By Joan Akello
David Pulkol, Uganda Peoples Congress stalwart, talked to The Independent’s Joan Akello about his ministerial experience and politics.
What was your experience as the youngest minister in 1987?
For a 26 year old, it was scary for a product of UPC whose government had been overthrown. I had two meetings with President Museveni where he requested me to join the government and I had said no. In the second meeting he told me to submit six names of Karimojong to be appointed in cabinet and he wanted my name among them. I gave six names minus mine to his Private Personal Secretary Isaac Isanga. But on March 28, 1987, I heard on Radio Uganda that the president had appointed nine new ministers and my name was among them.
I was teaching Social science at Makerere University full time. I ran away to Karamoja – to consult my parents because I wanted to flee to exile thinking the President wanted to kill me. I thought I was the wrong person to join government but my father took me to Bishop Peter Lomongin (the late) of Church Of Uganda for Karamoja who counseled me saying ‘Young man, God’s ways are not our ways. God works in mysterious ways and there must be a purpose which God wants to accomplish in your life so do not run away, face it. If you have any reasons why, then go and discuss them with the President but do not run away. He should be able to understand.
So what were your reasons?
They were five. I was a very young person without experience to deputise Chango Machyo (the late) in the ministry of Water and Mineral Development, politics had become such a dirty game that no young person wished to waste his life in, I had a calling to be a university lecturer and train people who could then run the country with him, I always tell the truth, and I had enrolled for my PhD. Museveni said `don’t you think Obote and Amin made mistakes because they had liars around them? How many young people of your age are given the chance to serve their country? Come with an open mind because there are people in the civil service with 30 years experience.
We are giving Uganda a holiday from chaos; we do not care where you are from so long as you can make a positive contribution. You come and we change this country and institutions, it is only for four years then you can go back to your university and I’ll go back and I’ll keep my cattle’. I told him to promise before Bishop Lomongin who was also present, and commit that he would protect me when I am in trouble for telling the truth. He said absolutely and the Bishop was happy. I accepted two weeks after those I was appointed with had been sworn in.
How did you find the Water ministry?
In the first two weeks, I was reading newspapers and waiting to be briefed. There was no schedule of duties. As new ministers, we were staying at Fairway Hotel and we had coupons for food from Foods and Beverages and earning Shs136. I asked the permanent secretary to give me cabinet papers to acquaint myself with the ministry but she refused saying I was not a cabinet minister and had not taken cabinet oath. But how come these papers were prepared by the PS and technical people who had not taken cabinet oath, it was frustrating.
There are people in those ministries who have many years of experience but suffer from organisational psychosis; they are promoted according to how they obey rules and standing orders. Also, whenever the minister was abroad, a minister from another ministry would act. I wrote to the minister a memo wanting to know my schedule of duty and why I cannot deputise him and he told me to read the civil servants standing orders. So Dr. Specioza Kazibwe who came in 1989 and John Nassasira and I ganged up and met the President, who then directed the head of Public Service to draw schedules of duty for ministers and deputies. Tension between ministers and deputies started to ease. We decided that when we go to the Constitutional Assembly, we would abolish the position of deputy ministers and make them ministers of state.
What about the cabinet reshuffles experience?
I woke up in June 1994 to a major shakeup; about 37 ministers and deputies had been dropped. Very few of us survived and even Army Commander Salim Saleh had been replaced by Maj. Mugisha Muntu. Some people from Karamoja had told the president that I had a private army and control all the guns in Karamoja and that all the gold from the mine were coming to me. I think the government had investigated and found out that it was false. Those people thought by pulling me down, they would be appointed ministers.
The President posted me to the ministry of Education to work with Amanya Mushega, gave me his number and told me to him a call if there is a problem. There was a time where teachers would go without salary and they would assemble at Clock Tower. Mushega and I could go into that angry mob and learn a lot about what is happening at the ministry and they would hear from us and we became allies. These days, ministers have become lazy; everything is for police chief Kale ‘Kayihorror’ (Kayihura) to act on citizens.
