Merger of councils sparks debate on marginalisation of special interest groups

Merger of councils sparks debate on marginalisation of special interest groups

Parliament has reached an agreement to consolidate several councils, namely the National Youth Council, National Children's Council, National Women's Council, National Council for Older Persons, and Persons With Disabilities Council, into a single Secretariat.

This Secretariat will be headed by an Executive Secretary under the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development.

Betty Amongi, the Minister of Gender, assured the special interest groups that their Councils have not been disbanded. Instead, they will be divided into departments, and each department will have the authority to determine its budgets.

"The councils have not been affected. The proposed structure entails the Executive Secretary fulfilling the role of the Secretariat's accounting officer. Under the Executive Secretary, there will be departments led by Programs Managers for the Councils," explained Amongi.

She further clarified that the Act allows each Council to approve its budget, and the head of the Secretariat will present the consolidated budget.

"They will still receive financial support because, currently, each Council has its funding. Even when their funding is allocated, the Ministry acts as a conduit, channelling the funds to their respective votes. The budget will now be presented as a single entity, rather than individually as it is done presently," added Amongi.

Charles Bakabulindi, Workers Representative, while presenting the report from Parliament's Gender, Labour & Social Development Committee, urged the government to ensure that the technical staff working in the different councils retain their positions to prevent the loss of expertise.

"The country stands to lose highly experienced technical officers if the bill does not guarantee their redeployment in the National Secretariat. The government should prioritize retaining technical experts and highly skilled individuals when staffing the National Secretariat so that it can preserve its return on investments," stated Bakabulindi.

The Gender Committee expressed reservations about merging all the Councils into one Secretariat, citing concerns that the special interest groups are already marginalized.

Bakabulindi argued, "Nevertheless, in the event of streamlining the Social Development Sector, it is crucial to minimize any adverse consequences that could impact special interest groups."

He emphasized the importance of considering the key factors for which Parliament established the Councils for Special Interest Groups.

"We support the creation of a National Secretariat, but we urge the government to consider those individuals with technical skills," he added.

Parliament also agreed to dissolve the National Children's Authority and transfer its functions to the National Secretariat at the Ministry of Gender, despite warnings from Parliament's Gender Committee. The Committee cautioned that such a move could further expose children, who are already vulnerable, to exploitation. They emphasized the urgent need to address children's issues and provide special attention to their well-being.

With the abolition of the Authority, Bakabulindi noted that there would no longer be an independent government agency dedicated to matters concerning children.

This creates a significant gap in policy formation, consultations, and the effective protection of children's rights in Uganda.

"The Bill does not address the government's commitment to supporting children's rights and protecting them from exploitation and various vulnerabilities. There is already a capacity challenge in the Children's department that the Ministry has failed to adequately address," highlighted Bakabulindi.

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