and a mediocre performance of the national football team, the Cabinet was concluding its deliberations on the fate of all government agencies and authorities.
The president had earlier tasked the Prime Minister and the Vice President to forge a policy regarding the Government agencies which according to him were a wastage of public resources and duplicated to the point that some were executing similar duties which according to him made planning hard. It is against this background that the Cabinet finally decided to disband and(or) merge some authorities, and have realigned some of the Authorities’ functions back to their mother ministries structuring them as mere ministry departments. If implemented, this would mean that the said agencies/authorities are either merged, disbanded or have their mandate incorporated back into their mother ministries.
If statistics are a thing to go by, it is worth noting that expenditure by the said agencies was (or is) 37 % of the national Budget, while the staff of the said agencies take almost more than 50% from the National Salary Basket. However, the statistics given above do not tell it all.
The Cabinet decision has led to a battle of ideas as some think it is a suicidal decision while others think it is a big tablet for the sick economy. Those in support of the move and the cabinet policy see the decision as a lifeline to sinking economy that is carrying a heavy expenditure burden caused by these agencies. The other school of thought is that the move would culminate into easy planning, and avoid clashing in roles as there is a strong belief that the same work can be executed in absence of the authorities once the ministry departments are clustered in a way that accommodates all the work that has been done by the respective agencies.
Some have wondered, for example, why when we have the Uganda Tourism Board do we then need the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre? Are they not performing the same role or was one formed as a cover to create jobs under the shadow theme” Boona Balye”? One would not therefore be crucified for saying that the original purpose was diluted and lost in other intentions of the state.
A case in point is the National Identification and Registration Authority(NIRA) whose mother ministry is the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Without prejudice to its achievement in the government projects ,during the consultation by Parliament on its formations, the main advocates of the authority were primarily the former employees under the ministry who according to the reports dominated the applications for the available slots leaving questions as to whether the entity was created to ease service delivery or provide jobs to whoever smelt opportunity from the move.
Opponents of the merger of agencies wonder if the agencies and authorities have provided the cure for the illness they were created to remedy? Supporters of agencies and authorities point to their many achievements and fear they will melt away without the protection of the authorities. Ugandans would to revert back to slow service delivery. And the one-million-dollar question is whether we should sacrifice efficiency just to save peanuts from the National Budget?
The end point of the argument against the move is evidenced through a long list of the Untouchable Agencies that are neither subject to disbandment nor structural changes. These Include the Kampala Capital City Authority. No argument was fronted by the cabinet as to why these were not subject to the structural changes but one would say it is because they have fruits to show for their mandate and they can proudly show their goal chart. This therefore leads to the question as to whether realigning the agencies back to their mother ministries will make them result oriented.
A few political critics argue that the move is an accountability assassin, and that the cabinet pushed for this just to have control of the affairs against since most of the powers were being exercised by the Authorities leaving them with a seat of power with no real authority. Based on the recent history where Ministers have been constantly involved in scandals linked to their influence of government agencies and corruption, awarding of contracts and allocation of agency budgets, one would say putting these agencies as departments directly under the ministry will make the situation worse. A case in Point is the Katosi road scandal where the Minister was accused of meddling and corruption.
Whichever side one chooses in this intellectual argument, the other unavoidable effect is this bold political-economic move is loss of employment to the former employees of those Authorities and reduction in salary to the remaining portion of the other officials from the same agencies on the individual level. In terms of the Economy as a whole, the decision as discussed above risks bearing fruits of slow service delivery but positively saving the Tax Payer a recurrent sum of money that has been apportioned to the Agencies.
From the legal perspective, it is worth noting that the said authorities are a creature of statutes and therefore the Parliament will after be passing the decision of the cabinet dive into the process of repealing the Acts that established the authorities, or amending some provisions of the respective Acts to suit this government Plot.
If this “agency city” burns, all it will leave are piles of employment suit resignation letters, compensation proceedings, ministerial scandals and a slower service delivery as the difference in the vision of this mission and the implementation thereof is evidently different. Whichever the cabinet envisaged will be but just an animation of what the reality will be once the decision is passed by Parliament.
The writer is a Legal Associate at PACE Associates Uganda.