What kind of man was the president?
Museveni of the early day was patient, more listening; he would go with reason where there was reason, more logical. New ideas were given space and there was a coalition from 1986 to 2006. With the discovery of oil, corruption has shot up, oppression has increased, and Museveni and his regime are becoming more intolerant, restless, impatient, and not interested in raising consensus. The NRM governance style has changed. Maybe during our time it was camouflaged because they believed in broad- based.
It is now bread-based; corruption resides in State House. In our time they used to say I think Mzee (Museveni) does not know this thing, have you informed Mzee, if he gets to know, he would act. But now he gets to know and does not do act. There are a number of scandals and you can follow the footmarks. Attorney General said they ignored my advice on Katosi. He is dropped and Byandala who was used by some people related to the state was made a minister without potholes, sorry portfolio. Pius Bigirimana, the PS of the gender ministry brought in the Kazindamana disease which hit Office of the Prime Minister. This was the same file, same case, and particulars but one is treated different from the other and the President protected one saying he was a whistleblower.
What is your view about this new cabinet?
It is not the honest or those who talk straight who have been appointed but the weaver birds; those who kneel, praise. Every time Museveni reshuffles cabinet, he leaves some positions vacant which some people are eying so that when they behave well, they may get .Such people are chasing a mirage. It is sickening that young people are being recruited into thieving; even women who used not to be corrupt in leadership. Majority of the cabinet positions have gone to a certain region; even the minister for Karamoja must come from Ntungamo or be related to the President like Janet Museveni, even the state minister is from Busia. For the North it is somebody from the North, the –same in Luweero, Teso, and Bunyoro. So when it comes to Karamoja, sorry, you are only good for deputies. The best you can be is minister for miniskirts and for minerals, a one Peter Lokeris who is working for government to grab land. So what happened to non-sectarianism that Museveni has been preaching? When I criticise; then it is me who is sectarian and it is not him practicing it.
Any advice to young people?
It looks like corruption has a bright future in Uganda. Young people must learn how to say no like I tried. One good thing is that president has remained committed to what he told the Bishop; he has protected me many times I have been in trouble even after we disagreed over Congo and term limits. For instance, in 2004 when my life was under threat I asked him whether he really wanted to kill me. He even warned security people including the security minister because I was able to produce some form of evidence. To his credit, I can still talk straight and remain myself.
What position will you contest for in UPC?
Party president but UPC is a sad commentary; Ambassador Olara Otunnu gave us some hope with a very tall CV but he is a very short man. He has been a calamity who could not win or vote for himself. Otunnu has allowed his term to end when there is no roadmap. But I will go for any other position that the party would like me to serve in. All the groups; of James Akena, Edward Rurangaranga, Otunnu, need to sit and agree on a date and agenda for the national council. UPC marked 55 years on March 9, so it should play its politics maturely.
What would you do as president?
Strengthen internal structures, improve internal and external communication which is where Otunnu failed, making it a press conference party. We shall have weekly newsletter and establish regional offices and district offices so that people do not have to come to Kampala for information. Even if NRM does not allow us to get a radio license, our forefathers ran a radio outside this country during the liberation war. We just need a frequency and you will tune from anywhere. Thirdly, increase recruitment of women and youth who are life blood life of a party. All those who looked for shelter during the rain in NRM should come back home like me. We must acknowledge the mistakes of our forefathers and apologise particularly after they were overthrown twice.
Need to bring my experience of running security organisation so that we are not found wanting in that area again. UPC has assets and business but we can mobilise resources from its membership to take over power democratically. We need to realign ourselves with sister parties in Africa National Congress (ANC), CCM, Democratic Party of US, and Labour party of UK, Norway, Australia, Democratic Party, Social Democrats of Germany, and Ireland and strengthen our bond of friendship because we believe in the same ideology. Finally, we must come with a simplified message. UPC is about the fight against ignorance, disease and poverty so when you join, you are in a struggle. There are only three houses in Uganda- State House, August House and Uganda House.